Catholics and Muslims united by a Cross
Bangkok (AsiaNews) For Thailand's 300,000 Catholics Good Friday has special meaning, in particular for the elderly, for it reminds them of their sins and encourages them to seek redemption.
A beautiful example of inter-faith dialogue and friendship is found in the Lady of the Rosary Church. Built in 1897, it is within walking distance from the Assumption Cathedral in downtown Bangkok.
Legend has it that the Cross local faithful worship on Good Friday was donated by local Muslims more than 100 years ago. The Muslims' descendants confirm the story, saying that once upon a time their forebears saw a cross floating in the Chao Phraya River, which runs near the church. After bringing it to shore they gave it to the local parish priest as sign of friendship and respect.
Since then, in agreement with successive church rectors, Muslims hold the key to a closet in the church were the Cross is kept under lock, and every year during Holy Week they come and open it so that it can be placed in the church for worship.
After Easter the Cross goes back into the closet, again under lock, and key is returned to the Muslims who pledge to come back the following year.
The tradition is so rooted that a large crowd is expected in church. Later, in the afternoon, an annual procession that dates back to the times of the first Portuguese missionaries will make its way through the surrounding streets, a human-size statue of the dead Jesus leading the way.
According to Fr Marel Perray, the French-born parish priest who has led the congregation for 40 years, most parishioners at the Lady of the Rosary Church are of Chinese origin. Like them he speaks fluent Chinese.
Holy Week celebrations in Thailand must conform with local customs. Services are held later than tradition demands to defer to the country's work hours. In rural areas however it is easier to respect tradition and Good Friday mass takes place at 3 pm, the time when tradition says Jesus died on the Cross.
Bangkok's Assumption Cathedral is the only city place of worship that respects tradition. As in every previous year, the faithful have set up the tabernacle for morning worship with the adoration of the Cross scheduled to begin at 3 pm, followed by the Way of the Cross presided by Card Michael Michai Kitbunchu. The services are expected to draw about 500 people.
In every Thai Catholic church funds for the Holy Land will be collected for the purpose of restoring the Holy Places.
Funds raised during Lent have been instead earmarked for the poor and the needy with every local church encouraging the faithful not to spend on unnecessary luxuries during the forty days period.