Bangkok (AsiaNews) - Mary Mother of Mercy Parish in Nonthaburi marked its 40th anniversary on Sunday. Given in trust to the missionaries of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), the parish and its members celebrated as God's gifts the work missionaries perform, their openness to universality, their efforts to involve lay people in the pastoral service, their commitment to ecumenical and interfaith dialogue and their help for the local community.
On 16 February 1974, Bangkok Bishop Michael Michai Kitbunchu, now a cardinal and bishop emeritus, blessed the parish's new church building. Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej took part in the ceremony of consecration in a very special way as "protector and defender of all religions," a title he still holds today.
The church was initially entrusted to a Thai diocesan priest, Fr Bunleut Tharachat, who celebrated Mass for a few dozen people. A few years later, the parish was placed in the trust of newly arrived PIME missionaries.
The parish, which is located in Nonthaburi province (25 kilometres north of Bangkok), developed under the guidance of the first resident PIME pastor, Fr Piergiacomo Urbani, the current pastor Fr Raffaele Manenti, and other PIME priests (Fr Adriano Pelosin, Fr Campagnoli Angel, Fr Renato Tagliabue, Fr Daniele Mazza, Fr Paolo Salamone) who contributed to its pastoral activities.
Mary Mother of Mercy can now rely on about a thousand members, and its history is reason enough to give thanks to the Lord.
For a started, the parish community saw itself embrace universality more openly. Currently, the local church offers Masses in Vietnamese each month for the many Vietnamese who work in Thailand. Masses are also offered each week in English.
Catechism is offered in English to foreigners (Americans, Filipinos, Nigerians, etc.) employed in embassies, NGOs or schools.
Many Burmese regularly participate in the activities of the parish as well.
In addition, the diocese's pastoral plan has sought to get more parishioners to share responsibility for the pastoral service.
Greater efforts have been made to train better the people who seek the Sacraments. Work has been done to set up basic Church communities in order to ensure that the faithful can know each more and share God's word and bear witness to his love as a community.
The parish, it must also be said, is increasingly open to ecumenical and interfaith dialogue. In January 2014 during the week of Christian Unity, a prayer meeting was organised. About ten Protestant clergymen from Nonthaburi province came.
Once a year, the parish also receives young people for an interfaith camp. They include about 20-30 young Buddhists, 20-30 young Christians and 20-30 young Muslims who meet for three days to learn more about each other's religions and visit each other's places of worship.
In 40 years, the parish has seen several religious congregations contribute to its pastoral work (Xaverian Missionaries, Xaverian Missionaries of Mary, and the Sisters of Mercy of Ottawa). Lay missionary families (from Italy, Poland, and Spain) as well as scores of volunteers from around the world have come to spend a few weeks of their holiday time during pastoral work.
The parish has also become more involved in charity work. At present, it runs four foster homes for children from difficult family background (abandoned, orphaned, parents in prison, etc.), a home for children with physical and mental disabilities, and an emergency shelter for women. The centre is also committed to helping residents in slum areas in the parish.
As a result of this work, the parish has established strong ties with various local authorities and groups (the Justice Ministry's Prison Department, the province, the city, police and NGOs).
The body established to carry out all these activities (the Saint Martin Foundation) has become a charity recognised by the government.
Yet, there is still a lot to do locally, in the parish, where Christians are but a thousand out of a population of 500,000.
As the bishop said during his prayer at the inauguration, "May Mary, Mother of Mercy, intercede for us and guide the path of our parish community so that we may bring the Good News to those who have not yet met Christ."