02/28/2012, 00.00
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Thailand: Udon Thani opens Church history museum

by Weena Kowitwanij
A Catholic community celebrates its 122 years of life with a gift of nine tons of rice to the poor, and the creation of a small museum that bears witness to its history, and the families of fishermen and farmers.

Bangkok (AsiaNews) - The Church of the Holy Family, which is locally called Phong Sung Church, in the northeastern Thai province of Udon Thani, is celebrating 122 of life as a Catholic community founded in 1890. Currently it has 3500 faithful. Throughout the province there are 16,265 Catholics, with 68 churches and missionary "stations". Bishop Joseph Luechai Thatwisai presided over the blessing of nine tons of rice, the villagers have decided to donate to their pastor to be distributed to the poor, irrespective of distinctions of faith. It is a habit that is repeated from year to year and the amount donated depends on the abundance of the harvest.

Father Luis Miguel Aviles, a Spanish missionary of 58, and the bishop have also decided to give life to a church museum, with on-site religious objects and other objects, related to the activities of the family of fishermen and farmers, as well as ceramic objects, which are deemed worthy of being preserved for their historical value. Father Luis was struck by the faith and the lifestyle of people in Phon Sung and fears that the way of life may change in a short time. The priest said that "there are many objects, like an old wooden cross, a symbol of faith and the meeting point of the villagers. It is nice to create a small museum to safeguard these. Old candlesticks, chalices, a globe, the drum formerly used for calling people to mass, when there was no bell. "

And then there are "tools of daily life, a life that is rapidly changing and are now obsolete: rakes, ox yokes, plows, and ancient pottery. Some farmers created their own tools for agriculture."

The museum is a two-story house, once used as a school, where the nuns of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians taught. The sisters have built a new school 500 meters away to accommodate an increasing number (800 two years ago) of students.

A volunteer catechist, Subin Muangmeros, has played a significant role in collecting and arranging the exhibits. Subin shows visitors the valise of the first Bishop, an American, in Udon Thain, between 1966 and 1975, Bishop Clarence James Duhart. Fr. J. Duhart was the first Redemptorist priest to work in Udon Thani, and he took care of the poor for decades, when the parish was still part of the Archdiocese of Tharae-Nongsaeng.

The first group of Spanish missionaries arrived in Thailand in 1995, led by Fr. Furmin Riano, who had been in Thailand for 17 years. Currently there are 17 Spanish missionaries in Asia, five in Thailand and 12 in Japan. The Udon Thani diocesie was erected December 18, 1965, under the pastoral care of Msgr. Dihart.  He was succeeded by Bishop George Yod Phimphisan, who retired in 2009. The current bishop, Luechai Thatwisai, is a diocesan priest, born in Phon Sung, who before this appointment taught at the major seminary Lux Mundi in Samphran, in the province of Nakhon Pathom.

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