Top Vatican official marks 350 years of Church in Siam
Cardinal Fernando Filoni highlights evangelization challenges across Asia during visit.
Cardinal Fernando Filoni, prefect of The Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, is presented with a welcome garland by an attendee at the opening ceremony of the celebration of the 350th Anniversary of the Church's Mission to Siam in Sampran, Thailand on May 18. (Photo by Pinyo Tawinwat/ucanews.com)
A top Vatican official visiting Thailand to celebrate the 350th anniversary of the Church's mission to Siam has highlighted the challenges evangelization efforts face across Asia.
Cardinal Fernando Filoni, the prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, addressed religious, seminarians and catechists at a ceremony in Sampran, 30km west of the Thai capital Bangkok on May 18.
The cardinal told them that the most striking feature of Asia is the variety of its people who are inheritors to ancient cultures, religions and spiritual traditions.
However, he pointed out that Christianity is the least widespread religion on the continent.
“Asia is a sector of humanity rich in cultures and organized religions but with more than 85 percent of its members un-baptised,” Cardinal Filoni said.
“Asia is the missionary continent par excellence. The universal Church requests your willing cooperation for missionary activities in this vast continent,” he said.
“We need to reflect that our mission as baptized persons in Asia, is indeed a true mission, especially in relation to the multiplicity of cultures and religious expressions, in addition to the secular realities of the families and jobs, when the witnessing of our faith brings us into confrontation with the multitude of non-baptised persons, with their mentality and lifestyle, if not, at times, contrasting with the Gospel and the dignity of the person.
“The Christian life, is, therefore, a sign and a challenge for the search of the true sense of existence.”
Attending the event were priests from the Société des Missions Etrangères de Paris (MEP).
Since the foundation of Mission de Siam in 1669, MEP, with the support of other religious congregations, led evangelization efforts in Thailand and other parts of Asia.
Cardinal Fernando Filoni addresses priests and religious at the shrine of the Blessed Nicholas Bunkerd Kritbamrung in Sampran, Thailand on May 18. (Photo by Pinyo Tawinwat/ucanews.com)
Father Gilles Reithnger, the MEP superior-general, earlier said that to assist with evangelization efforts in Thailand there are 180 MEP missionaries working under the direction of local bishops.
“The society recruits and trains candidates and sends them to mission territories where the MEP has contracts with the local bishops,” said Father Reithnger.
“They serve the mission by engaging in apostolates proper to missio ad gentes, help promote local vocations and clergy, and help establish local churches,” he said. “Twelve seminarians are following a formation in Paris and five are discerning their vocation during the propedeutic year.”
Father Reithnger said MEP priests are especially praying and thanking God for the Catholic community established in Thailand on the occasion of the 350th anniversary year.
Today there are more than 300,000 Catholics spread across 12 dioceses with 436 parishes and 662 priests in Thailand.
The cardinal also read a celebratory message from Pope Francis addressed to Thailand’s Catholics during a Mass in the Hall of Pope St. John Paul II in Sampran on May 18.
“I send you my cordial best wishes an assurance of my closeness with gratitude to God for the many graces received over these 350 years,” Pope Francis said in his letter.
“I pray that you may grow in holiness and continue to work in the spread of Christ’s kingdom by fostering solidarity, fraternity and the desire for goodness, truth and justice in your beloved country,” the pope said.
Cardinal Filoni also visited a memorial shrine in Sampran dedicated to Blessed Nicholas Bunkerd Kitbamrung, one of Thailand’s martyrs later that day. Blessed Nicholas was a Thai priest falsely accused of espionage and arrested in 1941. Three years into his 15-year prison sentence, he died of tuberculosis. While jailed he taught catechism and managed to baptize 68 prisoners.
During his trip, Cardinal Filoni also visited the country’s north which has Chiang Mai Diocese and the newly formed diocese of Chiang Rai. Again, he met with priests, religious, and catechists while also spending time with local elders and people from the region’s various ethnic groups such as the Lanna, Akha, Kachin and Karen.
The cardinal’s last day in Thailand will be spent in Ayutthaya — which is considered the cradle of Thai Christianity — on May 21.