06/11/2015, 00.00
Send to a friend

PIME priest working in tribal areas to bring young people back at the centre of the mission

Fr Sala looks at the celebrations for the 25th anniversary of May Suay Parish in the mostly tribal north. The challenge of the pastoral ministry is to revive the faith among young people, who tend to view religion more as a way to ward off bad luck. Local catechists help the evangelisation efforts. Ase’s story shows how drug addiction can be defeated thanks to Christ and the Church.

Mae Suay (AsiaNews) – "The challenge of the pastoral ministry is to put young people at the centre of the mission, because the second generation of Catholics tends to experience religion more as a way to ward off bad luck than a real and deep faith,” said Fr Valerio Sala, a missionary with the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), originally from Carugate (Milan, Italy).

Born in 1973, the priest has been in Thailand for the past six years and is now parish priest at the Holy Spirit Centre in Mae Suay (which means beautiful mother in the local language), a village in the northern province of Chiang Rai.

For local tribal people, the notion of sin and honesty are elastic, Fr Sala said. “If one is not caught, one has not sinned and this favours thieving, promiscuity, including of the sexual kind,” he explained. “Their knowledge about and the relationship with Jesus is superficial, superstitious," he noted. “What counts is saving face.”

Thus, in order to meet the challenges of missionary life, the priest wants to change approach. "Since October, we have been thinking that it would be better [for priests and catechists] to go out into the villages to promote the catechesis rather than having young people come to the centre.”

“We want them to understand that they really matter to us,” he added. “These young people see the emptiness in their lives, and tend to respond like a mob. It is therefore important that they do not feel alone. With catechists, lay people and nuns, we want to share this missionary work."

The mission in Mae Suay celebrated its 25th anniversary on 23-25 May. After a week of preparation in various villages by two ethnic Akha and Lahu priests from Burma, and three days of preparation at the centre of the mission, Chiang Mai Bishop, Mgr Francis Xavier Vira Arpondratana led two solemn celebrations. More than 2,500 people from 29 villages attended. During the celebrations, the prelate also performed 60 confirmations.

Founded in 1990 by Fr Zimbaldi Giovanni, one of the two PIME "elders" in Thailand, the mission grew out of that in Fang. As the number of villages to minister grew, the mission in Fang was divided in two, with the creation of Holy Spirit Parish in Mae Suay.

In 25 years, five priests – Fr Santoro, Fr Corrado Ciceri, Fr Maurizio Arioldi, Fr Raffaele Pavesi and the recently appointed Fr Valerio Sala – have been in charge of the parish.

Celebrations ended on 25 May with a memorial Mass with the presence of Fr Corrado’s siblings who came from Italy. The clergyman died from cancer in 1998 at the age of 41.

In a place like Mae Suay with its young community, “There is a lot to do,” Fr Sala said. “The missionary work of catechists” is one of the positive aspects. “They help me in the evangelisation in the villages.” They accompany the priest, translate for him, and pick up information, “playing a fundamental role.”

"We hope to see the permanent deaconate introduced,” he added, “because these catechists would be the first. They are actual proof of the importance of catechists in a missionary situation like mine."

Between December and May, the PIME priest visited the parish’ 30 villages. In his view, to be a true Christian requires three essential factors: "Being witnesses to Jesus, bearing witness with one’s life and never tiring of looking for him." This is the case because “Christ is our work and we are called to find the shape, the way, the right way to do it."

To illustrate this mission, Fr Sala cited the case of Ase, a 37-year-old married father of four who “fell into the hole of drug addiction, a dark path of heroin and amphetamines."

Ase went a first time to a rehab centre in Chiang Mai, said the PIME clergyman. After this, he worked “at our centre for three more months.”

Once he went back to his village, he fell off the wagon. For this reason, “he came to ask for our help at Christmas”.

At the centre, he was able to stop for a second time, working and, as a Catholic, meditating on his life and mistakes.

"Despite the rehab, his wife would not have him back home,” Fr Sala explained. “I tried to mediate between the two. I saw Ase, a proud and decisive person, cry and sincerely repent.”

For months, he was "an example of dedication, and commitment; he received the sacraments and attended church every day."

When celebrations for the parish’s 25th anniversary ended, the wife offered him a new chance and “found the strength to forgive,” however hard it might have been.

"I mention this story as an example in my sermons because we must find the strength to defeat pride and weakness,” said Fr Sala. “At the same time, we must learn how to forgive."

Although Ase “returned home”, he said he “would continue to go to the centre in Mae Suay because it feels like home.”

“When people realise that the centre is not the clergyman’s home, but it is their thing, everyone’s home . . . then we have reached our goal."

Most Thais (95 per cent) are Buddhist. About 3 per cent are Muslim; 0.5 per cent are Christian (evenly split between Protestants and Catholics). The rest belong to smaller faith groups.  (DS)

Send to a friend
Printable version
See also
For Thai Buddhists, Francis, the "missionary" pope, embodies the spirit of Assisi, Fr Sala says
PIME dean celebrates 75 years of priesthood, entirely dedicated to China
PIME missionary in Thailand sees Easter as the time to discover the Risen Christ after suffering and death
25/03/2019 14:56
Good Gospel tidings among Fang animists
Christmas: snow postcards from Siberia
20/12/2021 09:38


Subscribe to Asia News updates or change your preferences

Subscribe now
“L’Asia: ecco il nostro comune compito per il terzo millennio!” - Giovanni Paolo II, da “Alzatevi, andiamo”