Fr Valerio Sala, PIME missionary in northern Thailand, reached the village today, one of 29 communities under his care. The faithful, who are tribal Lahu, carried a statue of the Virgin in procession. "An elderly couple asked me to receive baptism and confirmation in order to die as Christians. They are a fine example for young people, often reluctant to get involved in the faith."
Chiang Rai (AsiaNews) – People in Juji, a small village in Chiang Rai province, today celebrated the feast day of the Assumption together with Fr Valerio Sala, a missionary with the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), who is the local parish priest.
The faithful, who belong to the Lahu tribe, led a procession with a statue of the Virgin (pictured) and during the Mass a couple in their nineties was baptised and confirmed.
Juji, Fr Sala explained that this "is a small village with 12 Catholic families. The baptised are few in relation to the number of believers."
The community is one of 29 places the missionary tries to visit on a regular basis. "I can’t make it every time, but this year I have been to 13 of them for the Assumption. I gave priority to those I did not visit last year. "
The priest talked about the elderly couple that was baptised. "He is 92 and she is 90, immigrants from Myanmar. Although they have been Catholics for more than 50 years, they never received any educational or catechetical preparation."
Now close to death, he said, "they wanted to be baptised to die as children of God. The last Lent I went to Juji for Mass and they told me they wanted to be baptised. I promised them that I would baptise and confirm them on St. Bartholomew's Day, the patron saint of the Church. I asked the bishop to be allowed to perform the confirmation."
For the missionary, there are many reasons for people not be baptised when they convert. "Sometimes work does not allow to follow the catechesis. In the case of the elderly couple, being immigrants from Myanmar played the main role since they cut ties with their old community. Then came age, the loss of strength, and they never had a chance to visit the Mae Suay Mission.”
Baptising and confirming elderly people "is a beautiful thing for the few village youths, who are often reluctant to take the decisive step of baptism,” Fr Sala noted. “They do not do it because they realise that it is demanding. "
In general, "tribal people are reluctant to receive the sacraments because they know that they will have to be faithful, especially in marriage.”
“Among the Akha people, the repudiation of the wife if she cannot bear children or if she becomes ugly is still practiced. For this reason people are struggling to live fully their Christian faith and abandon traditions that have nothing to do with it."