Chiang Mai (AsiaNews) - At last, Thailand's Catholic Church opened the country's first Benedictine monastery. The inauguration ceremony was held in the presence of Mgr Francis Xavier Vira Arpondratana, bishop of Chiang Mai.
The event was an "historic" moment because the new structure is the first male monastery in the "Land of Smiles," already home to seven female monasteries (Carmelites and Poor Clares).
Held on 18 January, the ceremony saw the presence of Mgr Antonio Mattiazzo, archbishop of Padua, who had suggested and supported the project after receiving a positive response from Abbot Stéphane Huynh, head of the Benedictine Monastery in Thien An (Hue) in Vietnam.
Vietnam is already home to three Benedictine monasteries, which are literally "bursting" in terms of vocations. However, Vietnamese authorities do not seem very keen on authorising a fourth one. For this reason, setting up a new monastery in neighbouring Thailand seemed a good idea.
The new monastery is located just outside Chiang Mai, a city in northern Thailand. It has ten cells for monks, eight guestrooms and a chapel on the ground floor.
The five resident monks, all from Vietnam (including Abbot Stéphane who retired because of age and decided to come to live in the newly founded Thai structure), follow the old rule of Saint Benedict, alternating moments of prayer with work, growing maize, rice and fruit trees.
The importance of the Benedictine institution, which is a sign of the growth and vitality of the Vietnamese Church, is the first concrete step in the "new evangelisation," since its importance does not lie primarily in its educational or social role, as it does in its monastic and contemplative life, which are also the bases of Buddhism.
For Thais, a monk is in fact a "man of God", dedicated to prayers and meditation.