The Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples is in Bangkok. His pastoral visit will end on 21 May in Ayutthaya, the cradle of Thai Christianity. The first missionaries to settle in Siam were two Portuguese Dominicans in 1567. Today the country is home to about 300,000 Catholics, 0.46 per cent of the population.
Bangkok (AsiaNews) – Card Fernando Filoni (pictured), Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, arrived in Bangkok today for the celebration of the 350th anniversary of the creation of the Apostolic Vicariate of Siam in 1669.
Card Filoni’s pastoral visit will begin tomorrow in the Cathedral of the Assumption, where he will meet Bangkok’s Catholic community and the members of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Thailand (CBCT).
Saturday morning, the festivities marking the historic anniversary will open in Sam Phran, a district in the province of Nakhon Pathom, with a solemn Eucharistic celebration. Catholics will come from the capital, as well as the country’s southern and central provinces.
In the afternoon, Card Filoni will meet religious, seminarians and catechists at the church dedicated to Fr Nicholas Bunkerd Kitbamrung (1895-1944). Better known as Fr Benedikto Chunkim, he was the first martyred priest of modern Thailand, whom Pope John Paul II proclaimed as blessed on 5 March 2000.
In the North Catholics can attend instead the Mass in Chiang Mai on the evening of 19 May. Local ethnic and tribal groups live in different communities in the mountains and valleys, amid poverty as well as social and geographical marginalisation.
Representatives of the Lanna and Akha ethnic groups will welcome the Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples. For his part, Card Filoni will express to them the closeness of the universal Church.
The next day, 20 May, he will meet with the Karen from Mae-Porn, with whom he will celebrate another Mass. His visit will end on 21 May in Ayutthaya, Siam’s ancient capital and the cradle of Thai Christianity.
Today Thailand has about 300,000 Catholics, 0.46 per cent of the total population, served by 11 dioceses, with 436 parishes and 662 priests.
The first missionaries to arrive in the Kingdom were the Portuguese Dominicans Jeronimo da Cruz and Sebastiâo da Canto, in 1567. The Franciscan and Jesuit missions followed the Dominican mission, with the goal of proclaiming the Good News in the United Siam of the Ayutthaya period (1351-1767).
Subsequently, at the end of the Council of Trent, Pope Pius V instituted a committee to promote evangelisation, which led to the creation of Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (Propaganda Fide) by Pope Gregory XV on 6 January 1622.
To help spread the Gospel, the Society of Foreign Missions of Paris (French: Société des Missions étrangères de Paris, MEP) was created. On 29 July 1658, Pope Alexander VII appointed a member of the MEP, François Pallu, as apostolic vicar to the Tonkin, which included some parts of China and the Kingdom of Laos.
On 17 August of the same year, Bishop Pierre Lambert de la Motte, MEP, became Apostolic Vicar of the mission in Cochinchina, whose pastoral outreach included the lands south of China.
In 1662, there were 11 Catholic priests in Ayutthaya – four of them were Jesuits, two Dominicans, two Franciscans and three others. Two years later, Bishop Pallu and some newly arrived missionaries organised a synod in Ayutthaya, chaired by Bishop de la Motte, together with Bishop Pallu, five priests and a lay person.
Among the main decisions was the establishment of a seminary for the training of diocesan priests. In 1665, King Narai granted Mgr de la Motte permission to set up such a school.
In 1667, Bishop Pallu returned to Rome for an audience with the Pope, who ordered the creation of the Siam mission on 4 July 1669, under the bishop appointed by Propaganda Fide.
With the blessing of the Holy See, Bishops Pallu and de la Motte chose Don Louis Laneau, a priest with the MEP, as the Apostolic Vicar of the mission to Siam. The bishop's consecration was celebrated on 25 March 1674 in Ayutthaya.