“To understand (เข้าใจ) the heart must be opened”: Missionary experience of a Redemptorist

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(Thailand) – October is the Missionary month, and from the first day of the month, with the feast of Saint Theresa of the Child Jesus, patron of the missions, missions are celebrated all over the world until the end of the month.

Pope Francis said that the missionary month is a new opportunity “to make us missionary disciples, ever more passionate about Jesus and his mission, to the ends of the earth.”
Father Rodrigo Velez is a Redemptorist priest and is carrying out his mission in Thailand. “I am happy to share these first steps of my mission with you and ask God to always give us the ability to marvel at the mission, as he has now entrusted us,” he said.

Here, the complete text of his testimony:

From Tailanda, father Rodrigo Vélez
To understand (เข้าใจ) it is necessary to enter the heart

I write from the mountains of Doi Inthanon, where Redemptorist missionaries have been working with the indigenous Karen communities for more than 40 years. In Thailand there are these mountain tribes that are different from the Thais, who have their own culture, their language, their customs, but perhaps more interesting is that these indigenous communities have a process of conversion to Christianity much appreciated, their way to live faith is something admirable.

In this first year I am mainly interested in culture and language, I spent 6 months studying Thai in Bangkok, collaborating with the only church in Bangkok offering several masses in English for foreign Catholics, migrants. Thailand is a 90% Buddhist country, Buddhist temples are everywhere, with a population of over 70 million, the socio-economic level of Bangkok, far from the people living inside the country. Here the king is the most important figure in society, and the monks enjoy great respect. Already in the sixth month I am on a mission to the mountains of Mae Chaem.

Here we have as a mission to accompany the pastoral care in 13 communities. The villages that are scattered on the slopes of the mountains where people work in the land to have rice, corn, pumpkins and a variety of fruits and vegetables. These communities, organized with their customs, send their children to study in the larger cities where the schools are located. In our mission, we have a home for boys and girls.

Our mission group is very diverse because it is made up of 2 priests, 1 Filipino seminarian in his year of immersion, 3 sisters and a family who are part of the support staff. The mission is more of a short-term challenge. The mission in these lands is a great gift from God, but also a challenge that involves the exercise of leaving some practices, but also the family, food, friends … a path in which we may have to loose many things so to have the courage to be clothed with the gospel. It is a wonderful gift to be able to witness the faith that dresses in the color and warmth of these people, so different but so close at the same time.

The first days of study in this land, I learned that in Thai the word ‘understand’ ‘kouchay’ means to enter the heart. So to understand, we need to open the heart. This language that has more than 40 consonants, 21 vowels and 5 tones, is also simple and rich at the same time to express the depth of the heart. Already in the mountain communities the challenge is twofold because the Karen language is spoken there. There is no doubt that there is much to learn, but the most beautiful thing about the mission ‘ad gentes’ is that “touching the human is invoking the divine on ourselves”. I am happy to share these first steps of my mission with you and ask God to always give us the ability to amaze me before the mission that entrusts us.

Rodrigo Vélez CSsR

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