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Church marks 350 years in Thailand

BANGKOK (UCAN): Fernando Cardinal Filoni, the prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples was in Thailand to help celebration the 350th anniversary of the Church’s mission there.
“Asia is a sector of humanity rich in cultures and organized religions but with more than 85 per cent of its members un-baptised,” he told religious, seminarians and catechists at a ceremony in Sampran, 30km west of Bangkok on May 18.
“Asia is the missionary continent par excellence. The universal Church requests your willing cooperation for missionary activities in this vast continent,” the cardinal said.
“We need to reflect that our mission as baptised 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-baptised persons, with their mentality and lifestyle, if not, at times, contrasting with the gospel and the dignity of the person,” he continued, adding, “The Christian life, is, therefore, a sign and a challenge for the search of the true sense of existence.”
Also at the event were priests from the Paris Foreign Missions Society (MEP) which, since the beginning of Mission de Siam in 1669, has led evangelisation efforts in Thailand and other parts of Asia together with other congregations.
Cardinal Filoni also read out a celebratory message from Pope Francis addressed to Thailand’s Catholics in which the pontiff wrote, “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.” 
The pope said, “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.
The cardinal also visited a memorial shrine in Sampran dedicated to Blessed Nicholas Bunkerd Kitbamrung, one of Thailand’s martyrs. He was falsely accused of espionage and arrested in 1941. Three years into his 15-year prison sentence, he died of tuberculosis. While jailed he taught catechism and managed to baptise 68 prisoners.
The cardinal also visited the Diocese of Chiang Mai and the newly formed diocese of Chiang Rai in the country’s north, spending time with local elders and people from the region’s various ethnic groups such as the Lanna, Akha, Kachin and Karen.
The cardinal’s last day in Thailand, May 21, was spent in Ayutthaya the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Siam, which is considered the cradle of Thai Christianity.  
Today there are more than 300,000 Catholics spread across 12 dioceses with 436 parishes and 662 priests in Thailand. 

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