Focus 2005

Thailand - THA01-12-2005

Project: Salesian works in Thailand
Date of foundation: 1927
Place: Suratthani, Hua Hin, Hat Yai, Betong
Province: Thailand (THA)

The Salesians arrived in the Country of the White Elephant (or safron robes) back in 1927, invited by the Foreign Mission Society Fathers from Paris to develop the new Mission of Ratchaburi, the long stretch (about 1.500 km) along the border with Burma (today Myanmar), an area with nineteen provinces covering 118,000 square kms and with a population of 6,600 Catholics amongst two million inhabitants. The existing churches were all to be found in the three provinces along the Mekhong river (80 km west of Bangkok). South of Ratchaburi for the full length of 1,250 km there were no Christian communities or churches. Fr Gaetano Pasotti was the superior of the new Mission. The Salesians soon became numerous: after three years there were 75, of whom 11 were priests and the rest clerics. Over a space of 10 years, the confreres who had come to the new Mission reached 102 in number. Unfortunately many could not survive there and returned. In compensation however the Salesians soon had a good number of local vocations.

The first task was that of formation of young Salesians, to prepare them for priesthood and the mission.

The second task was to be busy with the existing Christian communities (there were only nine). As Don Bosco would have done, the first choice of the Salesians, other than pastoral care, was to work for the young: schools, sport, gymnastics, bands, the theatre, scouts and publishing for the young; all something new in those days for ‘Siam’, and it gave vitality to Christianity. The third task was missionary activity in the other 16 provinces of the South, for the length of the peninsula. This began in 1934, with the help of the first new priests. Bishop Pasotti, Fr Mario Ruzzeddu and Fr Giobbe Carpini were pioneers of those missionary trips; they took turns using public transport, train, bus or jeep and wrote up all that they did and found. These journeys, each lasting from 25 to 40 days, soon led to the opening of three churches: Hua Hin, Hat Yai and Betong.

In 1940 the Salesians, by now with a good number of priests, were preparing to open new mission stations, when war and persecution came along. In 1941, due to the war between the Thailand and France in Indochina, the Salesians remained as the only group of missionaries, along with around 40 indigenous priests, who were also afraid of persecution, but asked by the Holy See to give encouragement to Christian communities persecuted across Thailand for around three years. After the war, the Salesian work rapidly began to develop: in 1946 the Don Bosco Technical School in Bangkok was opened. This school, for orphans and the poor, was the only one of its kind for around 25 years, but even after the State had opened technical schools the Don Bosco school kept its identity as a school for the poor, and one that really taught a trade. Now, the pupils from this school (around 8,000 graduates) are part of Thailand’s business and working community. Following this, other technical schools were opened: Don Bosco Banpong (80 km west of Bangkok), Don Bosco Suratthani (centre of the southern dioceses), Don Bosco Ronphibun (160 km further south) and Don Bosco in Cambodia (now in 4 different locations). A house has aleady been opened in Laos with a group of past pupils and the hope is to also open a Don Bosco school here. Another choice of the Salesians working for poor youth was to set them up for working with a profesisonal qualification.

As well as the technical schools, the Salesians opened some boarding schools. The Salesian schools (each with at least 2,600 pupils) and those from other Congregations, are a way of reaching people of all religions, enabling them to be tomorrow’s leaders.

Music, sport and free time activity until late afternoon continue to be attractions that provide enthusiasm and happiness to young people in Salesian schools; and through education they succeed to some extent in passing on Christian values in an experience of joy and of family in the school.

Certainly the Catholic schools have given outstanding people to the nation: Businessmen, leaders in many fields, ministries etc. The effect of the schools in terms of conversions is minimal, but the organisation of the Catholic schools is a reality that seems to resolve many problems. Our past pupils succeed to some extent in influencing some choices of the Government, when there is need and they are always able to defend our interests.

The Salesian family working in the "Spirit of Don Bosco", as it did in the past, is still a point of reference today for youth activities at Diocesan level and in schools run by Religious.

The mission where the Salesians began now includes two Dioceses: Ratchaburi and Suratthani, with 35 and 39 Churches respectively.

Each church with its school educates Christian youngsters and then continues Christian education through summer catechetics, for a month. The 26th December last, the killer Tsunami struck the shores of six provinces facing the Andaman Sea, provinces all part of the Diocese of Suratthani, causing huge damage and killing many people both foreigners and Thais. Immediately the Church in Thailand sprang into action, especially the Diocese of Suratthani, with the help of people from male and female Religious Congregations, priests and seminarians from different Dioceses, bringing comfort and hope to those afflicted. The priests, sisters and other Religious set up tents and remained day and night to console and encourage the population. These priests and sisters were able to understand the deeper meaning of the pain felt, and were able to offer words of hope since this is what many needed to find the courage to move ahead.

If tourism respects nature, the people and the treasures of local culture, it is good; otherwise the damage wrought, even if it is not a Tsunami that does it, is incalculable in terms of customs and traditions.

Address: Salesian Provincial Office
210 Krungthep Kritha Rd.,
Hua Mark, Bangkok 10240 - Thailand
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