A religious missionary priest urged Catholics in Thailand to focus on challenges being faced by the Church as they go on a synodal process launched by Pope Francis last month.
“We should not focus much on the past but at the present, especially on the challenges of the Church … to proclaim the Good News under a new challenging world,” said Father Nicolas Lefébure, superior of the Paris Foreign Missions Society (MEP) in Thailand, Laos and Myanmar.
The priest said that the aim of the local synodal process should be “to renew” the faithfuls’ missionary zeal for evangelization.
Pope Francis formally opened the two-year process called “a synod on synodality,” officially known as “Synod 2021-2023: For a Synodal Church,” last month. It aims to consult the faithful around the world on issues that concern communities ahead of the Synod of Bishops in Rome in 2023.
Unlike previous synods, the synodal process offers opportunities for mutual consultation in every level of the Church and among many different church organizations and lay people.
In Thailand, the Catholic Church, which has organized consultations and Councils in the past two decades, the diocesan synod is not new.
The first Council in the country that used the synodal model was held about 350 years ago in the ancient capital Ayutthaya after the arrival of the MEP missionaries from France.
The first missionaries who came to Siam were Portuguese Dominicans who provided pastoral care to Portuguese Christians in Ayutthaya.
In 1662, the Catholic Church established a firmer foothold in the kingdom with the arrival of the MEP missionaries led by Bishop Lambert de la Motte.
Bishop De la Motte was assigned to take charge of southern China and the Indochinese countries, but he extended his stay in Siam to deal with religious discrimination and the fallout from conflicts in the region.
Siam thus became the first country to receive the evangelization efforts of the Paris Foreign Missions Society, to be followed by new missions years later in Cochinchina, Tonkin, and parts of China.
Two years later Christian traders began arriving in greater number with more local converts, the first Council with synodal model took place to meet the challenges.
There are about 388,468 Catholics in Thailand, with 662 priests overseeing 526 parishes. Catholics comprise 0.58 percent of the country’s 69 million population.