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Catholic nuns begin feeding program for poor in Thailand

Sacred Heart of Jesus Sisters congregation, based in Bangkok, serve food to the poor. (Photo supplied)

A Catholic congregation of nuns in Bangkok, Thailand has begun a feeding program for the poor.

With the "One Hand Meal for One Baht" project, Pope Francis inspires Sacred Heart Sisters in Bangkok to step outside their comfort zone and meet the basic needs of the poorest in the City of Angels.

Thailand is in a state of stagnation after two years of restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic and the ensuing economic crisis. Many people lost their jobs and fell into poverty. 

Part of the city's workforce returned to the countryside and resumed their old farming jobs, but many others who sold their property to start a new life in Thailand's great cities were forced to survive in the city's slum areas.

The Sacred Heart of Jesus Sisters congregation, based in Bangkok, started the "One hand food for one baht" project. Once a month, they distribute food to about 200 people in a slum area for only one Baht (0,028 USD) a meal.

The baht is the official currency of Thailand.

The initiative has two main aims: to help the poor people in the Buddhist Klong Toei area in this period of hardship and to foster interreligious dialogue starting from what is called the "dialogue of life".

The Sacred Heart of Jesus Sisters' specific charism is education. They have many big Catholic schools in Thailand, and they form the new generations with competence and dedication. Many Catholic and Buddhist families choose their institutions to send their offspring.

"Two years ago, something new happened,” said Sr. Orapin. "Pope Francis's inspiring invitation to go out of our houses and schools and serve the poor at the borders of our society. It implores us to take action for them. We did not have to go too far to meet the poor because our school is only a few blocks away from the biggest slum area in Bangkok called Klong Toei."

In Thailand, 6.8% of the population lives below the national poverty line, and many of these people gather in the slum areas of the major cities of the country. 

Klong Toei is at the center of Bangkok, and it is home to about 100,000 people, all crammed together in a pile of ramshackle construction near the city’s main port.

"Our superior asked some of us to join the effort with the Xaverian Missionary Fathers who have a community in Klong Toei," Sr. Orapin said.

The nuns started to visit the poor people living there. They got to know the families and the great challenges they face in their everyday lives: violence, drugs, abuse of any kind, and poverty, sometimes extreme poverty. 

“We could not solve all their problems because we have other competencies, but we could show empathy and relief that they struggle for everyday food,” she added.

"We ask for a symbolic participation fee of one baht so the people feel that they are part of the project and not only passive recipients of charity," said the nun. 

Thailand, a Buddhist majority country, is Southeast Asia's second-largest economy, after Indonesia. 

In 2018, its per capita Gross Domestic Product or GDP (US$7,273.56) ranked fourth in Southeast Asia, trailing Singapore, Brunei, and Malaysia.

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. - Domenico Rodighiero


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