Here are just a few notes and updates to you, my friends, during Holy Week and the Thai Buddhist New Year:
Yesterday it felt like everyone in Klong Toey joined us at "Mercy Centre" as we celebrated the Thai New Year. Perhaps not totally everybody, but at least several hundred neighbors - mostly old folks and other slum "reputables" and, of course, our kids. There was great music played on third-hand instruments and dancing in the streets - old-time barn dancing led by the Motorbike Racing Granny, our favorite street vendor who is now 76. She has a bit of a bum knee, made stiff from kick-starting her stubborn "mini-chopper," a motorbike modified into her mobile coffee cart. Fortunately, she had a "wee swallie" or two or three from a not so well hidden flask of amber liquid that loosened her knees and had her stomping up a storm.
In the late morning, the Monks came for the annual New Year prayers and blessings for our Mercy Centre and to chant the Sutras. Our two hundred children were quiet (just for a while!), sitting beside the physically challenged and the old folks assembled; and after the prayers, everyone made merit and offered the monks a pre-noon meal.
Later in the afternoon, our kids walked to the nearby slum-friendly Temple by the Bridge where nine of our boys have become Buddhist Novices for the next 30 days until school holidays are over.
Entering the monkhood is a glorious experience for these kids, and the first day is full of ceremonies. The only sad part was at the tonsure ceremony, the point in the day when the parents are supposed to help the monks shave their sons' head and then float their hair in holy water. Our boys don't have parents, so our Mercy Centre house dads had to take their place.
Our boys became novice monks for many reasons. Most importantly, it is a rite of passage in Thailand, much like a confirmation in church or a bar mitzvah at a Jewish synagogue. It is also a way of making merit and showing respect for your parents, your country, and, this year in particular, for His Royal Majesty, the King of Thailand, the longest reigning monarch, in celebration of his 60th year on the throne
Our girls are also having a fabulous time this summer holiday. Besides dancing and music classes, they are also learning to cook, most especially cookies and their favorite Thai dishes. All these activities make them "cool," which is quite important to all children but especially to children, like ours, who have been abandoned.
Almost forgot to mention: Of the nearly two hundred children living with us, almost every single one of them passed final exams and will move up another grade in school when the new school year begins this May.
And, even while our boys join the Buddhist monkhood for a month, we are a Catholic House, and what of that? Yes - we have Holy Week ceremonies and the telling of our Sacred Truths, but we did all of that last week -because you can not walk to Jerusalem with Jesus in his Sorrow and Death and celebrate the festivities of the New Year at the same time. So we did the washing of the feet, and adoration of the Holy Cross and Blessings of the Baptismal Water and Fire and Earth and Air last week. And then this Sunday, we celebrate Easter and Jesus rising from the dead. Plus we are going to have this huge Easter Egg Hunt!!
Some might say, "Hey, you can't move feasts around like that!" And they are probably right, but it was either move them or not have them at all. You can't ask Buddhist, Muslim or Christian kids not to party... So... we try to give them the best of both worlds.
Happy Thai New Year everyone - and Happy Easter. What a glorious combination of joy and blessings and "just plain having a good old time." And our children and old folks and our folks with AIDS, and our neighbors and staff and myself - we all wish you a Happy New Year and Happy Easter.
Fr. Joe - April 2006 - Mercy Centre - Klong Toey Slums - Bangkok