Link to review here. Full text below: Reviewed by Greg Barrett, author and journalist
First, full disclosure. I wrote the book on Father Joe Maier, the cursing, curmudgeon, can-do priest of Bangkok. Literally. The Gospel of Father Joe, it was titled. But that 315-page effort doesn't preclude me from being honest with you about his latest book, The Open Gate of Mercy: Stories from Bangkok's Klong Toey Slum. Frankly, if I didn't keep it real he'd probably break my kneecaps. (That part is figurative. I think.)Father Joe, who turns 73 on Halloween, is a native of working-class Longview, Washington, but he has lived among the poorest of the poor in Thailand for some forty years. In 1971, long before Mother Teresa was a holy icon and eight years before she won the Nobel Peace Prize, the great nun of Calcutta visited with Father Joe in Bangkok's flood-prone shantytowns. Father Joe showed her the Klong Toey slums that house tens of thousands of homeless families, and as they walked the rickety catwalks that hold the poor aloft (barely) over dung-brown lakes of sewage, Mother Teresa fell quiet. Seeing mile upon soggy mile of the desperate poor she declared Bangkok's abyss to be every bit as sorrowful as the squatter camps in Calcutta. Leaving, she made one request of Father Joe. It was a doozy.
Thursday October 4th, 2012 – 8pm
At The Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand
"An Evening with Father Joe: Slum Priest"
Father Joe will talk about his 40 years in Klong Toey and the adults and children behind the stories in his new book, “The Open Gate of Mercy.”
From the Foreign Correspondents Club off Thailand:
Father Joseph Maier, the priest of Klong Toey slum, is a familiar figure in Bangkok and beyond. Since 1967 Father Joe has lived among the poorest of the poor in Thailand and Laos, and since 1972 he has served as the Parish Priest to the Catholic community in the slaughterhouse neighborhood in Klong Toey, Bangkok, which is how he became known as "The Slaughterhouse Priest."
I will miss the day-to-day life at our beautiful Mercy Centre.
After 22 years here, the last six years as Executive Director, I am taking everything I have learned from Fr. Joe, Sister Maria, our children, our patients and all my co-workers to explore new opportunities outside of Mercy Centre, especially those opportunities relating to HIV/AIDS home-based and community care.
It’s impossible to explain how much I will miss Mercy: the rhythm of life here is almost unbearably lovely – the daily celebrations of our children, the chorus of cheers and laughter coming from our kindergartens, the dignity of the elderly grandmoms and granddads who drop by as a part of our Mercy family. There is nothing I have ever seen or experienced like the joys of Mercy.
But while I am giving up my day-to-day duties at Mercy, I will continue to work on Mercy’s behalf and will help lead our teams as we conduct HIV Homecare workshops for community health organizations in Thailand, Laos, Bhutan and the areas bordering Burma. I will also continue to help coordinate with our sister charities - Mercy Centre UK and Mercy Centre Australia.
Please continue to support us and help in every way you can. Our Mercy Centre remains a beautiful celebration of life.
Over 2, 500 slum children attend daily.
Our schools follow the Thai national kindergarten curriculum; and our school children learn to read, write, count, play, dance, say nice words, fight germs, and sing the old songs, the same ones our mothers and grandmothers taught us when we were young.
Our daily school fees -10 baht (30 baht = approx.US $1) per student - cover just a small fraction of the real costs to operate our schools. Although this 10 baht fee does not come close to covering expences, it empowers the parents and guardians to take ownership of their neighborhood school and value their children's education.
The daily school fee is waived for over 20% of our students - those whose parents and guardians are destitute.
One in five children who enters our schools is malnourished. All children receive a nutritious hot lunch, protein snacks, fruit and milk every school day.
In recent years we have formally handed over 11 Mercy preschools to their slum communities. These long-standing schools have helped to strengthen the surrounding communities to the point where the community leaders and parents can now operate their own schools themselves without our daily assistance. We remain as advisors to these schools and provide counsel and resources whenever needed.
In the past 40 years, over 40,000 poor children have graduated from our kindergartens with a head start as they enter government primary schools.
Dance and music help heal our Mercy children. Because our children were abandoned, used, and abused before coming to Mercy, many had lost their way. They forgot, or couldn't feel, what it means to be kids and to embrace each new day with hope and joy. Our Classical Music and Dance Program helps them express themselves and find their way back to being children once again. Plus it's just plain old good fun! Photo gallery here.
Published by Heavenlake Press. You can purchase Fr. Joe's new book here. A note from the publisher:
The Open Gate of Mercy is a collection of real-life stories of the poorest of the poor who share our City of Angels. We have seen many of them on Bangkok streets, but we often pass them by without taking any serious thought about who they are.
School-aged children trying to sell flower garlands we try to ignore when we are stuck in our car in a traffic jam. Old women and men hastily pushing their junk carts trying to quickly cross a busy road. Street vendors who sell us fruits, lunches, snacks, t- shirts, knick-knacks, etc. Who are they? Where do they come from? What are their families like? What happiness, sorrows, hopes or fears occupy them in their lives? The answers to these questions most of us are blissfully unaware.
In nearly 40 individual stories, Father tells us about these people that we see but never really know. The stories Father Joes recounts also tell us about their families and their community, and others like them whom we ordinarily never have any chance to meet. Each story stretches our worldview and transports us to a universe where we witness the daily lives of slum residents. Father Joe guides us on a journey through the heart of a community that he’s devoted most of his life in serving. Always with love and respect, he shows us that in spite of a life devoid of privilege, everyone possesses an inner dignity.
About the author
Father Joe Maier, C.Ss.R., has ministered to the poor in Bangkok’s slums for over 40 years. As the Parish Priest of the Catholic community, he has lived alongside the poor residents around the city’s main slaughterhouse in Klong Toey slums—which is how he became known as “The Slaughterhouse Priest.”
Fr. Joe co-founded the Human Development Foundation - Mercy Centre, a community-based organization dedicated to strengthening the poorest slum communities of all religions and protecting and educating their most vulnerable children.