04/29/2013, 00.00
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PIME priest: from the "crumbs" of Fang, a testimony of faith and mission

by p. Claudio Corti
From celebrations for the 60th anniversary of Fr. Zimbaldi’s ordination to the priesthood to baptisms celebrated at Easter, the small community in northern Thailand confirms its vitality. The "missionary" spirit of children, who invite parents to attend mass. The blessing of the church dedicated to Our Lady of the Assumption, in Akha tribal village.

Bangkok (AsiaNews) - AsiaNews receives and publishes an example of missionary witness from Thailand, a nation where the percentage of Catholics is tiny (just 0.1% of 66.7 million inhabitants) but full of vitality and a spirit of initiative . Fr. Claudio Corti, priest of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), recounts his experience through a series of writings titled "Crumbs from Fang", which describe the daily life among the tribal people (ethnic Lahu and Akha) in the north. The missionary recounts the last few months of the community, from the feast of the Epiphany shared with the bishop to celebrate the New Year of the Lahu tribe. In recent months there have been many baptisms, of new-borns and adult converts, testimony to a Church in continuous expansion. Special thoughts for Fr. Zimbaldi, founder of the community and soul of evangelization in the north of Thailand, who crossed the milestone of 60 years of priesthood.

Throughout the Diocese of Chiang Mai - the second state after that of Bangkok - there are 80 thousand Catholics, of whom 60 thousand already baptized. The parish of Fang, the location of the PIME mission, gathers 5,200 Catholics, of whom 2 thousand are baptized and 3 thousand are still following their catechetical journey. PIME also has two hostels in the north, about 90 km distant from each other: one at Fang, where there are a hundred children from elementary school to middle school, one in Ban Thoet Thai (Chiang Rai province) which includes 70 other children of the same age.

Dearest friends, time flies and Easter is already almost a month behind us. But I did not want you to miss out on news from the mission of Fang, given that you too, through prayer and financial support, are part of our family. In early January, the feast of the Epiphany, the feast of Fang, the bishop of Chiang Mai Mgr. Francis Xavier Vira Arphonrat expressed his desire to spend a day with us and the children of the mission. Epiphany is also the day of the Missionary Childhood: children can be "missionaries" through their prayer, their sacrifices, their games and their behavior. Have you ever seen a child invite his parents to go to Mass and pray? Here yes!

In January we celebrated the New Year festival of the Lahu tribe. It is a 15-day festival, during which the Lahu invite family and friends together and thank the Lord for the New Year. It has become tradition to celebrate this feast in the Fang mission too because many Catholics are part of the Lahu tribe. More than 300 people came to the mission to spend a day of prayer and thanksgiving together with dances, songs and games. The beautiful clothes, bright colors, gave such a special touch to the party.

The month of March saw the conclusion of the school year, which will resume in mid-May. Our eighth-grade boys ended their time in education and formation at the mission and the majority of them will continue - always sponsored by us / you - their studies. Two of them, sadly, will go to work to help their families who are very poor.

Our children are really very good and not only at school: they spent two months carefully preparing a Way of the Cross, which they proudly staged on Good Friday.

Holy Week is always a significant moment in our life of faith: in the town of Fang, during the Vigil Mass, five adults were baptized and, on Easter day, nine children received their First Communion. In the coming months more than 100 people will be baptized. Please pray for them!

On Sunday, April 7, in the presence of more than 1,500 people, the bishop officially blessed the Church of the Holy Trinity in the center of Ban Thai Thoet and he conferred confirmation on 30 teens and adults. The moment was particularly joyful and moving because it also marked the 60th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood of Fr. John Zimbaldi - the "founder" of the mission - who over the past 40 years has ensured the constant growth of the Christian community in numbers and in faith. The next day, April 8, in the village of Akha Kayeng the little church dedicated to the Virgin Mary was blessed, and 23 people of that community - children and adults - received Baptism.

Together with all of you, I thank the Lord for the wonders that He is doing in this part of the world. These small bits of news that I share with you are just the "crumbs" of the good that the Lord works in our midst. Although we often feel pessimistic, we should open our eyes to see the good that is there and this can give us courage and serenity. A belated but heartfelt : "Happy Easter" to you all.

* Priest of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), originally from Maggianico (in the municipality of Lecco, Italy), 20 years in Thailand.


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