Catholic priests in the city of Bangkok responded to the call of Pope Francis to go to the “peripheries” and be with the most vulnerable, especially during the pandemic.
Monsignor Andrew Vissanu Thanya-anan, deputy secretary general of Thailand’s Catholic bishops’ conference, and Father Pairat Sriprasert, head of Caritas Thailand, this week brought food to families most affected by the pandemic.
“I follow the instruction on ‘Come and See’ of Pope Francis,” said Monsignor Thanya-anan.
“When you come and see with your own eyes, you will feel that it is urgent to do something for them who are suffering,” he added.
“Come and See” is the theme for the 55th World Day of Social Communications in May this year.
In his message during the occasion, Pope Francis urged everyone to reach out to people “as they are and where they live.”
“We do not know the truth if we do not experience it, if we do not meet people, if we do not participate in their joys and sorrows,” said the pope.
Msgr. Thanya-anan told LiCAS.news that the pandemic has hit hard poor families even in the center of the country’s financial district.
He noted that the health crisis resulted in unemployment, “which is dramatically hitting so many heads of households, women and young people.”
On Monday, Thailand’s central bank governor said the country needs a further 1 trillion baht (US$29.9 billion) in fiscal steps to help jobs and income losses due to the pandemic.
Thailand’s has seen a spike in COVID-19 cases and deaths, prompting tougher containment measures to be extended this month and expanded to areas which account for around 80% of gross domestic product.
On Tuesday, the country reported 239 new coronavirus deaths, bringing the country’s total number of fatalities to 7,973.
The country’s coronavirus task force also reported 20,128 new infections, taking total cases to 948,442.
Bank of Thailand Governor Sethaput Suthiwartnarueput told a news conference earlier that the projected 1 trillion baht in fiscal support, or 7% of GDP was reasonable given the problems the economy is facing.
The problems were worse than the 1997/97 Asian financial crisis, he said. “With such severe symptoms, the medicine must be strong and right to the point,” he added.
The COVID-19 outbreak created a huge “income hole” in the Thai economy, with income losses expected at 2.6 trillion baht – 1.8 trillion baht in 2020-2021 and 800 billion baht in 2022.
Jobless numbers are expected at 3.4 million at the end of 2021, up from 3 million in the second quarter.
Msgr. Thanya-anan noted amid the pandemic poor communities are living in “unhealthy environment,” causing the rapid transmission of the disease.
“There is also an army of rats, running around here and there,” said the priest during his visit to one urban poor community on Tuesday.
The church leader has been going around poor communities in full PPE, or personal protective equipment.
“Visiting these communities poses risks, and therefore, I have to put on PPE, complete with masks, face protection, gloves, head cover, etc,” he said.
The priest led a group of church workers and volunteers in distributing boxes containing meals ready-to-eat and dried food.
He said Caritas Thailand, the social action arm of the bishops’ conference, has also been providing essential food items and other basic goods especially to households with limited access to health services.
The Catholic Church in Thailand has been active in supporting various initiatives to help those most affected, including relief distribution and the conversion of church facilities into vaccination and isolation centers.
As of 2019, there are 388,468 Catholics in Thailand, a figure that represents about 0.58% of the Thai population of 69 million. There are 11 dioceses with 526 parishes and 662 priests.