Fr. Giovanni Matteazi
Our first missionaries to Thailand in 2011, Frs. Thierry Kamga, Giovanni Matteazzi, Thiago Rodrgues, and Alessandro Brai began with language and cultural studies for more than a year. We were given the care of St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Parish in Tak where tribes are strewn throughout the mountainside. We also have a house in Bangkok where we assist with ministry in the diocese.
Last Saturday, 28 April, the new parish church of Saint Joseph the Worker was inaugurated and blessed by the bishop of Nakhon Sawan, Joseph Pibul Visitnondachai . The church is located in the KM 48 village, which is so named because it is located 48 kilometers from Mae Sot, the nearest town.
We three Xaverians working in the parish – p. Thierry Kengne, p. Reynaldo F. Tardelly and p. Giovanni Matteazzi – we have been here for almost four years with the task, as well as the management of the parish, also the evangelization of the numerous villages around KM 48 and south of it, up to Um Phang, a small town 120 kilometers more to south.
One of the first things that our parishioners asked us when we arrived, in July 2014, was that we built a new church, bigger than the previous one. I remember that we, smiling, had replied that we had not come to build churches and, even if we wanted, we did not have enough money (in Thailand the smiles are much appreciated and a no is more easily received if it is said with a smile). For us the church that was there was welcoming, gathering and more than enough for the number of faithful of the parish. But anyway, every now and then one of the most prominent parishioners returned to the request, a little joking and a little saying seriously.
Two years ago, at the conclusion of the Mass on the day of the parish feast, the priest who had presided over the celebration – Father Prachuachop, who had been one of the first parish priests of this parish, and who had built the church in use until last Saturday – without first saying anything to us, solemnly announced that he offered 500,000 Baht as a contribution for the construction of the new church. A wealthy Chinese of Mae Sot, who had come to the party, immediately got up and offered another 500,000 Baht and that was how, among the enthusiastic applause of our parishioners, we were “stuck”. After the party we prepared leaflets to be distributed in some parishes in Bangkok where we are already knowledgeable, to request further contributions, and within just over a year we managed more than doubling the initial figure. Of course, our parishioners also contributed generously, as much as they could.
Last Saturday, the wide smiles on the faces of our faithful, from the smallest to the oldest, expressed all the joy and satisfaction for the new church. Many for the occasion wore the traditional costume of the Akha, the ethnic group to which most of our parishioners belong. Fr. Alessandro Brai, our superior in Thailand, came from Bangkok together with two catechists and a Saverian sister, Eudoxie. Another Xaverian, Antonella Grosso, came from Nan together with their first and – for the moment – the only Thai postulant. Some priests from the “nearer” parishes with groups of their faithful, three Burmese priests (the border with Burma is not far), several nuns working at Mae Sot and the two deacons of the diocese of Nakhon Sawan, who will be ordered this year. There were also two Baptist pastors (in our village there are as many as 11 Protestant churches) and also a group of Burmese refugees who were allowed to come from the refugee camp of Um Piam, the one where Fr. Matteazzi goes regularly to celebrate Mass.
The church, equipped for the occasion with plastic chairs rented (but in the future, when there will be money, we will make wooden benches) was full, and full was also the large veranda in front of the church. In all around 300 people. After the Mass the “imprimatur” of validity of the blessing of the new church was given by the abundant and tasty lunch offered to all the participants by our parishioners, who started to prepare it from the day before.
And the old church? It will still serve us for a long time, as a meeting and catechism room and for other activities. And from the new church, which stands opposite, on the other side of the road, St. Joseph will continue to watch over it.