A joyful welcome to Fr Pham Dinh Tuan SVD who was installed as the new pastor of St Michael’s Church in Nong Bua Lamphu in northern Thailand recently, was soon overshadowed by the tragic news that 13 young Vietnamese people had been killed on their way to a camp to be held in the parish.
Fr Tuan was installed as parish priest at a Mass at St Michaels, (pictured above) followed by the traditional tying of strings around his wrists by parishioners as a gesture of good will and good luck.
A parish reception followed, featuring entertainment by teenagers from Ban Mae Marie children's home, children from Mother Teresa’s home and by a Vietnamese group of migrant workers.
Br Damien Lunders SVD says the Vietnamese migrant workers from Nong Bua Lamphu (NBL) were then to be joined by other Vietnamese youth groups from Udon Thani, Khon Kaen and Bangkok for a three day camp.
Fr Anthony Le Duc SVD, former priest of St Michael’s Church, had returned for the installation of Fr Tuan and to host the camp.
“Early Monday morning, the sad news came that one of the five vans carrying some of the Vietnamese youth from Bangkok met with a tragic accident near the Chayaphum Province,” says Br Damien.
“All but two were killed, including the driver of the van and a young Dominican priest who was accompanying them. Two remain in a hospital near the accident.”
Fr Anthony and all the SVD confreres and diocesan colleagues in NBL immediately began doing whatever they could to respond to the tragedy, including communication with families of those killed and injured, assisting the authorities with identification of the victims, dealing with Thai immigration authorities and the Vietnamese Consulate, the media and church authorities.
Further terrible news arrived only a week later, when Br Ron Fratzke SVD reported that a traffic accident outside a school where he works claimed the lives of seven children, with others injured.
AUS Provincial, Fr Henry Adler SVD, says the entire Province was shaken and saddened by news of the accidents.
“Let us pray to our loving God for the gifts of the Spirit that will help us to hold on to our faith when we can’t see the Easter light but experience darkness,” he says.
“Let us not lose hope that even in the midst of tragedy, God still loves us, and we can turn to God for the strength and comfort we need.
“Let us continue to pray for the victims, their families, our confreres in Thailand, and all affected by these tragic accidents.”