An Italian priest shares the joy of Christmas with Buddhists in Thailand as part of inter-religious dialogue in the country.
Together with a group of friends and Catholics, Father Daniele Mazza, a member of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), "shared the joy of Christmas and brought the baby Jesus into the houses of those Buddhists who asked for it" on December 13.
"After the blessing, the youth went to give a big hug to the elderly and the sick, sharing God's love and making Him really present in a special way," Father Mazza said. "There were moments of pure grace."
One of the priorities of PIME has been to promote inter-religious dialogue in Thailand, a Buddhist-majority country in southeast Asia.
Inter-religious dialogue is also a very important aspect of the mission in Thailand; one of our missionaries received his Master's in Buddhism, studying with monks to better find common threads to relate to one another on.
After earning his Master’s Degree in Buddhism from Mahachulalongkorn University, Father Mazza is about to finish his Ph.D. in Buddhist studies at the same university.
From November 25 to December 10, Father Mazza attended a Vipassana Meditation Retreat at Camp Son Religious Development Center, Khao Kho, Phetchabun, as part of the curriculum to finish his PhD course in Buddhist studies.
The retreat was organized by the IBSC (International Buddhist Studies College) of Mahachulalongkorn Rajavidyalaya University.
As many as 250 bikkhus, maechi (lay people who choose to follow the eight precepts for a certain period of their lives), sayale (maechi from Myanmar), and lay practitioners from all over the world (especially Asia) joined the retreat.
"It has been a difficult but very interesting experience. We had more than 10 hours of formal meditation practice every day, starting at 4 a.m., and we had to stay in tents in the woods," Father Mazza said.
"I usually celebrated Mass in my tent during the afternoon break. "Surely, this experience will help me a lot in my work on interreligious dialogue," adds the missionary.
The PIME’s work in the country is with the Hill Tribes of the rural north. Many people work as laborers and are frequently working-poor. These isolated communities do not often have the means to provide an education, and so children have to travel to different areas of the country to receive it, often with the help of donors.
Thailand is rapidly becoming industrialized and adapting to many of the youth moving to the large cities in the hopes of establishing a new way of life for themselves.
Thailand is confronting numerous social crises. The gap between the poor and the rich is very wide and increasing. The country also has a major human trafficking and related crime problem.
PIME works with children who have disabilities, focusing on their cognitive and intellectual development while also working to abolish the stigma that is placed on their condition.
The education of all disadvantaged children in the country is a priority for PIME, much like in many Asian countries where PIME missionaries are present.
Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity are among the other minority religions in the country. About 1.2% of the population is Christian, with less than half of that percentage being Catholic.
As of 2019, Thailand had 388,000 Catholics, accounting for roughly half of the country's 69 million people.
Thailand's Catholic Church is divided into two archdioceses, nine dioceses, and 502 parishes.
Radio Veritas Asia (RVA), a media platform of the Catholic Church, aims to share Christ. RVA started in 1969 as a continental Catholic radio station to serve Asian countries in their respective local language, thus earning the tag “the Voice of Asian Christianity.” Responding to the emerging context, RVA embraced media platforms to connect with the global Asian audience via its 21 language websites and various social media platforms.