Mission-dreaming in Thailand
Celebrating 64 years in paradise
If one person dreams, it remains a dream, but if we dream together it becomes a reality." With these few simple words Redemptorist Fr. Joseph Apisit Kristalaram opened a weekend of festivities. The place - Bangkok, Thailand; the occasions: the inauguration of the fully independent Province of Thailand.
Years ago many Redemptorists volunteered for the far away Siam mission, but from the mid western and western United States only a few were sent each year. They started coming in 1948. Now after 64 years, the thriving and flexible mission among Thailand's poor and abandoned is witness to the saving reality that the Holy Spirit and six decades of community dreaming have brought about.
The story of the Thai Redemptorists and the American pioneers who spearheaded the mission is a story that starts with the first missionaries recognising God was already at work among the Thai people and in their culture. The genius of the founding fathers was to listen to the God who was there before them, a God whom they found alive and active in the hearts of the people, especially the poor and the excluded.
The Paradise of God
A musical presentation by the Redemptorist students of Asia-Oceania and local extras was a highlight of the first day of celebrations. To present the musical, students from New Zealand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and Thailand came all the way from the seminary in Davao (Philippines). The musical was called "Finding Heaven" and picked up the words of St. Alfonso de Liguori, the founder of the Redemptorists, where he said, "The human heart is the paradise of God".
When the first Redemptorists and those who followed recognised God's paradise in the Thai peoples' hearts, they were freed from the usual constraints of traditional missionary activity and energised to be engaged by God wherever he came to them. In a Buddhist culture they found God mostly where he exists in every culture - among the abandoned poor, especially the children.
Sixty years of growth
With gifts for Thai and tribal languages, lots of imagination and generosity, and of course a few hiccups along the way, the early missionaries embraced the opportunities that came to them. Facilities and programmes established in the early years have flourished and gained financial support from a worldwide base of generous donors. It became a model for the mission's further growth over 60 years.
The Thai Redemptorists are now blessed with 7 brothers, 47 priests, 2 bishops, 9 professed theology students, 21 philosophy students, 10 postulants, and 60 students in the minor seminary. They have eight communities across the Kingdom of Thailand.
Important Redemptorist gatherings
The celebrations of the new province were held between two significant gatherings of Redemptorists from across Asia-Oceania, both of which were directed at refocussing the Redemptorist mission in this part of the world, and to following the Most Holy Redeemer as he looks back from the paradise of the human heart.
The superior general of the Redemptorists, Fr. Michael Brehl, general consulter Fr. Juventius Andrada, and the co-ordinator of the Redemptorists in Asia-Oceania, Fr. Jovencio Ma, together with the leaders of the various units across the region gathered in Bangkok and Pattaya for two weeks. They were joined by many other confreres especially those who had something to do with the CSsR mission in Thailand and their brothers throughout Asia-Oceania.
Mass of thanksgiving
On the second day of the festivities a Mass of Thanksgiving was celebrated at Holy Redeemer church in downtown Bangkok. The church's beautiful Thai architecture is a fulsome reminder that God was in Thailand long before the missionaries arrived, alive in the culture, its ways and religions. The Mass was sung by the Redemptorist seminarians and by the children of St. Joseph Maejam, Chieng Mai.
The Thanksgiving Mass was celebrated by Bangkok archbishop, Francis, Xavier Kriengsak Kovitvanit. He was assisted by many other bishops, and by the superior general of the Redemptorists, Fr. Michael Brehl together with Redemptorists from across Thailand and Asia-Oceania together with visiting diocesan and religious priests.
We find Christ ... wherever we are sent
Recently established in Bangkok, the Redemptoristine sisters also took part in the ceremony within a packed church. To those present Fr Brehl said, "Those of you who accompany the Redemptorists are the reason we are here. It is a new moment in our history reviving our commitment. Witness to Christ is not a dream but our reality. We find Christ the Redeemer wherever we are sent."
The leader of the Denver Province in the United States, Fr. Harry Grile attested to the fact that it was good for everyone to be there together for the celebrations. He reminded everyone, including his confreres that the Redemptorists had come to Thailand to 'gather the people, tell the story, and break the bread. This they had done for 64 years. And Fr. Harry went on to remind the new province "Never walk by an unwanted child or a lonely little one." Fr. Harry's words not only summed up the history of the Redemptorists in Thailand, they were also an invitation to go forth and apprentice the Thai people in Christ's way.
Through two days of celebrations in the heavy tropical air the Redemptorists, their partners in mission and their many friends trod lightly along a path of gratefulness sharing their joy in being about Christ's mission. The Australian and New Zealand Redemptorists congratulate their Thai brothers on becoming a new province in the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer. We are also very happy for our American brothers who revealed God's paradise in the Thai heart. Mission-dreaming in Thailand.