03/23/2006, 00.00
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Lent in Thailand: prayer, social commitment, and inter-faith harmony

by Weena Kowitwanij

Throughout the Lenten period, Thailand's 300,000 Catholics "follow the directions of the Church while seeking, each in his own way, to help Jesus carry his Cross".

 Bangkok (Asianews) –Members of Thailand's Catholic community live the Lenten period in different ways, but they all share "prayer for peace and the desire to help Christ carry his Cross".

Bishop Michael Bunluen Mansap, President of Catholic Commission for Human Development, sent a Lenten message to all the faithful, stressing that "co-operation among people in various ways is necessary to tackle the advance of materialism. People suffer hunger, violence and destruction caused by war and poverty: the time of Lent should be aimed at defeating these problems."

National statistics show that 6.2 million out of 64 million inhabitants live below the poverty threshold, (earning less than 22.30 US dollars per month), and that there are more than 1,602 abandoned street children.

The bishop continued: "The Catholic Church in Thailand tries to promote, support, assist and protect human rights and dignity, especially of women, children and the infirm. We are morally obliged to follow Jesus' steps: we should be involved in social projects of all kinds and do our best."

Lent is lived in different ways by members of the community. Fr Somyos Thepsamut, a Capuchin, said: "The aim of each year is different: fasting, praying, meditation before the Eucharist and evangelization among the poor." Poonpokpol, aged 74, said: "I attend the 'Way of the Cross' every week, go to mass every day and visit sick people:  I believe that this is the best way to help Jesus to bear his Cross."

Peter Likitroengsil, member of the Santa Cruz Church council, said: "In a concrete way, I save money for the poor, in line with one of the church's campaigns for Lent. I don't eat meat on Wednesdays and Fridays in expiation for my sins."

Thanapon Ngarmpratuengsopa, aged 18, from the Assumption Cathedral community, said: "Everybody in my family fasts at this time. I try to waste less time on useless activities and to help my parents more, apart from going to all the holy week liturgies."

One of the commitments of the community – around 300,000 members across the country – is to "promote inter-religious harmony and union among Christians". Sasithorn Sukkaseam, secretary of the Catholic Youth Commission, said his young people organised a Taizè prayer meeting at the Mater Dei school. "We invited Lutheran and Orthodox youth to pray with us. The scope of the prayer was Christian unity and peace in Thailand."

"Buddhist youth also participated," he added. "I am especially happy about this. Since they got to know us, many often call at the Commission to ask if there are any activities they can participate in."

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