Frs. Alessandro Brai and Alessio Cripa
This paper is a description of the peculiar Xaverian community in Khlong Toei – Bangkok, which can be well defined by the three words “inserted”, “mixed” and “extended”. This “inserted”, “mixed” and “extended” community is the fruit of decisions taken in response to the challenges of missionary life today: a mission that is becoming more and more “relationship”, “dialogue”, “collaboration”, “sharing”, “closeness”, “simplicity”. We, the Xaverians working in Thailand, are aware that “the first proclamation” of the Gospel “must be prepared by a more or less prolonged contact … rooted in the culture and religious experience of those that receive it, carried out with benevolence, respect and dialogue with the listeners, sustained by an authentic and dedicated solidarity with the last and the marginalized” (XVI GC 49). We believe that this kind of community gives us the opportunity to bear witness to Christ’s Resurrection through our lifestyle, so that our daily life reflects the beauty of the Gospel. Indeed, we fully agree with Pope Blessed Paul VI that “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers” (EN 41).
A brief history of our presence in Bangkok
In 2014, during the Superior General’s canonical visit, we decided to begin our presence in Samut Sakhon and in 2016, again with the presence of the Superior General, we decided to move the community to Khlong Toey, whilst maintaining some activities in Samut Sakhon. According to the documents of the XVI General Chapter (2013), and prompted by the Superior General in both his visits, we tried to give our presence in Bangkok the following characteristics: insertion in the surrounding environment, simplicity of life, welcoming of seminarians and volunteers, collaboration with the Diocese. Since our arrival in Thailand, we have committed ourselves to putting some specific paragraphs of our Constitutions into practice:
“We follow the same road travelled by Christ in his incarnation … this requires that we share the life and the destiny of the people” (C 14). “Our preferential option for the poor is more clearly and radically expressed by those communities who live in their midst” (C 36.5).
Therefore, our presence in Bangkok (Khlong Toey and Samut Sakhon) is inserted in a context of exclusion and marginalization, both geographically (the location of the houses where we live) and in terms of lifestyle. Our collaboration with lay people emerged as a need and a desire since the moment Fr. Alessandro Brai began to involve some young factory workers in Samut Sakhon as animators in some activities, or even to help in our housework. They were well prepared (most of them were former seminarians), reliable and sincere and they enjoyed sharing moments of prayer with us. They also had a good knowledge of community life and were interested in the missionary commitment. When we felt the need to have
some catechists helping us in the pastoral work, it was natural to choose two of them for the task. The Bishop provided them with lodgings in the same building where we have our rooms in Samut Sakhon and then in our own place in Khlong Toey. All these circumstances contributed to “open the door” of our community to them. Besides, we also started to welcome some volunteers – both Thai and foreigners – for periods of time of various lengths. Gradually, life with the two catechists and some Thai volunteers – who are involved daily in our pastoral work – has become so close that we can use the term “mixed community” to describe the Xaverian community in Khlong Toei: reserving to ourselves the “supervision” of the decisions taken in the community, we share pastoral work, meals and moments of prayer with our young collaborators … “our brotherhood in community is based upon listening to the Word of God, faith and love. The cornerstones of communal life are: acceptance of others with their values and limitations, loyalty in interpersonal relationships, capacity for correction and forgiveness, friendship and gratuitousness” (C 36) We have begun to live these words in a mixed community and we thank God for the Grace of meeting young lay missionaries interested in this kind of life.
Three characteristics of our community in Bangkok (Khlong Toey and Samut Sakhon)
“Xaverian communities may also include missionaries of other Institutes… and lay people” (C 36.3) • An inserted community
Both houses, in Khlong Toey and Samut Sakhon, are inserted in the environment in which the Xaverians are working. Our flat in Samut Sakhon is in a building where other religious, teachers and collaborators of the Diocese are living too. The building is one of many built by the government for the Burmese migrants and Thai workers from the North-East. Our priority in Samut Sakhon is the spiritual care of Catholics working in the factories. From that place we can easily reach the living quarters of the factories, where many young people are lodged. The house in Khlong Toey is located in the slum area where we have been working since the beginning. Both houses belong to the Diocese. We are working on behalf of the Diocese and our goal is to be a missionary presence with the Xaverian charism.
An inserted community is such not only because of its location, but also because of its lifestyle. Therefore we try to keep as simple a lifestyle as we can, considering that the people around us are for the most part the poor living in the slums, so that our community may be a visible witness to the Gospel. We try to shun comfort and we strive to help each other in community tasks and chores. We decided not to have any personnel for cooking, cleaning and laundering, even though this is sometimes hard and demanding.
A mixed community
After more than two years we can begin to call our community in Bangkok “a mixed community”. We are well aware that, in order to become members of the “mixed community”, it is necessary for any candidate to live with us for a sufficient period of time, so that we have an opportunity to know their personality and motivations and they, in turn, may look more deeply into the experience and get to know the Xaverian mission style.
Only after this period of time do we propose that they become members of the community.
All the members of the mixed community join in evening prayer, the weekly Holy Hour and the retreats that take place every three months. We share our different points of view and, together, we look for the best way to be missionaries in our context. Every Monday at 8.30 we gather together to share our lives, evaluate the past week and organize the scheduled activities. In terms of economy, all the members of the mixed community are involved in the discernment regarding the use of the money we receive for our work in the slum areas. We believe that it is necessary for all the members of our mixed community to know our charisma, and we therefore will organize meetings to present our documents to non-Xaverian members.
As consecrated men, we, the Xaverians, have our own moments: every Sunday at 17,30 we hold the Lectio Divina, which is followed by the community meeting, where we talk about daily life in the community, pastoral activities, administration of the money we have received and the schedule for the coming week. Living in a mixed community means that a high level of communication is necessary to promote communion in all the aforementioned dimensions of our life. The Xaverian community has the task not only to coordinate the life of the mixed community; it must also guarantee the Evangelical style of the community and take any steps that may be necessary in order to preserve it.
An extended community
Welcoming seminarians and volunteers (both Thai and foreigners) is another important dimension of the Xaverian presence in Bangkok. Our houses (in Samut Sakhon and in Khlong Toey) have rooms for people who are willing to collaborate in the pastoral work and share our missionary spirituality. The presence of other people (especially Thai people) can help us to better understand the reality in which the community is inserted. At the same time, we help the collaborators (especially the young ones) to grow in the their spiritual and missionary life. Everyone is well accepted in this first stage for the period of time agreed. Because of the way our houses are structured, welcoming boys or families is easier than welcoming girls. But in the case of groups, it is possible to welcome both boys and girls.
Some practical aspects of the Xaverian presence in Bangkok
- “Pope Francis… pushes us towards a Church-community of missionary disciples that allows itself to be challenged by the outskirts of existence and the crucified of the earth… a Church that wants to be more simple and equipped with humble and modest structures” (XVI G.C. 14). We are trying to live these words by accepting the accommodation that the Bishop offered us, which is located in an old building on the fringe of a large slum; this enables us to be close to the lives of the poor people who dwell there. The building in which we live is large enough for various weekly activities. The diocese has also provided some sport and musical equipment that makes it really attractive and its location ensures the insertion that we are looking for. Furthermore, there are several large structures both in and around the slum area (first of all the Catholic schools), which we can use for more activities with the children.
- We share the spaces in our house with the catechists and the volunteers, except for the fourth floor of the building, which is reserved for us. The motorcycles may be used by all the members of the mixed community.
- Every day we share lunch with the other members of the mixed community and with the volunteers who want to join our experience. These meals in common are a good opportunity to talk about the daily tasks, difficulties and challenges of the slum area.
- Sometimes the community moments of recreation, namely: watching a movie together, having dinner outside, celebrating our birthdays together etc.