The Australian Province of the Society of the Divine Word reaches across to Thailand, where our members work with poor and marginalized communities in a range of areas, including parish work, teaching, and care for children and adults living with AIDs.
Mother of Perpetual Help AIDs Centre and Ban Mare Marie Children’s Home
The Mother of Perpetual Help AIDS Centre, located in Nong Bua Lamphu, in the North-East of Thailand, about 100km from the Mekong River on the Thai-Laos border, works to make a difference in the life of people suffering from HIV/AIDS in the Northeast of Thailand.
Extreme poverty, isolation and stigma all collude to make the situation very difficult for people in the north-east of Thailand with AIDS. Young parents die leaving orphaned children who are often also HIV infected.
The Society of the Divine Word was invited in 1998 by the Bishop of Udon Thani to take carriage of the fledgling AIDS centre and two brothers initially took up the challenge in 2000, taking time to first learn the language and culture.
The SVD presence has now grown to also include two priests who have joined the brothers and further growth in personnel and ministry is planned.
Apart from their work in the centre itself, Brother Damien Lunders SVD and Br Ron Fratzke SVD also visit the sick in their homes and sponsor group meetings for those living with HIV/AIDS, giving people the chance to provide moral support to one another.
They are taking a leading role in developing education and awareness programs for young people in schools and villages throughout the large diocese.
Br Ron also teaches English at schools in the local area.
Working together with Mother Theresa’s Missionaries of Charity sisters, a home for orphans of AIDS, the Ban Mare Marie Children’s Home (Mother Mary House) has recently opened its doors to take in homeless children and teenagers whose parents have died from the disease.
St Michael the Archangel Parish, Nong Bua Lamphu
Identifying the pastoral needs of the people of Nong Bua Lamphu, the Divine Word Missionaries built a church and, under the auspices of the Diocese of Udon Thani, are administering the parish of St Michael the Archangel.
The parish priest is Fr Pham Dinh Tuan SVD, who took up his ministry at St Michael the Archangel in 2014.
Located in a predominantly Buddhist area, Fr Pham's small congregation is now a thriving parish, which has warm and active relations with the wider community. Apart from celebrating Sunday and weekday Masses, and administering the sacramental programs, Fr Pham, with the help and support of parishioners, has also placed a great focus on youth ministry. The young people in the group reach out to the local elderly people of all faiths and help with community projects.
The parishioners are enthusiastic and active, taking part in music ministry, reading and altar serving, as well as many community outreach programs.
St Martin de Porres Parish, Nasing, Nong Khai and Good Shepherd Church
Fr Truc Quoc Phan is a Divine Word Missionary priest assigned to Thailand who has a total of four small churches under his care in the countryside, along the Mekong River, about 200km from Nong Bua Lamphu.
After a year in which Fr Truc learnt the Thai language in Bangkok, the Bishop of Udon Thani Diocese asked him to take on the pastoral care of St Martin de Porres parish in Nasing, Nong Khai, as well as become the pastor of Good Shepherd Church. He now has two other small mission chapels in the local area under his care.
Although Buddhism is the highly respected national religion, the parishes are continuing to grow and flourish, with more Catholics coming back to Mass. Relations with the wider Buddhist community are also warm, with many Buddhists helping Fr Truc and the parishioners to renovate the churches to make them more useable, as well as build a new church.
As Fr Truc explains, “We do not have conferences about interfaith or inter-religious dialogue. We are living it out. My parishioners and the Buddhists are living in harmony with each other.”
Fr Truc is also chaplain to local Vietnamese migrant workers.