The inauguration of the statues of Archbishop Constant Prodhomme and Father Xavier Guego in Nakhon Phanom, Thailand, marking the centennial of the death of two French missionaries on Dec. 10. (Photo: Eglises d'Asie)
Church leaders and laypeople have paid tribute to two prominent French missionaries who pioneered evangelization and laid the foundations of the Church in northern Thailand and Laos.
About 2,500 Thai Catholics attended the celebration to commemorate the centennial of the death of Archbishop Constant Prodhomme (1849-1920) and Father Xavier Guego (1855-1918) in the Church of Saint Anne in Nakhon Phanom in northeast Thailand near the Laos border on Dec. 10.
The celebration was jointly organized by four Thai dioceses — Ubon Ratchathani, Udon Thani, Nakhon Ratchasima and Thare-Nongseng — as well as the apostolic vicariate of Savannakhet-Khammouane of Laos. Each diocese also marked the feast with a triduum of Masses.
Archbishop Paul Tschang In-nam, apostolic nuncio to Thailand, and the bishops of the four dioceses and of Chiang Mai attended the event along with representatives of the Paris Foreign Missions Society (MEP) and civil authorities.
Officials prepared for several months for the centenary celebrations to commemorate the French missionaries in what was considered the biggest ceremony for local churches in the Isan region, which covers the four dioceses.
The Laotian faithful could only participate in spirit, thought and prayer as the Thai border remained closed due to Covid-19. A live broadcast was set up to allow both Thai and Laotian Catholics to follow the event virtually.
The celebration provided a good opportunity to retrace, reread and meditate on the history of the first missionaries. The homily and the speeches focused on the missionary work of Bishop Prodhomme and Father Guego.
The ceremony also included inaugurating statues of the two missionaries by dignitaries including the mayor of the city of Nakhon Phanom.
A musical theater presentation revealed the key moments of these two French envoys in the history of the mission, such as difficulties with local authorities, cultural challenges, the foundation of the Congregation of the Lovers of the Cross, the liberation of slaves and the reintegration of the Phi Pop who were expelled from their villages or families following the break with the cult of their society.
MEP missionaries Archbishop Prodhomme and Father Guego are credited with outstanding activities including evangelization, spreading the Gospel, freeing slaves and undertaking charitable works such as care for the orphans and the excluded.
Woon, a 20-year-old postulant from the Congregation of the Lovers of the Cross, said she thanked God for the great missionaries.
"I give thanks to God, who gave us these missionary fathers. I am particularly touched by their courage and zeal for the mission. They came to us in a country that was once dangerous, even wild. At the same time, there was war and repression of Christians. I would like to express all my gratitude to all the missionary fathers," Woon said
Oak, a 24-year-old civil servant, the only Catholic employee of the Nakhon Phanom mayor's office, accompanied the mayor during the celebration.
"I am very happy to be here and very proud to have accompanied the mayor, who is a Buddhist. Without me, he wasn't comfortable coming here because he hardly knows the Christian tradition. Yet he is the mayor of a city where the majority of the population is Catholic,” Oak said.
The unveiling of statues in honor of two pioneers of the Catholic mission gave the mayor and the prefect of Nakhon Phanom an opportunity to get to know the people of the region, most of whom are Christians.
The idea for the commemoration came from Father Robert Costet, MEP (1928-2019), in the context of the 350th anniversary of the Apostolic Vicariate of Siam in 2019, in order to ignite the hearts of the baptized of the country with missionary zeal through the history of these first apostles of Christ in Laos and northeast Thailand.