Companions want to learn more about God and what he says through the Scriptures
Catechumen companions Wanchai, Wipada and Puntawee (in red, from left). (Photo: Tanya Leekamnerdthai/EDA)
What led Wipada Pukeartkul, Wanchai Panyawisetpong and Puntawee to become catechumen companions, in St. Louis Parish in Bangkok, was the desire to know God better and to learn what he says through the Scriptures.
These desires led them to become catechumen guides, although all three work full time during the week.
"Yes, I would like to know God more," confides Wipada, who has had a job in finance while accompanying catechumens and "God seekers" since the day of her baptism in 2017. "Wanchai, my accompanier, also went through this stage."
The three accompaniers explain that their role is varied: it is to be a companion on the catechumens' journey of faith, to answer the many questions related to the Scriptures, prayer and worship, and to introduce them to the Christian community. They thus have an essential place with the catechumens.
Piyaporn Pholphitukkul, baptized during the Easter Vigil 2022, shares her experience with her companions: "I asked them how to read the Bible and to prepare me inwardly and spiritually for baptism."
For her part, Chemica Jitkomut, a young nurse who also received baptism at Easter at the same time as Piyaporn, says: "Wanchai, my companion, also went through this catechumenate stage. He has experienced it; he is a brother and a friend to me. He also advised me when I had personal or professional worries."
It is well known that the difficulties for newly baptized people to fit into a parish reflect the shyness and discretion of many Thais. Approaching people you don't know head-on could also be considered impolite
For many adults, baptism is seen as a culmination. "Many of them rarely go to Mass or even disappear after receiving the sacrament of baptism," says Wanchai.
For him, the real problem is to ask how neophytes can be fully integrated into a church community. After attending catechism classes and receiving baptism, new members have difficulty finding their rightful place in a community. They do not yet see themselves as part of the community. Moreover, "many of them are the only believers in their own families," says Wanchai, who has experienced the same thing.
It is well known that the difficulties for newly baptized people to fit into a parish reflect the shyness and discretion of many Thais. Approaching people you don't know head-on could also be considered impolite. Overall, Thais are marked by the attitude of kreng jai, best defined as a desire not to disturb or displease others.
Indeed, Thais rarely approach someone 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 meet parishioners themselves. It is therefore necessary that someone — the companions or the priests — make the link between them.
For Wipada, Wanchai and Puntawee, it is therefore necessary for the guides to continue their task of helping the neophytes find a space in the life of the local Church: "We organize a few meetings after the baptism, and we propose activities in our parish, such as participating in the choir."
However, isn't accompanying these new members the task of the Christian community as a whole? To walk towards Christ with them and with the whole parish community. Isn't this the most elementary little gesture of welcome that we can and should do towards our new brothers and sisters? "Whatever you do to the least of these, 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 participated in the Effetah rite at Bangkok’s Assumption Cathedral on April 16. (Photo: Tanya Leekamnerdthai/EDA)
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