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Thai Nuns Share Ray of Hope Among Landfill Scavengers (1596)

Living out Pope Francis’ call for Catholics to ‘go to the peripheries,’ the nuns are bringing humanitarian assistance to a community that experiences extraordinary hardships.

03/18/2014 Comment
Antonio Gonsalves/CNA

Sister Mary Clare with volunteers at the landfill outside Lopburi, Thailand.

– Antonio Gonsalves/CNA

NAKHON RATCHASIMA, Thailand — A group of missionary sisters is bringing humanitarian assistance to the scavengers who live in the rubbish dump of the Thai city of Lopburi.

“We bring to them the necessary, basic items of life and spend some time teaching them, sharing their struggles and encouraging their shattered hopes,” Sister Mary Clare Thong In, superior of the Sisters of St. Paul of Chartres in Lopburi, told CNA March 11.

Lopburi is a city of more than 26,000, located 80 miles southeast of Nakhon Sawan, and the Paulist sisters there have begun reaching out to those on the periphery of the city.

“St. Paul instructed Christians to serve and embrace all people, irrespective of class, race and religion, in his First Letter to the Corinthians,” Sister Mary Clare reflected.

“‘All things to all people’ has been our guiding, inspirational motto from our patron, St. Paul,” she continued. The Sisters of St. Paul of Chartres were founded in France in 1696 by Father Louis Chauvet to care for the sick and the poor. They are now spread out in 35 countries, serving apostolates of health care, education and evangelization

Sister Mary Clare described how some of the city’s residents have become scavengers in the landfill, living in unhygienic and hazardous conditions on the decaying materials, with birds and animals of prey as their neighbors.

They sustain their livelihood by scavenging in the sea of rubbish, even making their temporary shelter with a patched tent that flutters in the breeze, unprotected during rains.

It’s “overwhelming” to see their bright, happy, smiling faces in the midst of their strife-ridden and difficult lives, Sister Mary Clare said.

“The site is scary, with devouring birds and pack of animals, while the stench is so awful that even when one comes home and takes a shower, the illusion of the smell lingers for hours,” Father Alessandro Chamnan Klahan, rector of St. Paul Seminary in Korat, told CNA March 11.

“The SPC sisters’ commendable commitment, missionary zeal and courage to stand against all odds makes a world of difference for a better world.”

Sister Mary Clare noted that “the strong formative exposure in our junior days transforms our faith into action in the footsteps of our superiors — which becomes our point of reference.”

She stressed Pope Francis’ repeated call to Catholics to “go to the peripheries,” especially “to the poor and marginalized,” as one of her inspirations for the ministry.

“My inspiration was also Mother Myriam Kitcharoen, our former mother general, who was magnanimous and generous toward the poor and who has left an indelible imprint of her exemplary testimony of life.”

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