The Lamsai Story

Prior to joining the Cathedral parish of St. John's, Fr. Antonio spent 10 years in Thailand and was one of the friars who started the Lamsai house there. Below, Fr. Antonio reflects on his experience. 

I arrived first in Thailand in September 1988. I still was in Korea and had decided to join the Thai Project (at that's what it was called at the time). Gus Fernandez had just left the country. Only Jim Heinch and Desmond Lean were in Thailand. They were living at a very poor and wooden two-story fragile hut at Dindaeng Parish. I stayed there too.

They took me to Lamsai. There was almost nothing there then. A 1,300-meter road had been opened and ground was spread from the last house in Klong Klang to the projected construction site of the main building now. It was raining. I was depressed about the road from Saphan Mai through Lamlukka to our place that I even thought of abandoning the project altogether.

Jim showed me the blueprint of what Lamsai would be or could look like in the future. I listened to the two friars, the problems they had in finding the proper location (the Cardinal had offered other four places as alternatives to this one), the difficulties in dealing with the Cardinal, and the division among the two first friars about the type of Franciscan presence in Thailand (Gus wanting an urban presence and Jim willing a rural presence), which at the end was decided by the Cardinal: He wanted a Catholic version of a Buddhist Temple.

Meeting Buddha Dasa, the Buddhist Monk of Swan Mokh in Surathani, was a highlight. Jim knew the man directly and invited him to come over to see the place and to give a name. Buddha Dasa Piku listened to the story and looked at the place and baptized the place. The place was to be called “Swan Santitham” or the “Garden of Pax et Bonum,” which should be the real translation (more accurate than “Garden of the Gospel Peace") because Tham can be translated either as Dharma = Gospel or “Bonum” (the good) as well.

When I left a few days later there was a truck and a Caterpillar in the place, to begin the digging and preparing the landscape for the building and the future development.

My definitive arrival in Thailand was on February 26, 1989. During that period of five months of my absence, the lakes were made, and the land had been raised to the present level. The February 6, 1989, the minister general John Voughn had blessed the first stone, which is placed at the side wall of the main entrance of the main building. On my arrival the main building was half-built, as well as the first two huts.

Construction went very quick. I started at the beginning of March with the language at Suriwong School of languages, Desmond continued with preparation for the exam of B6, and Jim was living at the parish of Lamsai overseeing the construction. A nightmare!

I was placed at the Salensian Friary of Pethburi Tad Mai, at Saint Dominic, where we could use a little corner in the building with four rooms which were used by us and our visitors. April 26, 1989, I had to leave Thailand (every three months for the next two years) and went to Penang (Malaysia) to get the VISA extended.

The day before, Benny Baisas -- the General’s delegate -- arrived for good. Before he was combining his work as Provincial of Philippines and General Delegate for Thailand, so he was in and out. It was a big handicap since an outsider had to take decisions about concrete things which the local three friars now, we could not. Amazing!

June 24, 1989, was the feast of Saint John. Benny and myself spent the first night in the huts. Jim and Des stayed at the parish rectory of Lamsai. It was a very heavy rainy night, and I remember (we had no electricity in the house) I was almost eaten up by the mosquitoes.

And we started planting trees, all around and inside, all the Asok trees on the both sides of the road to the chapel (then there was no chapel of course, but the blue print existed already). Some members of the Korean Catholic Community bought a bed, desk, a refrigerator and a cooker, so that I could perform a minimally comfortable stay. Desmond left for good in 1993, the first AIDS patients were admitted and Ban Clara was settled. I remained there till January 1998, when I left for Canada.

Well, this is a bit my personal story. More could be said, of course, but that’s history. Some of it you will be able to find in the diaries the superiors wrote as time was moving on.

Best wishes
Antonio

 

Fr. Antonio's Blog

Reflections from Padre Antonio Egiguren, Vicar at the Cathedral of St. John's the Evangelist.


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