Vatican envoy visits Blessed Nicholas’ shrine
Cardinal Fernando Filoni, the prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, visited Thailand to help celebrate the 350th anniversary of the Church’s mission to Siam.
As part of his visit, Cardinal Filoni went to a memorial shrine just outside Bangkok dedicated to Blessed Nicholas Bunkerd Kitbamrung, one of Thailand’s martyrs.
Blessed Nicholas Bunkerd Kitbamrung was a Thai priest who was falsely accused of espionage and arrested in 1941. Three years into his 15-year prison sentence, he died of tuberculosis. While jailed he taught catechism and managed to baptize 68 prisoners.
Blessed Nicholas was one of five local priests who were imprisoned under false charges of espionage during the Thai-French War 1940-41.
Pope St. John Paul II beatified him in early 2000.
A shrine dedicated to Blessed Nicholas is in Nakhon Pathom province, the same province just outside Bangkok where he was born in 1895 and raised in a Christian family.
The Catholic Church in Thailand has declared Jan. 12 of each year as his commemorative day.
During the early 1940s, the Thai nationalist government sought to unite the local population through Buddhism while persecuting Christians in a bid to force them to give up their faith.
With a change of government in late 1944, freedom of religion was again allowed in Thailand, and the persecution ended.
The Martyrs of Songkhon
The killing of seven innocent Catholics by police in late 1940 is one of the most tragic episodes of the Thai Church’s history.
The killings took place in the Catholic village of Songkhon on the Mekong River during the Thai-French War, a period when the Thai government was also persecuting Christians.
The villagers were told by visiting police in August 1940 that once the war was won against the French, then Christianity would no longer exist in Thailand.
The police moved into the village and began harassing and pressuring villagers to abandon Catholicism. This went on for several months before they shot and killed village school headmaster Philip Siphong Onphithak on Dec. 16. Siphong, 33, was a catechist and former seminarian.
The day after Christmas, police killed six more Catholics from the village: Sister Agnes Phila, 31, and Sister Lucia Khambang, 23, who belonged to Lovers of the Holy Cross, Cecilia Butsi, 16, Bibiana Khampai, 15, Maria Phon, 14, and Agatha Phutta, 59.
All seven martyrs were beatified by Pope St. John Paul II in Rome on Oct. 22, 1989.