12/09/2014, 00.00
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For PIME missionary in Thailand, Advent is a time to rebuild the social fabric through school and the Gospel

by Adriano Pelosin*
Fr Pelosin, who has been in the Asian country for 36 years, talks about his work in the service of children, the sick and the elderly. In a predominantly Buddhist nation, marked by divisions and conflict, the Word of God has become a source of healing and encouragement. The desire of mission is growing among the young. For the holiday season, he hopes everyone will experience the union with God.

Bangkok (AsiaNews) - Fr Adriano Pelosin is a priest with the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME). Born in Loreggia, in the province of Padua (Italy), he has been in Thailand for 36 years, most of it spent in slums on the outskirts of Bangkok, where he has saved children from sexual predators, protected them from traffickers and organised crime, and provided them with an education that has fostered their social and professional development.

Fr Pelosin's charity work includes eight group homes for more than a hundred children, among them the House of Angels, which is dedicated to children with severe disabilities. These homes are located in Pak Kret district, about 30 km from Bangkok. Fr Pelosin, along with volunteers, nuns and teachers, has also provided assistance to some 800 children living amid the squalor and hardships of the slums.

In May of last year, the archbishop of Bangkok, Mgr Kriengsak Kovitvanit, placed St Mark Parish, in Pathumthani, in his care. Here, the missionary, with his usual zeal, has embarked on a new adventure amid a small Catholic community, in an area surrounded mostly by Buddhists and Muslims. Right away, he built close ties with locals, especially non-Christians, seniors as well as young people who ran into problems with the law and drug addiction.

Thailand's Catholics are but a tiny group, only 0.1 per cent in a country of 66.7 million people; yet, they are full of vitality and initiatives, especially in the social and education fields.

Here is what Fr Pelosin wrote for Advent:

Dear friends,

It has been a while since we have been last in touch. Now that I am starting to write, I remember all of you, and I thank the Lord because you are important in my life. I hope and pray that this letter finds you all in good health and peace, reconciled with God and with people close to you. This is the grace that I ask for me and for all of you, on the occasion of the feast of the human birth of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. May we be at peace with God and everyone.

Let me briefly summarise what the Lord has done in my life in the year that is closing. Last 9 November, I celebrated with heartfelt gratitude my 36th year of mission in Thailand.

As many already know, almost two years ago I was transferred to Our Lady of Mercy Parish (Pak Kret) after spending 26 years at St Mark Parish Church (Pathumthani).

For several years, the Fathers of Our Lady of Mercy parish have been in charge of helping abandoned children and slum dwellers. Now Fr Paolo Salamone, PIME, is directly involved in that work.

The children I had brought under my wing are still close to me. Today, 6 December, they are all here at St Mark, to fish in the parish's small lake. Some do the fishing; others do the barbecue; others eat. There is a lot of good fish here.

The oldest kids, who left our 'Homes of hope' a while ago, have come back with their girlfriends, boyfriends, spouse and even their new born babies . . . asking me to bless their love and children.

Here in Pathumthani, we work in four slums - Wat Sake, Lat Lum Kew, Wat Kok, and Wat Prai Fa - with the cooperation of two nuns, three lay people, and often several volunteers.

At Wat Lat and Lum Kew Sake, we rebuilt and repaired 17 homes damaged by flooding two years ago or run down because residents did not have the moral or financial wherewithal to do the upkeep. At Wat Sake, we serve breakfast every morning to 163 kindergartner and elementary school children. A Lat Lum Kew, we provide a hot meal once a week to about 30 seniors. We frequently visit abandoned seniors and their children in prison (for drug dealing, theft and physical violence).

On 14 April at Wat Sake, the Archbishop of Bangkok opened a small shelter in the presence of local authorities and nine Buddhist monks. Called the "House of Mercy," the centre is on land owned by the nearby Buddhist monastery. We pay the abbot the equivalent of 25 euros a year, but he is currently in hospital, gravely ill with cancer. I often visit him and I pray for him, and he pleads for my blessings for him and for our work for the poor.

Every Tuesday, at Wat Sake, we read the word of God with about 20 people, mostly seniors. We would like to rebuild the social fabric with God's enlightening, encouraging and healing Word. However, the road is long . . . like the 40 years the Jews spent in the desert.

The last week, I had a meeting with young people in Wat Sake, kids who often get into deadly fights with other young people. The same evening after the meeting, they got into another fight. . . . We need patience and have to keep trying!

In Lat Lum Kew, we also read the word of God every Wednesday. Soon we shall begin this important activity in Wat Kok and Wat Prai Fa. Keep in mind that everyone in these communities is Buddhist, with the set idea that their moral and social condition depends on bad Karma (the result of bad actions in this and in previous lives, which they have to endure in order to be born again in order to improve themselves for the next life).

During the school year, every Saturday we bring children from the communities of Wat Kok and Wat Pray Fa to St Mark Parish Church for educational activities. Almost all of the children have no parents and live with a grandfather or a grandmother. Can you imagine how much they need love and more!

In April and October, when school closes, we offer daily activities with the help of teachers from two Catholic schools and high school students. During these activities, the Catholic women of the parish of St Mark and their children prepare food for poor children (it was not easy to get this done).

For the past few years, on the authority of the Thai Bishops' Conference I train priests, nuns, seminarians and lay people for missionary work. This way, I take all the students to visit slums, prisons, juvenile detention centres and hospices for people with serious difficulties (abandoned seniors, single mothers, female rape victims, the disabled, and the blind).

Right now, eight seminarians from various dioceses of Thailand are working in the slums, for two and a half months. Their main task is to teach Thai to third and fourth grade pupils who are still unable to master their own mother tongue.

In addition to this, here in Bangkok, as indeed in the rest of the world, there are many refugees and migrant workers from other nations, who often find themselves in trouble. My task is to find the time and the means to help them.

As superior of the Thai Missionary Institute, I am also responsible for 14 member priests, two associated priests and nine nuns from different congregations, who work with us in the missions in Cambodia and with mountain tribes in northern Thailand. We also have about ten young people who are interested in becoming missionaries.

This work includes supplying various centres that we have in northern Thailand, in Chiang Rai province: WianKen, Chieng Saen, Chieng Kong, Mae Chan, and Chieng Kam.

Each centre has several children to support and educate. Various organisations help these children and I want to take the opportunity of this letter to thank them. They are: Caritas Children in Parma, the PIME's Adoptions Office in Milan, the Mission Office in Udine, Aggiungi un posto a tavola (Set another plate on the table) in Abbiategrasso, and PIME's US Mission Office.

Helping poor children to study, especially those from mountain tribes, is important work. We defend these innocent creatures from exploitation and slavery.

I cannot end this letter to you without thanking the Lord who has given me so much serenity, and the occasional bump, as well as good health. I have never been sick in bed a single day.

The Lord gives me so much confidence in him, and never fails to make me feel every day (almost every day . . .) his presence and love. Every day, I pray, "Lord, guide me; let me be guided by you."

To all of you who read and follow me with love, I hope that in this period of Advent you can experience union with God, which will make you indeed feel part of eternity, because God's love is eternal and never fails. The sign of this truth is that He became man to make us divine. Pray for me and continue to help me; and help us, however you can.

(*Missionary with the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions in Thailand)

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