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A serving heart: Reflections on Catholicism with Phuket’s Reverend Father John

A serving heart: Reflections on Catholicism with Phuket’s Reverend Father John

Helen Keller said, “Faith is the strength by which a shattered world shall emerge into the light.” Indeed, faith is a beam of light, leading one from darkness to brightness; faith is a beam of light, directing one from ignorance to wis­dom; faith is a beam of light, guiding one from church to heaven.

By Jill N Wells

Tuesday 3 December 2019, 02:00PM

Every time you pass by a church, as long as it is open, go in and sit down on a pew, enjoy the quietness, feel the greatness of God’s righteousness and love, and listen to the gentle voice and the wisdom of God. If you happen to be in the Cherng Talay area, you may want to visit St. Joseph’s Catholic Church and talk with Reverend Father John Pipat Rungruangkanokkul (Father John).

In 1995, Rev. Fr. Richard F. Woodarek, an American Stigmatines missionary, began to lead Sunday mass in various hotels in the Laguna resort complex, moving to St. Joseph’s Catholic Church when it opened its doors on July 6, 2014. The inaugural mass was led by Bishop Joseph Prathan Sridarunsil alongside priests from different parishes of the diocese. In 2017, Father John was assigned to serve at St. Joseph’s Parish.

Father John is from a traditional Catholic family in Bangkok. He un­derwent a 10-year formation in the seminary alongside other studies. In his 32 years of priesthood, he has served in various countries and ministries. As a good and faithful steward of Christ, he has dedicated himself to the service of God’s people in every walk of life.

One of his most outstanding services is his visitation to the sick and house­bound. He’s always eager to visit them and attend to their needs, namely with sacramental services, as it is in the practice and beliefs of a good Catholic that once someone gets seriously ill, they must call for a priest to minister to them. Father John never refuses to visit them, no matter the time of day or where they may be. This is his service to God’s flock that has been entrusted to him.

Similarly, he always answers the phone with caring tones, no matter who is on the other end of the line. Even if it’s simply a salesman, he sees that they are performing their duties.

Recently, Father John has led a number of baptism ceremonies, a rite he is very much delighted to celebrate.

“In baptism, we receive new life in Christ. Baptism takes away original sin and gives us a new life in Christ and enables us to be children of God,” ex­plains Father John. “In other words, we become part of God’s family.”

Father John also leads matrimonial ceremonies for couples from various nations, including Thai locals. Hav­ing children of different ages present at such ceremonies is common at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. Naturally, they sometimes scream or cry out for no reason, but Father John is extremely patient and loving, asking himself, “What would our Lord do in this case?” He smiles, telling the parents, “They are our future… Please be patient. They will get used to the mass, the mu­sic, the atmosphere in time…”

In this way, Father John calms down the em­barrassed parents and also relaxes the rest of the congregation. He is careful to put himself into other people’s shoes, thinking in a caring and loving way to solve problems.

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In Buddhist-majority Thailand, Catholics make up only 0.58% of the population, so Father John is particu­larly touched when anyone in his parish converts from Buddhism to Catholicism.

As writer V.S. Naipaul said, “To be con­verted you have to destroy your past, destroy your history. You have to stamp on it, you have to say ‘my ancestral cul­ture does not exist, it doesn’t matter.’” Father John recognises the pain and struggle that can accompany conversion and offers empathy and sincere advice for each individual.

Peter Drucker, author and the “fa­ther of modern management”, writes, “In eternity, however, in the realm of the spirit, ‘in the sight of God,’ to use one of Kierkegaard’s favourite terms, it is society which does not exist. In eter­nity only the individual does exist.”

In eternity, man stands alone in the sight of God. However, such life, even if ethically upright, leads to despair; a life that is negated between the life in time and the life in eternity. Drucker summarised, “In faith the individual becomes the universal, ceases to be isolated, becomes meaningful and ab­solute; hence in faith there is a true ethic. And in faith existence in society becomes meaningful, too, as existence in true charity.”

But “the faith is not what today is so often glibly called a ‘mystical experi­ence’, something that can apparently be induced by the proper breathing exer­cises or by prolonged exposure to Bach”.

Drucker cautioned that this faith is not irrational, sentimental, emotional or spontaneous but “comes as the result of serious thinking and learning, of rigid discipline, of complete sobriety, of humbleness, and of the self’s subordina­tion to a higher, an absolute will”.

If you will, everyone can get their faith. It’s you yourself who decides where you go.

St. Joseph’s Catholic Church is located at 48/212 Moo 4, Soi Pasak 8, Cherng Talay, Thalang, 83110. For more infor­mation, visit www.phuketcatholics.com, email stjosephphuket@gmail.com or call 081-8133669.

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