Seventy-seven years ago, Redemptorist missionaries arrived in Siam – a land steeped in Buddhist mysticism with a culture of Catholic persecution. Fr. Leo Travis joined them eight years later, in 1956. Now in his 80s, Fr. Leo has served in various capacities in Thailand for 59 years. He graciously agreed to share how devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help spread in that country.
Our Mother of Perpetual Help devotions came quite easily to Thailand. Our Founding Fathers, Bishop Clarence Duhart and Fr. Roger Godbout, had both been preaching about Our Mother of Perpetual Help in the States before coming to Thailand in 1948. When they went to the village of Xang Ming in northeast Thailand, they found that a little shrine was already in the church. They began speaking about Our Mother of Perpetual Help, and word spread. The Fathers placed a picture of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in the church, and began taking care of other nearby villages. Pastors loved the image, and the people embraced it and told their family and friends about it. The Thai people loved the Fathers, and they loved the devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help.
In the area that the Holy See gave the Redemptorists to care for, no churches were standing – all had been destroyed during the persecution. In each of the villages where there were sufficient Catholics, the Fathers built churches – all over! A shrine and picture of Our Mother of Perpetual Help was included in each sanctuary, and weekly devotions began. The Thai people were rising from the persecution and loved the devotion. Bishop Duhart and the other Redemptorists held parish missions and spoke about the Mother of Perpetual Help in other dioceses. As devotions took hold, Fathers Godbout and Cotant began building Holy Redeemer Church in Bangkok. Devotions began immediately, and the people began to attend. Parish missions brought the devotion to many churches in Thailand. To this day, several novena services – some in English and some in Thai – continue every Wednesday at Holy Redeemer Church in Bangkok.
I attribute many special blessings to Our Mother of Perpetual Help, but will share just two. Bishop George Phimphisan wished to build a seminary in Udon. He had no money, so I asked him how much he needed. “All I have is about fifty dollars,” he said, which was the beginning of a building fund. Bishop George wrote to three big agencies in Europe – one in Rome – that had reputations for helping mission dioceses. They all wrote back, saying that they were sorry they could not help. All of them had stopped funding buildings, and all monies they contributed were to be used to help poor people. When we sadly realized the state of affairs, I had devotions to Our Mother of Perpetual Help in the Cathedral. I read the section of Prophet Haggai, where God spoke to Haggai, telling him to build His church, for He was going to shake the earth for the gold and silver, timber, etc. In my sermon, I mentioned that we must pray to Our Mother to whisper to her Son, Jesus, that it is time to shake the earth once again. Two months later, the Bishop began to receive letters from each of the agencies he had previously contacted. Miraculously, all of them had a change of heart about his request and were sending contributions! Bishop George built the seminary, which opened in 1982. Now there are about 20 diocesan priests.
Another interesting story of Our Mother of Perpetual Help’s intercession occurred at Holy Redeemer Church in Bangkok. I prepared a couple – a young Catholic lady and a Buddhist man – for marriage. During all of their instruction and paperwork, the marriage was to be a union of people from two different religions. There was no mention of any interest to convert to Catholicism on the part of the Buddhist man. We finished the paperwork on a Wednesday and the Perpetual Help novena was in session: a full church, music, incense and Benediction.
The lady suggested to her fiancée that they step into the church for just a moment. She gave a pamphlet to him and they knelt. He gazed and gazed. Coming out of the church, he asked his bride-to-be if the wedding could wait. “I see that I want to be just like you, a Catholic,” he said. He called me the next day to cancel any trip for dispensations, and he arranged for catechism classes and became an extraordinary Catholic. I call it my Miracle Marriage! The man is dead now, after a faithful life as a Catholic.
Fr. Leo Travis, CSsR