06/28/2006, 00.00
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New bishop of Ubon Ratchathani consecrated

by Weena Kowitwanij

The new bishop will take possession of one of the oldest dioceses in the country, born thanks to the efforts of the Paris Foreign Missions Society, which has now handed over to the local Church.

Ubon Ratchathani (AsiaNews) – The true calling of a bishop is "to humbly serve the community, which he must take care of as a shepherd does his sheep". These words were spoken by Mgr Michael Bunluen Mansap, bishop of Ubon Ratchathani (the oldest Catholic diocese in the region) as he consecrated his successor, Mgr Philip Banchong Chaiyara.

Around 6,000 people took part in the ceremony, which took place in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. Those present included the Nuncio, Mgr Salvatore Pennacchio, Cardinal Michai Kitbunchu, Archbishop of Bangkok, Mgr George Yod Phimphisan, President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Thailand and another 12 bishops, including two from Laos.

During his homily, Mgr Mansap said: "Today, I am transferring the powers but especially the duties of the Bishop of Ubon to my successor and I pledge obedience to him, glad to do whatever he may wish me to do." The elderly bishop continued: "However, as his ex-teacher, I want to give him a last word of advice: the duty of the bishop is to serve with love the faithful who look to him as a shepherd."

The diocese of Ubon Ratchathani is the oldest in north-east Thailand. It was established 125 years ago thanks to the striving of the Paris Foreign Missions Society. At present there are less than 10 missionaries of the Society left in Thailand, so yesterday's ceremony took on symbolic value as a "handing over of responsibilities" of the diocese from the French Society to the local Church.

Cardinal Michai Kitbunchu, on behalf of the Bishops' Conference, said: "This is a historical event of the Catholic Church in Thailand and we will remember it as such. No matter where we are, we will be united as one and for my part, I will be ready to support and to assist."

Born on 30 January, 1945 Mgr Chaiyara obtained a degree in philosophy in the United States where he was ordained priest on 12 June, 1975: before being appointed bishop, he was director of the Redemptorist orphanage in Pattaya. He is the country's second Redemptorist bishop, joining Mgr Yod Phimphisan.

His new diocese covers seven Thai provinces: Ubon Ratchathani, Sisaket, Surin, Maha Sarakham, Roi Et, Yasothon and Amnat Charoen – home to more than 25,000 Catholics. For his motto, the bishop has chosen: Nolite timere [Do not be afraid].

The liturgical consecration, thanks the community's technological efforts, was transmitted live via Internet, so believers across the country could follow the ceremony, even if they could not attend in person.

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