Thailand: Pastoral Accompaniment in the Year of Mercy

04 February 2016|Fr. Joseph Sue Reh in Mae Hong Son, Thailand

Elderly women and a mother and her child leaving a session on family focus groups. Family focus groups are part of the pastoral services JRS provides in the camps. (Nick Jones/Jesuit Refugee Service)

I have been working with JRS for ten months now. I feel happy to be part of the mission to accompany and support the Catholic refugees in their spiritual needs. JRS works in two refugee camps in Mae Hong Son province of Thailand: Ban Mai Nai Soi (Camp 1) and Ban Mae Surin (Camp 2). There are about 11,000 refugees in Camp 1 and 2,600 in Camp 2. About 24% of the camp population in Camp 1 and about 5% in Camp 2 are Catholics.

It is God’s grace and one of my sources of strength that I find many faithful who have a living faith, regularly receiving the Sacraments especially the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Communion, as well as actively engaging in church activities.

The refugees receive basic social services from NGOs working in the camps. It is very good that NGOs come to help but on the other hand there are some services which are against the teaching of the Church. People in the camp are aware of and use the artificial contraception and sterilization services. Some faithful use those services knowingly or unknowingly that it is against the teaching of the Church and it is immoral and it is a sin.  As a priest, I have the responsibility to explain to the faithful in meetings, workshops, retreats, or sermons about the Catholic teachings, and one of the topics has been about contraception, sterilization and abortion. To our joy, in the year of Mercy, our Holy Father, Pope Francis declared that those sins such as abortions can be absolved by the priests with repentance and confession.  As I greeted the faithful the news of Pope Francis’ decree for a Jubilee Year of Mercy, I witnessed the joy of being forgiven, welcoming and receiving the Sacraments. This special occasion gives them back what they have lost and could be happy again.

A handicapped woman in the camp (about 40 years old) tried to approach me many times in the past. Unfortunately every time she did, she did not have a chance to meet with me because I was also busy with other people and with other work in the camp. One day, during my pastoral visit to her house, I had a conversation with her. She was very happy for the visit and shared her feelings that had been kept for so long. I listened attentively to her and encouraged her spiritually. I explained about the Year of Mercy, the love and mercy of God to all human beings. After the conversation with me, she said, “I felt so relieved. I was so burdened with bad feelings. Now, I feel free from those burdens. This is the grace of God! Thank you very much, Father!”

I try to listen and encourage those who are discouraged or who need encouragement. I also explain them about the special grace of the year of mercy and they were very happy and have come forward. This is in fact the special grace and love of God. I thank God for giving such graces to us. I will keep on trying my best in the future.

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