Italian Diocese´s Project Also Supports Refugees in Asian Nation

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PADUA, Italy, DEC. 12, 2000 (Zenit.org).-
The Diocese of Padua has a delicate missionary objective: to care for and evangelize children exploited by sex tourism in Thailand.

It is a project which began three years ago by the bishops´ conference of the Triveneto region. The work also helps refugees in the Southeast Asian country.

For three years the Church has been active in Chiang Mai in the north of the country, where six ethnically and linguistically diverse groups coexist, together with many beleaguered refugees from border countries.

Father Piero Melotto and Father Gabriele Gastaldello, two Italians, teamed up in this land of mountains, forests and rice fields in 1997. Two years later, Father Bruno Rossi and Father Lorenzo Biasion arrived. The latter were part of the Fidei Donum, a program under which dioceses send priests to countries that lack clergy. Lastly, two Xaverian nuns came from Parma in November.

«There are many difficulties, especially because of the language,» Father Rossi said. «This has obliged us to make contacts with the people´s culture slowly, which is totally different to the one we are accustomed to.»

Fathers Rossi and Baision work in the Catholic Chaehom Mary Queen of Peace mission, established May 1. Their work covers three districts of the province of Lampang, including 500 villages. There are Christians in 40 of these villages.

«We work in a delicate and poor setting, in a culture that has great respect for the individual, but does not accept impositions,» Father Rossi explained.

The problems are urgent: Prostitution increases, as does the scourge of sexual tourism and trading in girls and boys.

The institutions in this nation of 61 million cannot always deal with these problems well. The Chaehom mission tries to respond by welcoming the village boys and giving them a chance to attend school, in order to learn the language and a trade.

The priests´ other duties range from helping refugees obtain citizenship, to organizing courses in opium detoxification.

Support for this activity comes from churches in northeastern Italy and other individual Italian Catholics who «adopt» children long-distance. Benefactors also adopt villages and help support catechists.

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