The SVD Thai District recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Divine Word Missionaries’ presence in Thailand.
The anniversary was marked during a gathering of the confreres for their quarterly recollection, where, in a spirit of prayer they gave thanks to God for blessing the Thailand mission over the years.
In a reflection written by Fr Truong Thong Le SVD, he said the Thai mission sprang from humble beginnings with just two SVDs, Br Damian Lunders and Br James Wilkins who began working with HIV/AIDS ministry and teaching English.
“Today, the mission embraces various apostolic works which include the expansion of the HIV/AIDS ministry, education, Vietnamese migrant workers, working with refugees and parish work,” Fr Truong wrote.
“Currently, we are 12 SVDs strong in the Thailand mission with Truong Le, Vinh Tran, John Hung Le, Ha Train, Rajasekhar Reddy Bobba, Duc Linh Nguyen, Chalerm Naruemankanthon, Anthony Le Duc, Damien Lunders, Ron Fratzke, Tuan Pham and Bernard Bella.”
Fr Truong said the theme for the recollection to celebrate the 20th anniversary was taken from John 21:15: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
“In our meditation and Bible sharing, each one of us reflected upon Jesus’ invitation. In one way or another, we have been touched by the love of God through Christ, and we are moved to action by the Holy Spirit,” he said.
“As a collective voice, we answered ‘yes’ to Jesus’ invitation and remembering Jesus’ follow-up command, “Feed my sheep”.
“At the hallmark of 20 years in Thailand, we continue to respond with the same enthusiasm and commit ourselves further to the working of the Holy Spirit. Taking the time to pray and for contemplation helps us to focus on what is important in our lives and ministries. At the heart of everything that we do has to be our love Jesus and what he loves. That’s what keeps us grounded and committed to serving our brothers and sisters in small and humble ways.”
Fr Truong said that in the north-eastern part of the diocese of Udon Thani, a team of SVD missionaries works in rural parishes.
“Duc Linh Nguyen takes care of one of the largest parishes in the diocese, a source for vocations. Close by is Tuan Pham, who takes care of two smaller parishes, Kamsida and Thung Wang. Ha Tran is also assisted at a nearby church to gain experience and progress further with the Thai language. Raja Reddy Bobba is in the vicinity around 1.5 hours away at Nasing Parish. Similarly, Bernard Bella’s parish is a bit more than an hour away. He is currently busy in building a new church.”
In Nong Bua Lamphu, two hours away from the other team, Damien and Truong Le continue to work with AIDS patients and young people living with HIV at Mother of Perpetual Help Centre and Mother Mary Home. Vinh Tran is the pastor of St Michael’s which is adjacent to the Centre. He is also the pastor of two other parishes. Ron Fratzke is well known in the local area for teaching English.
And in Bangkok, John Hung Le and Anthony Le Duc continue to offer their services to the Vietnamese migrant workers.
“John goes to visit refugee camps and find ways to provide essential food and supplies for the different groups,” said Fr Truong. “Anthony also engages in teaching at the Seminary for the Archdiocese of Bangkok. In this community, Chalerm is currently working on his English course in preparation for the IELTS (International English Language Testing System) exam and will soon apply for his visa to Australia.”
Fr Truong said the quarterly recollection ended with afternoon Mass and dinner with the local community.
“Each of the SVDs received a bouquet of roses made out of pandanus leaf as a sign of gratitude for serving the community over the years,” he said.
“Jesus said, ‘… when you grow old, you will stretch out our hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go’ (Jn 21:18).
“We too do not know for sure what God’s plan is for the SVDs in the next 20 years. However, entering the unknown and unpredictable with Jesus by our side, we are sure to receive grace that is unexpected.”