Thabom, a remote village in the northeastern Thai province of Loei, has become a witness to a historic milestone in the more than 40-year presence of the Religious of the Assumption in the kingdom.
For the first time since the religious congregation established its mission in Thailand, an Assumption Sister has made her final vows in the country.
On December 9, Sister Regina Maria of the Cross affirmed her faith during the Eucharistic celebration of the Rite of Profession of Perpetual Vows, which was presided over by Most Rev. Joseph Luechai Thatwisai, Bishop of the Diocese of Udon Thani.
This marked a historic milestone for the Religious of the Assumption in Thailand, commemorated at the Catholic Parish of St. Raphael the Archangel, where public record shows that Catholic missionaries arrived in this area as early as 1875.
“I feel that the life of the sisters here in Thabom inspired me to say yes to God forever.” said Sister Regina Maria, who grew up as Nguyễn Thị Trinh Nguyên.
The missionary sister said that she has found love in Thabom with the “Buddhist brothers and sisters” and the “very warm-hearted” care that they showed her.
“I feel really strongly the love of God for me. That’s why I decided to make my final vows here.”
The distinctiveness of the celebration was evident not only in the sacred commitment undertaken by Sister Regina Maria, but also in the multilingual symphony that adorned the Eucharistic celebration, as well as the colors of traditional Thai garments worn by the local community.
English, Thai, Vietnamese, Tagalog, and Japanese reverberated through the mass, mirroring the diverse missions embarked upon by the Religious of the Assumption in the Asia Pacific region.
Sister Deanna Maria Combong, Head of St. John's Thabom school and one of the pioneering sisters who first graced Thabom, says being at the mission provided a "kingdom" experience, which she said has “no nationalities, no languages that will separate you from each other. People from all walks of life, our people in the village, our friends from the city sit at the same 'banquet table'.”
“You say your own language, but God understands all languages. And you praise God together.”
The Assumption Sisters first came to Thailand in 1980 at the invitation of Bishop Pietro Luigi Carretto, S.D.B. of Surat Thani, in southern Thailand.
In 1998, at the opposite end of the country, groundwork started for St. John’s Thabom school, a secondary school adjacent to The Holy Redeemer primary school.
Four years later, the Assumption Sisters established the mission in Thabom, at the time, a small village beset with chronic deep social and economic issues stemming from the widespread use of drugs in the community. The local church bell rang almost daily to announce the death of someone in the community.
However, despite almost nothing to their names, the villagers came together to provide the land where the school building is now located.
Today, while the school prioritizes supporting children from disadvantaged background, many now join the school as fee-paying families.
"When I first came to Thabom, the villagers asked me,
Why are you building a school here?
There is nothing here.
I told them,
Because there is nothing here, that is why I would like to build a school in Thabom."
Sister Maria Deanna shared that teachers at Thabom are mostly Buddhists, noting that “[today] is an experience for them of knowing there is something bigger than what we call ‘religion’ even ‘Church’.”
“We all belong to one kingdom. Who takes care of this kingdom? We call him God. For them, maybe one day, they would also call him Father,” she said.
Peter Monthienvichienchai, Secretary General of SIGNIS and whose father co-founded the school, said Thabom embodies what it means “to be in communion while carrying out the mission of the Church – the commitment of the sisters, the support of the local villagers and the energy of the youths of the school.”
“Moreover, the strong leadership demonstrated over the decades by women in this community is truly inspirational,” said Monthienvichienchai, who is also the Executive Director of LiCAS News.
The celebration in Thabom stands not only as a testament to Sister Regina Maria's commitment but also as a reflection of the unity and shared values transcending religious and cultural boundaries.
Sister Lerma Victoria Pangantihon, Provincial of the Religious of the Assumption Asia-Pacific province, said the Rite of Profession of Perpetual Vows “is a sign of hope”.
“A Vietnamese sister has made the radical choice of taking her final vows right here in Thabom. Thailand, especially Thabom, has something very special to offer our young sisters. Something that helps them to make radical choices. It is very very special. A sign of hope and of more to come,” she said.
Sister Aranya Kitbunchu, president of the Federation of Religious Superiors in Thailand, expressed optimism that the event will serve as a testimony that someone - a woman - in today’s society where religion is often neglected, has committed her life to God and her faith.
For a Buddhist, such as Mrs. Kannattha Siriphen who is St. John’s Thabom school headmistress, witnessing a religious sister making her final vows has brought “pride” and “tears of happiness”.
“I have only seen it on TV but now it is really happening in our community,” she said. "I feel so proud and have tears of happiness today."