Regional Director’s Letter – Songkran 2013: With water we bless others

09 April 2013|Fr Bambang A Sipayung SJ, JRS Asia Pacific Regional Director

Youths in northern Thailand's Chiang Mai, a city famous for its immense Songkran celebration each year, join in the water splashing festivities in 2009 (Photo courtesy of Wikicommons).

Bangkok, 12 April 2013 — From January to May in Asia Pacific, we celebrate three New Year festivals. On 1 January, is the internationally recognised Roman calendar New Year celebration, marked by midnight fireworks. Then the Lunar Chinese and Vietnamese New Year (which this year fell on 11 February, 2013) lights up the night sky with red lanterns and the famous dragon dances.

Finally, we have Songkran, or the water festival, celebrated in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. This year it will be celebrated from 13 to 15 April.  In Cambodia, the water festival is known as Coul Chnam Tmey, in Laos it is Pee  Mai, and in Burmese, Thingyan.

The New Year provides a fresh opportunity to reflect on the past and welcome the new future ahead. Past experiences are gifts in time —   experiences that may have been joyful, saddening, great— or just simple and ordinary routine.

Songkran/ Coul Chnam Tmey/ Pee Mai/ Thingyan is based on the lunar calendar system  and fixed between the 13 – 15 April each year. Festivities are traditionally marked by splashing water on friends and strangers alike. With peak summertime heat temperatures frequently soaring above 40 degrees celsius, the water festival is the ideal celebration for the season.

Throwing water originated as a way to pay respect to elders and respected community members. Water that had been used to clean Buddha statues was then taken to bless elders and family members by pouring the “good fortune” over them. Under the scorching April sun, the water is a blessing that cools down and refreshes the body.

Gratitude to JRS staff and families

As the main activity of the festival is “to visit and pay respects to elders, including family members, friends, neighbours, and monks,” I would like to extend my gratitude to the JRS family and also, the families of JRS staff.

Our mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, siblings and cousins are great blessings to us and we thank them for letting us work with JRS. We work to make the values of compassion, hope, dignity, solidarity, hospitality, justice and participation, tangible in society.

By taking the blessings of the family we have at home and extending that love and service to refugees, asylum seekers, and displaced people in the region, we spread the gifts that God has given us.

At this time, the refugees, asylum seekers and displaced people are people surviving at the margins of society. They fled persecution and hardship at home to seek safety. Yet fear and hostility, with scant hospitality, pervade dominant political and legal rhetoric today.

Their asylum experience is like walking under the scorching April sun in Thailand— brittle thirst and a throat parched of voice force them into hiding. This new year —Songkran, Coul Chnam Tmey, Pee Mai and Thingyan— we can share blessed water, pouring it gently on the shoulders of the displaced, through our renewed commitment to welcome  refugees and asylum seekers with hospitality. The people we serve gradually become our family through daily interaction and sharing their lives with us.

Let us remember our fellow JRS staff in Thailand, Cambodia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Australia, Timor-Leste and Papua New Guinea, who strive to make the values of JRS a reality in society. It is a time for all of us to pay respect, quench our hearts with water, and share blessings. By doing so, we will have more hands to give water to those who need it.

Happy Songkran, Coul Chnam Tmey, Pee Mai and Thingyan from Bangkok!

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