04/17/2008, 00.00
THAILAND
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Thai New Year to honour family and the elderly

by Weena Kowitwanij
Catholic Commissions on the Family and on Social development dedicate the Songkran or water festival, which marks the Thai New Year, to promoting the family and respect for the elderly.

Bangkok (AsiaNews) – The Catholic Commission for the Family launched a new idea to celebrate the annual Songkran or water festival, which was held on 13-15 April. After Sunday Mass at Assumption Cathedral, young members of the congregation poured water over the hands of their elders as a sign of respect and asked for their blessing, a traditional gesture in the purest of ancient Thai traditions. The elderly who took part in the event, which coincides with the Thai New Year, greeted the young people by wishing them progress in their lives, studies and careers, receiving in return strings of scented flowers.

Ajchara Somsaengsuang, secretary-general of the Social Development Commission on Justice and Peace, shared with the participants the idea of peace promoted by Pope Benedict XVI, who believes the family is the main institution around which it is possible to build peace, the place where love is practiced for the ones we love and for others, and as such the place that is the first teacher of peace.

For Ajchara Somsaengsuang “there are assistance, love and forgiveness within the family and the language of love is communicated to one another by the language of touch . . . with hugs as consolation.”

“Unfortunately’” she added, “the present status of the family is affected by individualism, materialism and consumerism which make people more selfish; neglect of others leads to divorce and an increase in the number of the single mothers.”

Card Michael Michai Kitbunchu, of the archdiocese of Bangkok, stressed the importance of the family as the home of humanity.

“The Catholic faithful have to live together with people of various faiths in society as one family.  We may need many things for ourselves, but what can be greater if there is respect, help and care for one another to bring peace in the society,” he said. “Respect for one another also includes respect for the natural environment to the benefit of all.”

Wallop Tungkananurak, secretary general of the Children’s Foundation, noted that research on family values in Thailand, China and India showed that extended families that live together are less prone to violence. For instance, when family members “quarrel, the elderly who are respected, tend to pacify and lead to problem resolution.”

Finally Prof Ratchanee Thongchai, a representative from the Children’s Foundation, stressed how important children are to society.

“In rural areas children bring friendship and understanding to the community,” she said. “Our life should link different generations so that our children learn from the family-as-community, i.e. its ‘root’.  If we learn anything from the root we will understand others better, but especially ourselves.”

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