Fr Pelosin: Thailand, poverty and exploitation, but also generosity and vocations; Christ is risen
In his Easter letter, the PIME missionary, who has been in Thailand for almost 40 years, describes the distress thousands of people experience every day. Despite usury, corruption and neglect, there are signs of hope. Young people freely dedicate themselves to help the downtrodden. A political refugee entered the seminary. At Easter, 15 catechumens will be baptised.
Bangkok (AsiaNews) – What follows is a letter Fr Adriano Pelosin wrote for Easter to all his friends and benefactors. In it, he describes his work as well as relates the stories of grace and conversion that resulted from it. Originally from Loreggia (Italy), the missionary with the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) has been in Thailand for 35 years, and is a superior at the Thai Missionary Institute. In Thailand, Catholics are few in numbers – only 0.1 per cent out of a population of 66.7 million – but they are full of vitality and engage in plenty of initiatives, especially in the social and educational fields.
On 5 March, I returned from a walk in the garden where I saw that the mango trees were blooming two months late, a sign of climate change. I also noticed that the great channel that brings water to irrigate the rice fields and the other farmland is almost dry, a sign of an impending drought (by contrast, five years ago we went through a flood of Biblical proportions).
The political situation has not changed. We are still under a military dictatorship. Although the price of gasoline has fallen, the cost of living continues to rise. This is a time for loan sharks who are making fortune out of people’s misery. They lend money at 5, 10, even 20 per cent interest a day . . . The poor lose what little they had because they can pay neither interest, nor capital.
In January and February, I paid the debts of several people, especially grandmothers with grandchildren. The reasons for the debts include an accident, a sudden death, a prolonged illness, head of the family in prison, gambling, and business failure. Those who are left can no longer pay the instalments on the bike, home, or work tools – in one case, a motorcycle with bucket for recycling material.
On 13 March, I went to see Deng, a 37-year-old man with five children. His wife ran away from home after arguing with him. The eldest daughter is 16 and she has just given birth to a beautiful child. We contacted PIME’s Saint Martin Centre in Pak Kret district (north of Bangkok) to take in the four younger children. They will go there when the school closes for the holidays on 25 March.
On 14 March, Mr Sammat told me that Ms Rerai went through with her operation: bowel cancer and haemorrhoids. Rerai lives alone with a child, in a hut without water or light. She just buried two children who died from tuberculosis. Her husband too is dead. Rerai was in a lot of pain, but did not want to go to hospital because her parents had not registered her at birth as a Thai citizen and thus she is not entitled to free medical care. Mr Sammat and his son Pat toured half of Thailand for more than ten days to find Rerai’s siblings to testify to the authorities that Rerai was their sister, and that she was entitled to an Identity Card as well as the famous ‘gold card’ that gives access to free health care coverage.
On 15 March, I went with Ms Noi to the Pathumthani Courthouse. Ms Noi had been jailed for failing to pay back the money she had borrowed from a loan shark. I had bailed her out, and yesterday, the judge found her innocent. This is already the third case in which I am personally involved in putting up money for bail. A Buddhist master told me, "May the Holy Things in Heaven help you."
On 16 March, I went with Catholic lawyer Kan to the Lat Lum Kew slum (Pathumthani Province) to meet a community of 400 families threatened of eviction even though it has been there for more than 100 years, on land owned by someone they don’t know. The lawyer will try to get title to the land for the residents based on a law that recognises the acquisition of land prescriptively after more than ten years of rent-free occupancy.
In the afternoon, I met a group of parents whose children are in jail for beating another group of young people (six kids in a juvenile prison; four others are in an adult prison). Lawyer Kan lawyer explained to both kids and their parents how the trial will proceed. He is committed to helping these people, who live in the Wat Sake slum (Pathumtahani), in order to see that justice is done. Here the police often listen to those who give money, and exaggerates or reduces the charges in accordance to the amount of money received.
Meanwhile, we are building baths and renovating several homes for the poor in Lat Lum Kew. The man in charge of the project is David, an Iranian political refugee, a Muslim who became Catholic, and is now training to become a priest (God willing). His is 50 years old and is dedicating himself body and soul to help poor people. Here most people are elderly, and so many are also sick . . .
Nok, a 22-year-old man, arrived two weeks ago. He trained at a hostelry school and now wants to help poor people. At Wat Kok, there is also Art, a 25-year-old man with a degree in Philosophy who now teaches for free at the poorest and most deprived school in Pathumthani. The school has just over 100 students, from kindergarten to the sixth grade, but does not have enough teachers. This is why we have decided to help them.
Today Chat, a member of the Lahu tribe, arrived. He finished high school and will help at the school. There is also "IA", another 25-year-old man from the Mong tribe, who just finished high school and is now working in the Wat Sake slum with Brother Pan, who in June will go to the seminary of the Thai Missionary Institute to continue his theological studies.
Tua and Toey will start their first year in Philosophy. Tua, 30, has a degree in Art History and Cultural Heritage. He teaches at Rachapat University. He discovered that the true joy of life lies in serving the poor in the slums. He has decided to join the Thai Missionary Institute. Even Toey, a graduate in Human Resources will do the same this June. Once he discovered his vocation, Toey began working in factories to establish more justice, understanding and cooperation between workers, employers and managers . . . This led to problems.
As I write today, 17 March, four of my collaborators are visiting inmates at the Sam Kok Prison (in a district in northern Bangkok), who come from the slums where we work. As soon as I finish writing the letter, I shall go to the hospital to see a four-year-old child, without parents, who lives with his grandmother and three cousins.
Thailand is not only problems such as those I just described. However, it is the Thailand in which I am immersed . . . The poor are increasing and so are social problems. Yet, missionary vocations and interest in God are also up. God hears the call of these people and comes towards them through us.
This year we shall have nine seminarians in the major seminary and a dozen kids are preparing to join next year or in two years time. This year we also have 15 catechumens who will receive baptism at Easter and another 30 who are preparing for baptism in the next few years . . . Each Saturday and each Sunday, more than a hundred children listen to the ‘Story of Jesus’. They already know how to pray and practice the works of mercy, especially towards the elderly and sick.
There is plenty of fish, and close to the shore. Help us pull in the nets and bring the fish to Jesus who is roasting other fish, giving his body, his pilgrim Church. "[T]hey realised it was the Lord. Jesus came over and took the bread and gave it to them, and in like manner the fish," (John 21:12-13). Such is the life of the Church.
Christ is truly risen and is among us.
Happy Easter everyone.
Fr Adriano Pelosin