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A first for Thailand

BANGKOK (SE): Ordinations to the priesthood in Thailand may be rare enough, but over the weekend of July 8 and 9 there was a first for the Church in the Land of Smiles when Reverend John Phong Phan Wongarsa was ordained a priest under the title of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions in his home parish of the Holy Family in Ban Nong Khu.
A press release from the Italian missionary society notes that for the first time in the long history of its presence in the area around the Thai-Lao border that Father Phong Phan hails from, a local boy has been ordained as a missionary priest.
It is anticipated that the newly ordained missionary will be posted to Hong Kong with the eventual possibility of working with the Church in China.
Over 1,000 people turned up for the ordination with two bishops and 80 priests crammed around the sanctuary area and 100 local sisters who came from all over the diocese of Ubonrachathani and also from across northern Thailand to join the celebration.
The ceremony began with a procession from the home of Father Phong Phan’s parents led by 80 dancers and, in the Buddhist tradition of honour for a new monk, the deacon was carried on a flower-covered chair accompanied by his family and friends through the streets of the village to the church.
Although all the priests in the diocese are now local men with foreign missionaries a thing of the distant past, those who can remember back to World War II know that people were murdered because of their association with the foreign priests who were then considered enemies of the country.
This is a significant factor for Father Phongphan, as his father is what could be considered a songwriter-cum-poet who uses his art to keep history alive in the memories of people.
His older brother is a priest of the diocese and his elder sister belongs to a local congregation called the Lovers of the Cross. His younger brother is married and lives in the village.

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