Fr Bruno Rossi comes from Padua but has lived in the Asian country since 1999, thanks to a joint project of 15 dioceses in north-eastern Italy. Along with three other missionaries, he covers 40 mountain villages in Chiang Rai, Lampang and Laamphun provinces. An educational centre is home to students who live too far from school. The ‘Brown Coffee’ project helps local farmers produce high quality beans and funds scholarships for young people.
Bangkok (AsiaNews) – Giving students a home to go to school, following Catholics who live in mountain villages and helping local coffee farmers are some of the activities in which Fr Bruno Rossi is involved.
From Padua (Italy), the fidei donum missionary has been in Thailand since 1999 as part of a project organised by the 15 dioceses of north-eastern Italy (Triveneto), which decided to open up a mission in Asia in the mid-1990s.
This adventure, the priest noted, "is a novelty from two points of view: for the way it is organised, and because we are the first Fidei Donum missionaries in Asia. The original objective was also to bring together the dioceses in Italy and their communities, working together on a project."
Everything began with the relationship with PIME missionaries, who were already present in Thailand. "Now we are four, three from the diocese of Padua and one from Belluno,” said Fr Rossi.
“We have established ourselves in Chiang Rai province, in the northwest of the country, but we have two parishes in Chaehom (Lampang province) and one in Lamphun, a very industrialised region."
Overall, the priests cover 40 villages, inhabited by different tribes (Akha, Lahu, Hmong, Karen, etc.).
When the missionaries arrived, there were not churches, and Mass was celebrated only occasionally in the villages scattered in the vast region.
One of Fr Rossi’s main activities is in Chaehom. It is "the educational centre for young people, which became a parish church in 2000. Here we host the kids from the mountains who would otherwise be too far away from schools to attend classes. We have room for 100 people. Presently, there are 60 because in the meantime, we opened two more facilities close to the villages."
Only half of the students is Catholic, said Fr Rossi. "More and more often we receive requests from Buddhist parents who want to send their children to us."
The daily routine is carefully organised. "The alarm clock is set for 5:20 am,” the clergyman explained. This is “followed by a moment of personal hygiene and prayer. From 6:15 to 7:15 am, students can review the lessons in classrooms or attend mass. At 7:15 am, all in a row, the kids get their lunch money and off they go to school, which is located a few hundred metres from the centre."
Students come back from school around 4:30-5:00 pm. "At that point, they have either an hour's work in the fields, catechesis or sports,” Fr Rossi says. Dinner is set for 19, followed by study.
The students’ families only pay for the school fees. “We provide everything else,” the priest noted. “We ask only an initial contribution of two sacks of rice."
"A few years ago, thanks to funds raised in Italy, we bought a piece of land where the kids grow rice. The work helps them integrate with one another, boys and girls, Catholics and others."
Since it is a Catholic centre, "we ask Buddhists or animists kids to participate in religious activities,” Fr Rossi explained. “Obviously we do not ask them to convert, but to experience what everyone else is doing. Participation in the daily Eucharist is free, and very often, non-Catholics take part in it in greater numbers. This suggests that they are in a period of soul searching. "
The second project that Fr Rossi began is named ‘Brown Coffee’. "Three years ago, we started this new activity,” the priest said. The gaol was “to help farmers in the mountains grow good quality coffee. A few years ago, the king launched a project to replace opium cultivation with coffee and the state buys the beans from farmers and then roasts them."
Fr Rossi’s idea was to roast the beans locally, and then sell them at higher price on the market. "We bought a 30-kilo roaster and we put it in the centre. Now we buy coffee from farmers, roast it and resell it in Thailand and abroad. With the earnings we give scholarships to the children at the centre."
Each year, the centre produces 800 kilos of 100% Arabica, which "brings considerable earnings. The quality also surprised us. Two years ago we took the coffee to the Tasters Centre in Brescia (Italy) and won the gold medal. Through this project, the centre will be able to support itself without the need for external help even when the missionaries leave."