09/30/2008, 00.00
THAILAND
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Catholic schools in Thailand, places of excellence and inter-faith dialogue

by Weena Kowitwanij
Cardinal Kitbunchu, archbishop of Bangkok, has promoted high level education programmes and schools where most students are Buddhists or Muslims. Each year 60 new bursaries are handed out to guarantee a “free and ethical” education. The Pope sends his “special blessing”.
Bangkok (AsiaNews) – The Catholic Church in Thailand plays a fundamental role in the educational development of students thanks to its network of institutions ranging from elementary schools to university. In addition to an excellent level of education Catholic schools promote “inter-faith dialogue” and “peaceful coexistence between young people from different religions” so much so that in many cases Catholics students are a minority with respect to Buddhists and Muslims.

There are 300 Catholic schools within the limits of the Archdiocese of Bangkok with approximate 400,000 students; 65,775 are in the city of Bangkok itself. Most students are Buddhists but Muslims are the largest group in two schools— Catholics average 5 to 10 per cent. This is evidence that educators are doing a good job at integrating students.

Catholic schools offer “absolute excellence” in education and most graduates who apply to university get through the entry exams.

The architect of this huge effort in education is Card Michael Michai Kitbunchu, archbishop of Bangkok. For years he has played a pivotal role in raising funds to support Catholic schools and institutions, stressing the importance of education in a person’s development whatever their religious beliefs may be.

Thanks to funds donated by religious congregations and private sources this year the prelate handed out bursaries to 60 worthy students (the total number to date is 883).

Suksan Chaopaknam, Laity Council chairman for the Archdiocese of Bangkok, on behalf of Catholic community thanked the archbishop for his work.  In praising the prelate for his action during his episcopate in the field of education he described him as the “beloved father” of Thai Catholic Church.

For the cardinal education is one of the most important challenges in building a society. In order to meet these challenges we must be ready to take risks if we want to turn ideas into plans and deeds.

“We should not wait for money and resources before we build schools,” he said. “We must instead take up the challenge and go beyond the capital into the provinces, allow local kids to study at home and not leave for the capital.”

During this year’s seminar by the Catholic Education Council that brought together 480 participants, archbishop Kitbunchu stressed the challenges of modern society, which seems to have pushed “morality and ethical conduct” to the sidelines.

Catholic schools must face these challenges and promote “individual freedom.” They must offer students the bases on which they can make “autonomous decisions according to their conscience” as well as “serve others” and promote “mutual cooperation.”

Cardinal Kitbunchu has also handed out 30,000 free Bibles to Catholic families so that inspired by Saint Paul in the year devoted to the Apostle of the Nations, they might give strength to the missionary spirit that promotes Christian values in society.

Next year he will celebrate 50 years of priesthood. “I am grateful,” he said, “to priests and lay people with whom I have worked witnessing God’s love and the proclamation of the Good news.”

“My special thanks go to the members of the Missions Étrangères de Paris who will celebrate 350 years since their founding,” he added.

Through the Apostolic Nuncio to Thailand Mgr Salvatore Pennacchio, Pope Benedict XVI as a token of his gratitude imparted a “special blessing” on the archbishop of Bangkok for his work.

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