Friday, June 30, 2006

You act according to the orders of men, but we act according to the orders of God (SongKhon Villagers)

Catholics in Thailand were persecuted in the thirties up to the forties during the Franco-Thai war. The Catholic religion was seen as a French religion and an enemy to the nation. Many Thai Catholics were forced to renounce their faith. Persecution was especially strong in Songkhon, a Catholic village near the Mekong River. When the police came there, the French parish priest was expelled. Two nuns, Sisters Agnes Phila and Lucia Khambang, and a catechist, Philip Siphong Onphitak, felt responsible for Catholic community and were in charge of the village school.

Philip gave both moral and physical support to the worried people by visiting each house, praying with each family and speaking words of encouragement and strengthening their faith. The police were naturally furious at this act of rebelliousness and decided to get rid of Philip. So in early December 1940 the police sent a letter to Philip supposedly from the Sheriff of Mukdahan, requesting him to go to Mukdahan to meet the Sheriff. The people were suspicious and they warned Philip about the false letter and not to trust the police. They also told Philip that the police had every intention of killing him. However this good man told the people that if that was the case, then he would be ready to die for his faith. Eventually he set out with the police for Mukdahan. Actually when they got the poor man into the forest, the police shot him dead. It was December 16, 1940.
The Catholics in the area felt greater fear and persecution after the loss of Philip, whm they called “the great tree.” The police fired their guns in the air, threatening to kill the Christians. But there are two more pillars left to support the Church in Songkhon, Sisters Agnes Phila and Lucia Khambang. The two sisters run the parochial school and continue to teach the children in the village catechism. They felt that their time to sacrifice their lives for the love of God is drawing near.

The two nuns were ordered not to wear their religious habits, and the two agreed since the reason given to them was that the religious habit is wore only by Europeans and the country is in a state of war. The sisters agreed, but they did not renounce their faith and they continued teaching the children catechism.

On Christmas day, the policemen passed by the convent of the sisters. They caught them teaching children catechism. Lu, the chief police, told the sisters, “I have told you many times not to speak about Jesus. You must not mention God in Thailand, otherwise I will kill you all!”
Sister Agnes said to him, “Mr. Policeman, do you mean to say that you will kill us all because we are Catholics and loyal to our Catholic Faith. Do you really mean that, Mr. Policeman?"

Lu replied, “Yes, I do. I will kill all of you if you continue to talk about God like this.”

Sister Agnes exclaimed, “Be sure you have enough guns and bullets then!”

"Oh yes," rejoined Lu, "we have enough guns and bullets to kill all of you."

Then be sure you polish the barrels of your guns lest the bullets get stuck," countered Sister Agnes

"We will." And the police left them.

Later that day, the police gathered all villagers to the Church. They were told that they were given orders from higher authorities to kill whoever will not renounce their faith. A sixteen-year-old girl, Cecilia Butsi stood up and said, “I am willing to die for my faith!” Cecilia assisted Agatha Phutta, the cook of the sisters, in the convent kitchen. Cecilia was reprimanded by her mother for her boldness, and she, together with other girls, later went with the sisters to the convent.

That night, Sister Lucia became ill. She became restless and fearful. She felt that the moment for her witnessing had already come. She dressed in her religious habit. Sister Agnes felt moment for her to give testimony to her faith is already drawing near. She dressed in her religious habit and wrote a letter to the police in behalf of Sr. Lucia and the other girls in the convent. She wrote:

“We ask you to carry out the order on us....Please delay no longer.... Please carry out the order. We are ready to give back our lives to God who has given them to us. We do not wish to be preys of the devils. Please carry out the order. Open the door of heaven for us so that we may confirm that outside the religion of Christ no one can go to heaven. Please do it. We are well prepared. When we are gone, we will remember you. Take pity on our souls. We will be grateful to you for it. On the last day, we will see each other face to face.”

The two sisters, Agatha Phutta, and the other girls spent the whole night praying and preparing themselves for martyrdom. Some girls with the sisters left out of fear of being killed, while two girls, Bibiana Khampai, 15, and Maria Phon, 14,voluntarily went to the convent the next day to die as martyrs. Some girls were sent by their parents to the sisters to die as martyrs. One of the girls said, “By the time I arrived, I saw Sr. Agnes, Sr. Lucia, Cecilia Butsi, Bibiana Khampai, Cecilia Suvan and, Maria Phon all in prayer.”

At three in the afternoon, the police came to the convent and asked those in it to renounce their faith. Everyone refused. So, they were taken to the cemetery and shot to death. Two girls were saved. One was taken away by her father and another one escaped when she was not hit by bullets. Before the women were shot, Sister Agnes said to the policemen, “You may kill us but you cannot kill the Church and you cannot kill God. One day the Church will return to Thailand and will flourish more than ever. You will see with your own eyes that what I am now saying will come true. So we thank you from our hearts for killing us and sending us to Heaven. From there we will pray for you.” The martyrs died praying and singing hymns. Six martyrs died that day. They were the nuns; Agatha Phutta, the convent cook; Cecilia Butsi; Bibiana Khampai and Maria Phon, teenage girls.

On October 22, 1989, Pope John Paul II formally beatified the seven Thai Catholics. Deeply touched by their fidelity, the pope said that Blessed Philip Siphong exemplified the missionary zeal that is incumbent upon all of us by virtue of our baptism. He quoted Sister Agnes' letter to the policeman, “We rejoice in giving back to God the life that He has given us.... We beseech you to open to us the doors of heaven… You are acting according to the orders of men, but we act according to the commandments of God.” Sentiments like these, said John Paul II, resembled those of the early Christian martyrs.


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