A week into the FABC General Conference in Thailand, the Catholic Church hierarchy, the faithful and the people of Thailand won the admiration of the participants of the event.
Cardinal Francis Xavier Kriengsak Kovidthavanij who led the host team of the event told RVA News that the Catholic church in Thailand was happy to have had the opportunity to host this event in Bangkok.
“The government too was very supportive. They understood the significance of the event when we presented the program as a summit of the Catholic Church in Asia,” he said.
“Though we are numerically only half a percent of the Thai population, the Thai people and the government are appreciative of our contribution and are open to us. They recognize the Catholic church and its contribution to society in various fields," the prelate said.
"The visits of Pope John Paul II in 1984 and of Pope Francis in 2019, and the FABC Conference of 2022 are events that help build cordial relationships and openness. They foster greater understanding among the people about the life and mission of the Catholic Church and the values we stand for. These events, he said go a long way in increasing the respectability of the Church and promote a better appreciation for the Catholic church and the Gospel of Christ in Thailand," he explained.
The FABC 50 General Conference is attended by 17 cardinals and 200 bishops and several delegates from 29 Asian countries and representatives from other continental conferences like Europe, Africa and the Vatican.
Cardinal George Alencherry, the head of the Syro Malabar Church, lauded the Church in Thailand for its faithful and powerful witness.
“You are not a small church but a powerful church that is able to bear witness to the Gospel., that is capable of hosting a major event like the FABC General Conference during its Golden Jubilee celebration. You have impressed all the participants with your dedication, generosity, and hospitality. The precision and competence with which you have organized this event show the unity and strength of the church in Thailand," said Cardinal Alencherry, voicing the sentiments of the participants.
Baan Pu Waan- the Conference Venue
The spacious and sprawling pastoral centre of the Bangkok Archdiocese in Samphran is called Baan Pu Waan- literally meaning the place where seeds are sown. Fr.Peter Suphot Roeksujarit, the Rector of Director of the Baan Phu Waan Pastoral Training Centre, said “Baan Phu Waan” was established in 1995 by Cardinal Michael Meechai Kitbunchoo to respond to the mission of the Church in proclaiming the Good News and in supporting religious, educational and social activities of the local Church for the good of the society as a whole.
The word “Phu Waan”, he said, means “Sower” and is derived from the pen name used in his religious writings by Archbishop Joseph Khiamsun Nittayo, the first local Thai Bishop of the Archdiocese of Bangkok. This word originally came from the Parable of the Sower. Baan Phu Waan is, therefore, a training center for sowers who go out to sow the word of God in the heart of people, he said.
For the past 27 years, Baan Phu Waan has served as a center for meetings, seminars, and training sessions for evangelization, bible study, spiritual retreat in various academic fields for members of the Church, schools, universities including those from the government and private sectors, said Fr Suphot. The center has served as the venue of several Asia level meetings of the FABC in the past as well.
Fr Suphot said the center, he said, was renovated in less than a year under the leadership of Cardinal Francis Xavier Kriengsak Kovidthavanij, Archbishop of Bangkok, in order to host the Conference.
The Catholic Church in Thailand
The Catholic Church in Thailand is indebted to the Society of the Foreign Missions of Paris (MEP) and Missions Estrangeres de Paris) who were the first missionaries to come to the then kingdom of Ayutthaya. Bishop Francois Pallu and Bishop Lambert de la Motte were the pioneers.
They laid the foundation for the establishment of the local church by opening a seminary and creating the congregation of the Lovers of the Cross to help them in their work as well as by building a hospital and a church. The Apostolic Vicariate of Siam was officially established on June 4, 1669, with Bishop Louis Laneau as its first bishop.
In 2019, the Catholic Church in Thailand celebrated the 350th anniversary of the coming of faith.
Two missionaries, Fr Jean Jacquemin MEP and Fr Adriano Pelosin PIME, founded the Thai Missionary Society (TMS) with the support of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Thailand.
The society is made up of diocesan priests, religious and lay people who live together and constitute the human resources in the country for the promotion of the missionary spirit within and outside the country.
Today, several TMS priests are working as missionaries in Cambodia, Laos and Taiwan.
Thailand is predominantly a Buddhist country. Only half a percent of its population are Catholics. However, the local church is rich in pastoral ministry, and institutional strength and is recognized by the government and the public as a major contributor to education, development works and healthcare.
In 2019, Pope Francis visited Thailand, welcomed by the entire Thai community. Some of them recalled the papal visit of John Paul II some 35 years ago.
The inaugural session of the FABC Conference on Oct 12 was attended by Thailand’s minister of Culture Itthiphol Kunplome. He expressed appreciation for the government for the Catholic Church in Thailand.
Thailand is a country in Asia that has never been colonized by any European countries and has a growing economy and flourishing tourism industry, both of which suffered during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The country is now recovering from the aftermath of the pandemic, thanks to the resilience, hard work and enterprising spirit of the Thai people.
Though numerically small the Catholic Church is well recognized by the people of the country for its many service-rendering institutions, which include two prestigious universities and a hospital in the national capital, Bangkok, numerous educational institutions, and charitable and development services across the country.
The church in Thailand which has two archdioceses and nine dioceses renders many other services for the poor and needy. The Church has also a well-designed pastoral formation program for the faithful.
FABC 50 General Conference
The Conference with its theme “Journeying together, and they went a different way”, is the biggest gathering of Catholic Church leaders in Asia in recent times.
The 20-day event commenced on October 12 with a colorful and impressive inaugural ceremony. For the next three days, the participants have been listening to the presentations on each of the Asian countries.
The delegates have been listening with rapt attention to the hopes and challenges of the churches in Asia. After the reports, they spent a few moments praying for the country and its people.
Pope Francis in a video message to the participants of the Conference assured his closeness to the church in Asia.
Quoting the words of the book of Revelation, he urged the bishops and the whole Church in Asia to listen to what the Spirit is speaking to the Church in Asia.
Earlier, the Pope had hailed the theme as the most fitting within the border context of the synodal path of listening, dialogue and discernment undertaken by the universal church. In a message the Pope welcomed the efforts of the local churches in Asia to develop ‘different ways to proclaim the joy of the Gospel, to form new generations of missionary disciples, and to labour for the extension of Christ’s kingdom of holiness, justice and peace.’
The golden jubilee of FABC and the Conference were originally planned for 2020 but were rescheduled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
On August 22, the FABC 50 Conference was officially inaugurated at the Shrine of Blessed Nicholas Bunkerd Kitbamrung at Samphran, Nakhon Pathom.
The Conference is due to conclude with a Mass led by Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, head of the Vatican department of Evangelization of Peoples, who has been designated to represent Pope Francis, on October 30 at the Assumption Cathedral of Bangkok.
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.