Catechumens testify after Easter celebrations in Thailand
Companions want to learn more about God and what He says in the scriptures
Companion catechumens Wanchai, Wipada and Puntawee (in red, from left). (Photo: Tanya Leekamnerdthai/EDA)
What prompted Wipada Pukeartkul, Wanchai Panyawisetpong and Puntawee to become fellow catechumens at St. Louis Parish in Bangkok was a desire to get to know God better and learn through Scripture what He says.
These desires led them to become catechumen leaders, although all three work full-time during the weekdays.
“Yes, I would like to get to know God more,” reveals Wipada, who has had a job in finance since the day of her baptism in 2017, accompanying catechumens and “God-seekers”. “Wanchai, my companion, also went through this phase.”
The three companions explain that their role is multifaceted: to accompany the catechumens on their journey of faith, to answer the many questions about Scripture, prayer and adoration, and to introduce them to the Christian community. They therefore have an essential place among catechumens.
Piyaporn Pholphitukkul, baptized during the Easter Vigil of 2022, shares her experience with her companions: “I asked them how to read the Bible and prepare myself mentally and spiritually for baptism.”
For her part, Chemica Jitkomut, a young nurse who was also baptized at Easter at the same time as Piyaporn, says: “Wanchai, my companion, also went through this catechumenate phase. He experienced it, he is a brother and a friend. He also advised me when I had private or professional problems.
It is well known that difficulties for newly baptized people to fit into a church reflect the shyness and discretion of many Thais. It might also be considered rude to address people you don’t know
For many adults, baptism is seen as the culmination. “Many of them rarely attend mass or even disappear after receiving the sacrament of baptism,” says Wanchai.
For him, the real problem is how to fully integrate neophytes into a church fellowship. After attending catechism classes and being baptized, new members have difficulty finding their rightful place in a community. They don’t see themselves as part of the community yet. Also, “many of them are the only believers in their own families,” says Wanchai, who has experienced the same thing.
It is well known that difficulties for newly baptized people to fit into a church reflect the shyness and discretion of many Thais. It might also be considered rude to address people you don’t know. Overall, Thais are characterized by attitude kreng jaibest defined as the desire not to disturb or upset others.
In fact, Thais rarely address anyone they don’t know or know little about. For fear of being perceived as aggressive, for fear of the other, for fear of shocking or hurting people, newcomers do not go to parishioners themselves. It is therefore necessary for someone – the companions or the priests – to establish the connection between them.
For Wipada, Wanchai and Puntawee it is therefore necessary that the leaders continue their task of helping the neophytes to find a place in the life of the local church: “We organize some meetings after baptism and propose activities in our community, like the Participate in the choir.”
But isn’t the accompaniment of these new members the task of the whole Christian community? To approach Christ with them and with the whole parish community. Isn’t that the most elementary little gesture of welcome that we can and should make to our new siblings? “Whatever you do to the least, you do to me” (Matthew 25:40).
* This is an adapted version of an article that appeared in Eglises d’Asie (Churches in Asia), a publication of the Paris-based Missions Etrangères de Paris (MEP), or Paris Foreign Missions Society.
The catechumens, their godparents and the companions who attended the Effetah rite at the Ascension Cathedral in Bangkok on April 16th. (Photo: Tanya Leekamnerdthai/EDA)