.- In Thailand, the Diocese of Chanthaburi is reaching out to rural residents through a human development program offering assistance to families and children of all religions.
“Kids need to be inspired to aspire, and especially rural kids, because unlike city kids they lack exposure and facilities,” Father Giuseppe Ekapop Phonmoon, director of the Chanthaburi diocese's office of Diocesan Social Action, told CNA.
On Aug. 22-23, the office held a program at the diocesan pastoral center in Si Racha to encourage inter-religious relations and to help develop the living conditions of rural residents in the diocese.
More than 100 children, both Catholics and Buddhists, participated in the two-day program.
Diocesan Social Action is a pastoral and social initiative of the Thai bishops' conference that promotes human dignity and the capacity for improving the life of rural and poor citizens irrespective of religion in the nation.
Fr. Phonmoon said the initiative has two dimensions: one “cognitive-educative,” and a “charitable,” action-oriented dimension.
The formative dimension includes a section to expose participants to the Catholic faith life and identity.
Diocesan Social Action also helps in financing micro-credit, helping farmers to buy agricultural products so long as they regularly attend the training program.
Fr. Joseph Chalerm Kitmongkhon, Chanthaburi diocese's director of family life, was a speaker at the two-day event and told CNA that the program is a challenging one.
Many of the families who participate are of “mixed religious marriages,” he said, and the program must respect them while orienting them to Catholic faith life and helping foster inter-religious dialogue.
Program participants become ambassadors of good will, receive training and help to develop their living conditions. The training is offered free of charge to the rural poor, as similar programs offered by other groups are generally cost-prohibitive for those who need them most, he said.
Catholics are a very small minority in the south-east Asian nation. In the Diocese of Chanthaburi, they are 0.8 percent of the population, and less than one percent of all Thais are Christian. Nearly 95 percent of Thais are Buddhist, and most of the remaining population is Muslim, making inter-religious relations a notable fact of life for Thai Catholics.