St. Joseph Catholic Church in Ayutthaya currently has an unusual sight — a large ship out the front.
The vessel is part of ‘The Legacy of Mission Étrangères de Paris’ exhibition, which is being held as part of the celebrations for the 350th anniversary of the Vatican’s Mission to Siam.
Both the flags of the Vatican and Thailand are flown on the ship symbolizing the beginnings of a solid foundation of the Church in the kingdom.
A hundred years before the arrival of MEPs, there had been missionaries in Thailand but conflict with the country’s neighbors had stunted evangelization efforts.
With the Vatican’s Mission to Siam, the MEPs were able to establish a local Church and train seminarians to assist with evangelization efforts.
St. Joseph Catholic Church has been the center for Catholic community in Thailand from the beginning. The current church was built in 1883 and its wooden predecessor was the first Catholic church built in the Kingdom of Ayutthaya.
Among the church’s relics are the cathedra (bishop’s throne) of Bishop John-Louis Vey, the apostolic vicar of Siam and images of the Way of the Cross brought by the MEP from France during the time of King Rama V. More than 30 MEP missionaries are also buried on the church’s ground.
On the exhibition’s opening day, a special panel discussed the MEP’s history and legacy in Thailand in front of an audience of some 400 people. The panel consisted of Father Nicholas Lefebure, MEP, Sister Sriprai Krathong, Father Theeraphol Kobvithayakul, Phuttiphong Phuttarnsri, and Father Surachai Chumsriphan.
Many of the items displayed at the exhibit — letters, relics, and video archives — were provided by the Bangkok Archdiocese and Thai Catholic Media.