It’s been a time of farewells and new beginnings for some of the SVD missionaries in the Thailand District of the AUS Province, with the Bishop of Udon Thani reassigning them to take on new challenges in a different area of the diocese.
The SVDs had been working in the area of Ban Dung in northern Thailand for some time, taking care of large parishes as well as small, deserted churches in different villages. Their new assignments will take three of the confreres to another province, BuengKan, which borders Laos.
“The diocese is revamping its organisation and structure to serve the people better,” Fr Trong Le SVD says.
Fr Truong says the change came upon them quickly, but they were encouraged by the words from the SVD Prologue: ‘Sent by Jesus, we leave. Led by the Spirit, we enter’.
“With that in mind, the Thailand District believes that with change and transition come transformation and new ways of mission,” he says.
Entering into the province of Bueng Kan, Fr Vinh The Tran SVD will take care of a large parish community at Presentation of the Lord Church and St John Neumann Church.
“In the meantime, he has had to say goodbye to his parishioners in Chum Phae and Phuwiang,” Fr Truong says.
“Vinh has been taking care of these two parishes for over a year. Although these parishes are small, Vinh serves meekly, reaching out to the those who are in need and especially those who have left the church.”
Fr Bernardus (Ben) Bella Nofrianto will replace Fr Vinh as the pastor of these two churches of St James and St Clements and continue the SVD mission in the area.
“Ben has been working diligently to renovate the church in Ban Thin and serving those who are in need, particularly during the time of the pandemic,” Fr Truong says. “Although the move is hasty, Ben is ready to enter into his new assignment.”
In Nongbualamphu, Fr Ha Hai Tran SVD will replace Fr Truong as pastor at St Michael the Archangel Church. Truong has been working both at St Michael and at the Mother of Perpetual Help Centre for people living with AIDS for the past two years.
Fr Truong will move to Phoncharoen in the province of Bueng Kan as one of the three SVDs to be assigned to this new area.
Fr Tuan Dinh Pham is moving from the Ban Dung area to take up the role of pastor at Jesus of Nazareth Church and Immaculate Conception Church in Nasing. He replaces Fr Rajasekhar Reddy Bobba who will take up further studies in Bangkok. Also taking up further studies is Fr Duc Linh Nguyen who has served as pastor at Phonsungnoi for four years.
“All of the parishioners will miss him,” says Truong. He has poured sweat and blood for the growth of the parish.”
Fr Toub Anisong Chanthavong, who has been stranded in Laos during the pandemic, unable to cross back into Thailand, will be Resident Priest at Mother of Perpetual Help Church.
Meanwhile, Br Damien Lunders and Br Ron Fratzke are continuing their ministry in Nong Bua Lamphu in Udon Thani Diocese. Br Damien runs the Mother of Perpetual Help Centre, and, during the pandemic, together with Br Ron, who teaches English in local schools, has been giving out school supplies for low-income families around the region as part of the Centre’s outreach program for those in need. The Society of the Divine Word was invited by the Bishop of Udon Thani in 1998 to take carriage of the fledgling AIDS centre. Since that time, the Centre has been assisting babies and young children of HIV and poor families in Nong Bua Lamphu. The program started with assisting about 40 children and has grown into helping almost 400 people each year. The Centre’s outreach program includes an AIDS Education and Awareness Program, which goes out to around 20 schools each year. The SVD ministry includes the Ban Mae Marie Home for Teenagers which began as a home to care for orphans of AIDS but has now been opened up to for care of non-HIV-related teenagers and the elderly.
And in Bangkok Fr Anthony Le Duc and John Hung Le are looking forward to resuming their face-to-face ministry with Vietnamese migrants as COVID-19 restrictions ease. There are about 50,000 Vietnamese illegally working in Thailand. The SVD priests not only carry out sacramental ministry, but also provide social and legal support, especially in situations of emergency, such as accidents or death.
Fr Truong says the pandemic has curtailed many of the SVD missionaries’ usual activities, but it has also been a time of reflection and growth.
“The coronavirus pandemic certainly changes the way we live and how we go about our business,” says Fr Truong.
“It teaches us how to cope with changes, and perhaps coming out of this experience, we will grow to appreciate the small perks of life, such as eating with one another, embracing each other, and worshipping together.
“Change gives the SVDs in Thailand an opportunity to grow and be transformed by the mission of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Unexpected turns of events give way for unexpected graces.”