A top Vatican official has urged the Catholic Church of Thailand to embrace the Lord’s invitation of remaining in His love so they can bear much fruit.
Cardinal Fernando Filoni, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, made the remark on Saturday as he led a concelebrated Mass in Sampran, 30km west of the Thai capital Bangkok, to mark 350 years since the creation of the Apostolic Vicariate of Siam (1669-2019).
The Catholic Church's presence in Thailand began a century earlier when Portuguese missionaries began evangelizing the area in the 16th century.
“This event is a moment of grace. This celebration bears witness to the positive results of the three hundred and fifty years of work of evangelization in this Nation. This solemn and joyful celebration is, therefore, a moment of commitment to be ‘missionary disciples’”, he said in his homily.
The establishment of the Apostolic Vicariate of Siam formally marked the beginning of the local Church in the country. Through the past 350 years it has grown into 11 dioceses today with about 300,000 Catholics.
During the Mass, Card. Filoni also read out a message from Pope Francis to Thailand’s Catholics expressing his closeness with them as they thank “God for the many graces received over these 350 years”.
“I pray that you may grow in holiness and continue to work in the spread of Christ’s kingdom by fostering solidarity, fraternity and the desire for goodness, truth and justice in your beloved country,” the Pope wrote.
Remain in me
In his homily, Card. Filoni commented on the day’s readings, saying the risen Lord invites them to remain in Him so as to bear much fruit. He explained that the celebration of the 350th anniversary of the Gospel in Thailand “is a call for all of us to remain in Jesus just as the Apostles did”.
He acknowledged the pioneering work by members of the Foreign Mission Society of Paris (MEP). They were followed by other missionaries and religious men and women of various congregations whose apostolic zeal and dedication helped the Church take roots in the nation.
The cardinal noted that there is a great need for the work of evangelization in Thailand. “To carry out the task of the proclamation of the Gospel one must be close to Jesus”, must grow in familiarity with Jesus and be a friend and disciple of Christ.
Every baptized person, he pointed out, has a responsibility in this regard, just as martyred priest Father Nicholas Bunkerd Nitbamrung, beatified in the year 2000.
The Thai priest, who died of tuberculosis in 1944 in prison accused of espionage, had dedicated his entire life to Christ and the proclamation of the Gospel.
Evangelization in Asia
The head of the Vatican’s missionary dicastery noted that the most striking feature of Asia was the variety of its people who are inheritors to ancient cultures, religions and spiritual traditions. However, he pointed out that Christianity is the least widespread religion on the continent.
He invited Catholics to live the 350th anniversary event in thanksgiving to God and in the renewed commitment to evangelization begun by the pioneers. He noted that “work of bringing the Gospel and salvation to all peoples started by Jesus and entrusted to the Church, is still very far from completion.”
“An overall view shows that this mission is still in the beginning and therefore all of us should commit whole-heartedly to the mission of evangelizing," Card. Filoni said.
The cardinal visited Thailand, May 16-28, on the occasion of the 350th anniversary of the Thai Church. On the last day, Tuesday, he visited Ayutthaya, the then capital of the Kingdom of Siam, considered the birthplace of the Vicariate of Siam.