12/22/2004, 00.00
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Buddhists and other non Christians will attend Christmas mass

by Weena Kowitwanij

Bangkok (AsiaNews) – Catholics will be attending Christmas mass with 'their Buddhist friends". About 15 per cent of those who will take part in the Christmas liturgy will in fact be non Christians, happy to share in the ritual even though they do not really know who Jesus is. Many won't know that he is everyone's Saviour, not only Christians'.

To Tamon Pattanajareat, a 14-year-old girl, Jesus "is the son of Mary." But, she adds: "I don't really know who he is".

Tamon, who attends a convent school run by the Sisters of the Assumption in Bangkok, says she "comes to the Assumption Cathedral to pray before exams, to ask Mary Mother of God to help her and her friends to pass the test".

"Although I call myself a Buddhist," she explains, "I rarely have a chance to practice; I rarely go to the temple."

"Even on special occasions—my birthday or that of relatives—I pray that everything goes well and everyone is happy," she says.

Tanchanok, 8, is also Buddhist. He goes to the Assumption Suksa School where he says he "learnt something about Jesus but forgot what".

Unlike Tamon, he says: "I always go to the temple with my family and offer food to the monk".

There are some 290,000 Catholics in the whole of Thailand. They prepare for Christmas by going to retreats and performing solemn penitential ceremonies. But because December 25 is a working day in Thailand, they celebrate Christmas mass at 8 pm and not at midnight.

Notwithstanding work and professional commitments, Thai Catholics celebrate Christmas as it is due. "If we are too busy at work," Fr Phaitoon Hoamchinda, a priest in Bangkok, told his flock gathered in a pre-Christmas retreat, "we cannot find that special place for Jesus in our hearts". For this reason, he urged the faithful to "take a break and prepare yourselves to receive the blessing that Jesus Christ will bestow upon us".

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