Chiang Mai (AsiaNews) - "Every Saturday, at seven in the evening, when it is dark, my parents gather in front of the little altar they have at home. The house is made of straw and bamboo. In front of the image of Jesus and the Virgin Mary , they remove the flowers now dry and they place new ones, freshly picked, and then light two candles. They stay there, completely still for about ten minutes and then put out the candles". This is story of a catechist from the mission in Fang, Northern District of Chiang Mai province, northern Thailand, who describes how his parents now elderly, pray in this time of Advent in preparation for Christmas. A pause, then he continues: "My parents can not read or write, and have learned the prayers as adults and therefore find it difficult to remember them. Yet they stand there, before the sacred images and, in silence, they 'worship ', that is, they remember that God is present in their lives. "
On the occasion of the Year of Faith proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI, which began last October, we can only thank the Lord for the faith of so many humble people who remind us - with simple gestures - that God is always present in our lives. We in the mission Fang attended the grand opening celebration of the Year of Faith, at the Cathedral of Chiang Mai. The catechists had just completed their annual meeting, and then, together, we attended a suggestive celebration in which, after the solemn profession of faith in six different languages - as many as the tribes in the diocese - the bishop gave the priests a lamp in memory of our faith. Which, the prelate added, must be continually renewed and invigorated.
Soon it will be Christmas and our faith becomes more joyful, remembering the Child Jesus was born for us. However, the mission of the Church has never ceased to bear fruit, as evidenced by the most significant works that have characterized the life of the community in recent months. These include the departure of Fr. Maximum Bolgan that, after almost four years of mission in Fang. He was assigned to missionary and vocational animation in the PIME community in Mascalucia, Sicily. To him goes our "heartfelt thanks" and best wishes for his apostolate among the lava of Etna and cannoli!
Also this year the centers of the mission, Fang and Ban Thai Thoet, are home to 170 children (to which must be added a dozen teachers and assistants). School development in Thailand is making headway: the first graders have received "new school books" for free from the government: the famous tablet or laptop! Think of the cultural shock that these children are experiencing: their homes are made of wood or bamboo, sometimes without electricity, and then, at school, they are using the latest technology available on the market.
In July we celebrated 40 years of PIME's presence here, with a great celebration in the cathedral of Chiang Mai. We in Fang are privileged to have a "founder" of the mission 40 years ago: Fr. John Zimbaldi, 83 years old, still in good shape and healthy. In October, there was also a meeting of all the missionaries who work in the Diocese of Chiang Mai (priests, nuns and lay people from different countries). It was a moment of mutual exchange, with confirmation, by Bishop. Francis Xavier Vira Arpondratana, on the importance of the presence of foreign missionaries in the life of the local church.
In October we welcomed the giant crucifix on a pilgrimage in the various parishes of the diocese on the occasion of the Year for Youth, which will end this December. Various activities have been organized for young people, the present and future of the Church: moments of prayer, formation, activities. During the month of November, we often prayed for the dead, celebrating Mass in the village cemetery, with a special remembrance for the small child Francesca Thanyarat, age ten, who lived in our mission and killed in a tragic accident. Gradually, with the help of God and many generous people, the church - and not only the bricks and mortar church - is growing and developing. Together with you we thank the Lord, feeling close in prayer.
* Priest of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), a native of Maggianico (in the municipality of Lecco, Italy), in Thailand for 20 years.