• Wartakanlah Injil kepada segala makhluk.
    Mrk 16:15

  • 你们往普天下去, 向一切受造物宣传福音
    谷 16:15

  • Everything is possible by the power of the Holy Spirit’s Grace.
    St Arnold Janssen

  • Segala sesuatu menjadi mungkin dalam kekuatan karunia Roh Kudus.
    St. Arnold Janssen

  • 我当传教士不是为主牺牲,而是上主给我的最大恩赐
    圣福若瑟神父

  • Với sức mạnh Ân Huệ của Chúa Thánh Thần, Mọi việc đều có thể được.
    St Arnoldus Janssen

  • Preach the Gospel to the whole creation./Anh em hãy đi khắp tứ phương thiên hạ, loan báo Tin Mừng cho mọi loài thọ tạo
    Mk 16:15

  • There are many different gifts, but it is always the same Spirit.
    1 Cor 12:4

  • And the Word became flesh and lived among us.
    Jn 1:14

  • Let the word of Christ, in all its richness, find a home with you.
    Col 3:16

  • To proclaim the Good News is the first and greatest act of love of neighbour.
    St Arnold Janssen

  • 传扬天国福音是第一且最大的爱近人行动
    圣杨生•爱诺德神父

  • Có nhiều đặc sủng khác nhau, nhưng chỉ có một Thần Khí/
    1 Cor. 14:4

  • 圣言成了血肉,寄居在我们中间
    若 1:14

  • Ada rupa-rupa karunia, tetapi Roh satu
    1 Kor 12:4

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Tuesday, 29 September 2020 18:24

Willing hearts help renovate church & build community

 

Truong talks to parishioners 2020 550A small church renovation project in Thailand’s rural Buengkan Province, has been the backdrop for a rejuvenation in parish and community life as well as an opportunity for interfaith dialogue and friendship.

Fr Truong Le SVD arrived at his new parish in Northeast Thailand, near the Mekong River at short notice and with few plans in place, but says that by listening and getting to know the people, a strong community is beginning to grow.

“Truth be told, nothing was planned,” he says. “At least on my part.”

Upon arrival in his new parish, Fr Truong discovered that the culture and language were more analogous to that of nearby Laos than to the area of Thailand where he had previously been based.

“So I certainly had to adjust myself and get acquainted with the local language,” he says.

“I spent the first two months getting to know the people and listening to their stories. And so, the stirring of the Holy Spirit began.”

Fr Truong says that in the late 1970s a Redemptorist priest received a grant to help 50 low-income families move into the area. The grant allowed both Catholics and Buddhist families to clear land and develop it into rice paddies.

In 1980, the villagers joined together to build the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in the village of Sangkhomphatthana. But as time moved on, the working-age group preferred to leave village life and work in the cities where there was more accommodation and jobs.

Truong new parish 2020 550Currently there are 24 Catholic families within the village of 50, and the make-up of the community is comprised primarily of the elderly and young children.

Sangkhomphathana is a remote village and the priest who was there before Fr Truong who had four or five churches under his care, had time only to say Mass there and then move on to the other churches. The church building had also begun to deteroriate.

Fr Truong says that with only two churches under his care, he feels he will be able to have a better presence in the village.

When he first arrived there were only about 10 to 15 people attending Mass and seeing the small numbers attending Mass, Fr Truong wondered where to begin.

“How do I commence mission? Where do I begin evangelisation?” he asked.

He started with the simple act of providing  coffee and snacks after Mass.

“This gesture, in turn, opened up a space for dialogue,” he says. “With the conversations that followed, I began to see the villagers’ needs and hopes for the church.

“They wanted the church to be the centre of village life once again.

“Things fell together as I spent more time with them. The coffee and snacks after Mass became a meal.”

Truong renovated church 2020Fr Truong says that one of the things that touched him the most was that not everyone who came to Mass was Catholic.

“After Mass, both Catholics and Buddhists in the village went home to get everything for a meal. There was nothing in the church, so one person brought a knife, another brought plates and utensils, and another got a chicken or a duck. The children were very eager to let me try their hand-made ‘Somtam’ or papaya salad,” he says.

“The Buddhists who attended Mass said they receive merits by coming, and feeding me is like the ritual of giving food to monks in exchange for blessings.

“So in a sense, there were multiple layers of dialogue at play in those first few weeks. Listening to the people and the stirring of the Holy Spirit was an essential first step in missioning.”

It was in this atmosphere of friendship and dialogue that Fr Truong began to prioritise the need to repair and renovate the church.

“To my surprise, when I asked for a special collection for the renovation project, people responded enthusiastically,” he says.

“The villagers organised the fundraising through the ‘money tree’ tradition, which is used both in temples and churches. More than 40 families contributed to the ‘money tree’ and it was offered during Mass.

Truong first communions 2020 550“For the villagers, both Catholics and Buddhists, they see the contribution as an act of great merit. The people were ecstatic; as one of the parishioners told me, ‘we haven’t had a chance to do something like this in a long time. This is a great honour’.”

With additional funding granted through the SVD Mission Office in Chicago and several benefactors, the renovation was soon complete, including new lights, electrical work, paint, a sound system, a bathroom and pavilion.

“The renovation of the church has always been for something, and that something, in my view, is the renewal of the church – of becoming church,” Fr Truong says.

“Since the start of the renovations, more parishioners have been coming to Mass each week. We now have an attendance of 30 or 35 each week.

“The priority right now is to engage the villagers with different activities. Our postulant candidate is helping with the catechism class for young people. I spend time on preparing those receiving First Communion and Confirmation.

“Since the older folks gather at church quite early, the catechist and I dovetail adult catechism and the Bible study through informal conversations.

“The most positive feedback that I’ve received is the praying of the Rosary before Mass. Not only do the villagers and I pray together, but we also eat together and work together. After the meal, everyone would join hands to work on the renovation or cleaning the church. Such cooperation brings life to the parish the village.”

Fr Truong is also teaching English to the villagers who yearn for a better education for their young people, to keep them from dropping out of school or becoming involved with drugs or teenage pregnancy, all of which are prevalent in the local area.

Fr Truong says while he had none of this planned, he has high hopes for the future.

“I see that doing mission is recognising where the Holy Spirit is already stirring and then joining in. There is potential at this place and there always has been because the hearts of the people are yearning unceasingly. God only knows the future for this place, yet I’m privileged to be a part of the plan.”

PHOTOS

TOP RIGHT: Fr Truong gets to know his new parishioners.

MIDDLE LEFT: The congregation is beginning to grow as the community bands together to help renovate the church and share converseation and meals together.

MIDDLE RIGHT: The renovated church - a joint venture between local Catholics and Buddhists.

BOTTOM LEFT: Fr Truong celebrates First Holy Communions in the renovated church.