Bishop Francis Xavier Vira Arpondratana plants rice with hill tribesmen from his local Church in Chiang Mai (Photo: Diocese of Chiang Mai)
The bishop of Thailand's northernmost diocese, which is largely rural and dominated by hill tribes, has begun himself working in the fields alongside his flock, noting the importance of agriculture there.
“I try to understand the farmers, and to promote Catholic social teaching so that they can contribute to a holistic human development, can work for the common good of their family and for the entire nation,” Bishop Francis Xavier Vira Arpondratana of Chiang Mai told CNA.
The diocesan economy is largely agricultural, and the mountainous region lacks many amenities such as electricity and modern communications and highway infrastructure.
Relating how he began to work in the rice fields with his tribal flock, he said that “in fact, I did not want to work in the field, but I would like to support them; and one of the local nuns encouraged me, asking, 'bishop why don’t you work with us?'”
And so Bishop Arpondratana took to the rice paddies with gusto.
“When someone asks, I would like to open my heart and mind and be with them,” he explained.
His work with farmers has inspired both them and catechists in the Chiang Mai diocese. He has organized a Lenten rice campaign in the diocese centered on prayer, penance, and alms giving.
The bishop is concerned for the local people, and is helping develop a strong sense of solidarity among the local ethnic groups: “I am aware of the economic situation of Europe, so we cannot ask help from there. We have to make the local people understand they must help each other locally, and not only receive help from afar.”
Bishop Arpondratana, 58, was ordained a priest of the Bangkok archdiocese, 430 miles south of Chiang Mai, in 1981, and served there until his appointment as bishop in 2009.
Source: Catholic News Agency