Amid conversions, charity and mission, Fr Pelosin tells more stories about the Thai Church
Bangkok (AsiaNews) – In the following letter, Father Adriano Pelosin, a missionary with the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions in Thailand for 34 years, sends Easter greetings to all his friends and benefactors, describing PIME’s work and the stories of grace and conversion that stem from it. The PIME missionary is the superior in the Thai Missionary Institute, which this year celebrates its first 25 years.
In my Christmas letter, I told you about the various activities in which my many collaborators and I are involved. For Easter, I would like to go a step further and give you some of the details of our work of evangelisation.
First, let me share with you the joy of the Thai Catholics who, on 14 February, got a second cardinal – His Eminence Archbishop Francis Kriansak Bangkokand. He is the protector of our Thai Missionary Institute (of which I am in charge),
I am writing to you from the Institute, which has missions in Cambodia, Laos and northern Thailand. In mid-January, it held its annual meeting. All 34 of those directly associated with it – priests, sisters and some seminarians – met for ten days to pray, tell each other about our experiences and plan future initiatives.
The meeting took place in an atmosphere of friendship, a sense of shared mission and enthusiasm. Some local well-off Catholic families gave us food.
This year the Institute is celebrating its 25th year of existence. For this reason, we have planned missionary days in every diocese throughout the year, to boost the missionary responsibilities in local churches.
On 14 February, the 15th member of the Institute was ordained (pictured). Now he is responsible for seminarian training at the minor seminary of the Diocese of Chiang Mai, where almost all the seminarians come from mountain tribal people: Karen, Lahu, Akha, Mong, and Yao.
This year, the Church in Thailand is also celebrating its second Synod, 350 years after the first, and 50 years of the appointment of the local church hierarchy. Myself, I am a Synod Father.
In its Instrumentum Laboris, the Thai Church has expressed its readiness to follow the guidelines Pope Francis laid down in his encyclical Evangelii Gaudium, a “poor Church for the poor”. For now, however, this remains only a prophecy.
Let me now talk to you a little bit about life in the slums, telling you Ari’s story, a 42-year-old widow.
To get to her home, one has to go through a narrow, 35-cm alley. Two factories barred four shacks built on public land. I found out that one of the factories built its high walls on some of that land.
Ari's father is seriously ill with diabetes, and had big sores on his legs. The old man could not get free public health care, like other Thai citizens, because his parents forgot to register his birth. A young Catholic lawyer, who is getting ready to enter the seminary at the Thai Missionary Institute, has taken on his case so that Ari’s father could get Thai citizenship.
A young Muslim convert to Christianity and a young Buddhist (baptised last Easter) sought witnesses to prove the man’s nationality and travelled to his place of birth to contact the local District Office. They then contacted provincial authorities. After months of work, Ari’s father was officially recognised as a Thai citizen with the right to publicly funded health care and a pension. After a year of medical treatment, his skin condition was cured.
During this period, Ari, her father and granddaughter received material help, including rice, from local Catholics. For a year, Ari went back and forth from the hospital. In the meantime, she and her sister came to catechesis to prepare for baptism.
"Nobody has ever taken care of me and my father as you Catholics have. This makes me believe that your God is the true God,” she said during a Sunday catechism meeting.
Some of Ari’s neighbours are drug dealers. They have tried to drive her out of the small slum to get her place. For this reason, at this very moment as I am writing, a small group of friends is lying down the foundations for Ari’s raised home.
The new building is being built on land owned by Wat Cheng Buddhist temple whose abbot is the brother of a friend of ours who converted to Catholicism. The money to build Ari’s house and 17 other homes already built were raised by my dear friend, Fr Antonio Curti, parish priest in San Lorenzo in Collina, Bologna (Italy).
The story of Mueli and Visal
Mueli is a 19-year-old Cambodian woman and Visal, 24, is the man she lives with. I was introduced to them by Mani, a Cambodian man who has had a similar story as theirs, and whom I have helped for three years. Mueli and Visal love each other very much and have been together five years, but Mueli’s family is against her marrying Visal because he is poor, and Mueli’s family is rich.
Once, Mueli ran away from home to be with Visal, but her parents found her, brought her back, beat her and kept her chained. Cambodian police charged Visal with kidnapping. Eventually, Mueli and Visal managed to escape and come to Thailand.
When I first met Mueli, she was six months pregnant. They had a two-month tourist visa. I found them a rented room near the church and offered Visal a job in the church where we are building a home.
In the early days, I wanted the couple to find a bit of peace and quiet after their ordeal, and invited them to share a meal with me at the rectory.
This caused resentment among some of my parishioners who did not want me to let these "foreigners" in the rectory. My cook refused to cook for them. They also wrote a letter of protest to the archbishop and the matter was brought to the pastoral council.
It was around Christmas time, and I explained my position. "For me,” I told them, “these two Cambodians are like Mary and Joseph, looking for a place to stay and give birth to their child".
Indeed, on 12 February, a beautiful little girl was born, and the parents asked me to give her the name "Lucy" or "Light".
Mueli called her parents. Her father told her that she was no daughter of his, and that Lucy was even less his granddaughter. Her mother asked Mueli to come back to Cambodia with her daughter but without Visal.
Personally, I am concerned about getting a residence permit for them. I was directed to a Cambodian agency that demanded 25,000 Baht (US$ 750) for expenses. They wanted half the money up front. I had no guarantee and I was afraid of being cheated.
The expiration date on the tourist visa was about the time Mueli would give birth. So I had to take a leap of faith and I prayed. In the end, Mueli and Visal got a two-year work visa and now they have to go to the Cambodian Embassy to register their daughter’s birth. They already have a Thai birth certificate.
Just yesterday, Visal came to me with a Cambodian friend who spoke English (because I do not speak Cambodian) and asked me if I could a father to them and a grandfather to their daughter, because they had none. I was moved to tears, and I prayed, "Our Father who art. . ."
Let me, with this letter, thank all of those who have helped this mission as well as those who help tribal children in the mountains around Mae Chan, Chiang Rai, get a formal education: Caritas Children in Parma, PIME’s adoption office in Milan, the Missionary Office in Udine, ‘Aggiungi un posto a tavola’ (Add a seat at the table) in Abbiategrasso, and the PIME Missionary Office in the US.
May God bless you all and give all those who read this letter a lot of joy and hope in the Risen Christ, so that he may dry away tears, forgive sins and conquer death.
Fr Adriano Pelosin