Cardinal Fernando Filoni, the prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, addressed religious, seminarians and catechists at a ceremony to mark the 350th Anniversary of the Church’s “Mission in Siam” in Sampran, 30km west of the Thai capital Bangkok on May 18.
Four thousand turned up, at St. Joseph Upatham School, to welcome the cardinal who highlighted the challenges that evangelization efforts face across Asia and told them that the most striking feature of Asia is the variety of its people who are inheritors to ancient cultures, religions and spiritual traditions.
During the official ceremony to mark the start of the year of celebration, he pointed out that Christianity is the least widespread religion on the continent.
“Asia is a sector of humanity rich in cultures and organized religions but with more than 85 percent of its members un-baptized,” Cardinal Filoni said.
“Asia is the missionary continent par excellence. The universal Church requests your willing cooperation for missionary activities in this vast continent,” he said.
“We need to reflect that our mission as baptized persons in Asia, is indeed a true mission, especially in relation to the multiplicity of cultures and religious expressions, in addition to the secular realities of the families and jobs, when the witnessing of our faith brings us into confrontation with the multitude of non-baptized persons, with their mentality and lifestyle, if not, at times, contrasting with the Gospel and the dignity of the person.”
“The Christian life, is, therefore, a sign and a challenge for the search of the true sense of existence.”
The cardinal also read a celebratory message from Pope Francis addressed to Thailand’s Catholics during a Mass in the Hall of Pope St. John Paul II in Sampran on May 18.
“I send you my cordial best wishes an assurance of my closeness with gratitude to God for the many graces received over these 350 years,” Pope Francis said in his letter.
“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 said.
Retelling the story of Mission to Siam
As part of the celebration, the Sisters of St. Paul de Chartres and the students from St. Joseph Upatham School, presented a spectacular stage production retelling the story of the history of the Mission to Siam. “Like a Bridge over the Vast Ocean: The 350th anniversary of the Mission to Siam” highlighted the first arrival of missionaries to Siam and dramatically reenacted the religious persecution experienced by many of them during the periods that followed.
MEP in attendance
Attending the celebratory events were also priests from the Société des Missions Etrangères de Paris (MEP). Since the foundation of Mission de Siam in 1669, MEP, with the support of other religious congregations, led evangelization efforts in Thailand and other parts of Asia.
Father Gilles Reithinger, the MEP superior-general, earlier said that to assist with evangelization efforts in Thailand there are MEP missionaries working under the direction of local bishops.
“The society recruits and trains candidates and sends them to mission territories where the MEP has contracts with the local bishops,” said Father Reithinger.
“They serve the mission by engaging in apostolates proper to missio ad gentes, help promote local vocations and clergy, and help establish local churches,” he said. “Twelve seminarians are following a formation in Paris and five are discerning their vocation during the propedeutic year.”
Father Reithinger said MEP priests are especially praying and thanking God for the Catholic community established in Thailand on the occasion of the 350th anniversary year.
Today there are more than 300,000 Catholics spread across 12 dioceses with 436 parishes and 662 priests in Thailand.