Fr. Surachai Chumsriphan
Catholic missionaries who came to Siam were probably the chaplains
of Portuguese ships in the 16th century sent to Ayutthaya bringing
the officers of Portugal to enter into relations with Siam. There
are no documents to confirm this hypothesis.
a written history prepared by foreigners stating that in 1544,
Antonio de Paiva, a Portuguese, had traveled to Ayutthaya in the
time of Phra Jairaja and had been given an audience and had conversation
about religion with the King. The King was converted and baptized,
being given the Portuguese name of Dom Joâo. There is no
evidence to confirm this claim. The first missionary who mentioned
Siam in writings about his missionary task was St. Francis Xavier
himself. He mentioned Siam in his four letters written from Sancian,
although his real purpose was to go to China. However, St. Francis
Xavier did not go either to China or to Siam because he died on
December 3, 1552.
We do not
know of any resident missionary in Siam before the year 1567.
Having examined documents, the first two missionaries who came
to Siam were Friar Jeronimo da Cruz and Sebastiâo da Canto,
both Dominicans. They arrived at Ayutthaya in 1567. They were
given a residence befitting to them in one of the best locations
in the city. Friar Jeronimo da Cruz together with two new missionaries
were killed by the Burmese in 1569. Next to arrive were Franciscans
from 1582 to 1767. Their missionary work in Siam is unknown to
Jesuit who came to Siam was Father Balthasar Segueira. He arrived
at Ayutthaya or Odia during Holy Week of the year 1607, which
means between the 16 and 26 of March 1607. The Jesuits had their
own residence, school, college and church. Their missionary work
was recorded by the missionaries.
All the missionaries
mentioned above were sent to Siam under the Padroado system. The
setting up of the Sacred Congregation of Propaganda Fide on January
6, 1622 was certainly an event of major importance in the history
of the Church and especially in the history of missions. Propaganda
Fide sent three Apostolic Vicars, Ms. ,r. François Pallu,
Msgr. Pierre Lambert de la Motte and Msgr. Ignatius Cotolendi,
to carry out missionary work in China and Indochina. However,
they could not avoid conflicts resulting from the Portuguese patronage
in these regions.
22, 1662, Msgr. Lambert de la Motte, M. Jean De Bourges, and M.
Dedier arrived in Ayutthaya. They were the first missionaries
of the newly established Missions Etrangères de Paris (M.E.P.).
On January 27, 1664 the other Apostolic Vicar, Msgr. François
Pallu, M. Lanaeu, M. Haingues, M. Brindeau and a lay assistant
M. De Chameson Foissy arrived in Siam. Msgr. Lambert and Msgr.
Pallu had the same opinion that Siam with its policy of religious
tolerance was the most convenient base for their persecuted Missions
of Cochinchina, Tonkin and China. They asked Rome for jurisdiction
over Siam. It was very difficult for the missionaries of Padroado
to accept the rights to superiority of these Apostolic Vicars.
Conflict and controversy between the Padroado and the Apostolic
Vicars were inevitable. After long consideration of the request
of the Apostolic Vicars, Rome approved in 1669 by Bull Speculatores.
On September 13, 1674, M. Laneau was nominated the Apostolic Vicar
of Siam and was consecrated by Msgr. Lambert and Msgr. Pallu.
French missionaries arrived in Ayutthaya in 1662, they were welcomed
by ten Portuguese priests and one Spanish priest whom they found
serving the Christian community estimated at 2,000 souls.
arrival of Msgr. Pallu, two bishops, five priests and one lay
assistant organized an assembly, the so called Synod of 1664 in
Ayutthaya. The sessions can be summarized as follow:
the growth of the Mission of Siam was evident during the long
and prosperous period of King Narai the Great (1657-1688) who
opened the country to foreigners and gave liberty to the missionaries
to preach the Gospel. King Narai desired to base his reliance
on France and to withdraw from the influence of the Dutch powers.
At the same time the French influence in this part of the world
strengthened the role of the missionaries and the progress of
Msgr. Lambert had made the program of the Synod come true when
he founded the "College General" in Ayutthaya.
the first hospital was founded by Msgr. Lambert and was supervised
by Msgr. Laneau. Besides Ayutthaya, the missionaries preached
the Gospel in other places such as Phitsanulok, Lopburi, Samkhok
and Bangkok. In the year 1674, there were about 600 Siamese Catholics.
It was in this year that the Church of the Immaculate Conception
in Samsen district of Bangkok was built. The Christians of other
nationalities such as Portuguese, Annamite, Japanese were more
numerous. In fact, the missionaries had been working from this
period until the fall of Ayutthaya in 1767, but the fruit of their
evangelization was indeed very small.
attitude towards Christianity made M. Constantine Phalkon, Fr.
Guy Tachard, a Jesuit priest, and even King Louis XIV misunderstand
that there was hope of converting both the King and the whole
country to Christianity. This led the missionary activities to
disaster when the famous revolution of 1688 occurred. With an
anti French attitude, Phra Phetraja, the new King, persecuted
all the Christians. The situation of the Mission became better
in 1691 when the King gave the seminary back to Msgr. Laneau.
Another persecution occurred during the reign of King Taisra (1709-1733).
The missionaries were forbidden to leave the capital. They were
forbidden to use the Thai and Pali language in their teaching
of religion. Moreover, the end of 1743 and the beginning of 1744
saw further persecution continuing. Besides these difficulties,
Christianity was affected by the invasion of Burma and the fall
of Ayutthaya in 1767.
advent of the present dynasty in 1782, the situation of the Mission
improved gradually. The situation of the Catholic Mission at the
end of the 18th century was not so favorable, since
an expulsion of the missionaries took place by the order of King
Taksin (1768-1782). King Rama I (1782-1809) sent for the missionaries
because he wished to begin negotiations for an alliance with foreign
countries and to promote trade with these countries as had been
done before. In 1785, there were 413 Siamese Catholics of Portuguese
origin at the Santa Cruz Church in Thonburi, 379 Cambodian Catholics
at the Immaculate Conception Church in Samsen district as well
as 580 Annamite Catholics. M. A. Launay described the general
situation of the Mission of Siam in the beginning of the 19th
century stating that in 1802 the total number of Christians in
the Vicariate was estimated to be about 2,500 and in 1811 about
It may be
noted that during the time of Msgr. Garnault (1786 1811), the
restoration of the Mission was begun. In 1827, the decree of Pope
Leo XII gave ecclesiastical jurisdiction over Singapore to the
Apostolic Vicar of Siam. Propaganda Fide confirmed this jurisdiction
over Singapore to the Apostolic Vicar of Siam on May 12, 1834.
In 1835, about 1,500 Annamite Christians, fleeing from persecution,
settled in Samsen and asked asylum from Bangkok. This was the
origin of the St. Francis Xavier Church in Samsen.
the increasing number of Catholics and missionaries, Msgr. Courvezy
(1834-1841) asked Rome to nominate a Coadjutor Bishop and in 1838
M. Pallegoix was nominated and consecrated Bishop on July 3, 1838.
By the Brief Universi Dominici of September 10, 1841,
Rome separated the ecclesiastical region of Malaysia from the
Mission of Siam, establishing the Mission of Oriental Siam comprising
the Kingdom of Siam and Laos, and the Mission of Occidental Siam
which consisted of the Malayan Peninsula, the island of Sumatra
and southern Burma. Msgr. Pallegoix was the Apostolic Vicar of
Oriental Siam and Msgr. Courvezy, the Apostolic Vicar of Occidental
A very famous
and outstanding person during the 19th century in the
Mission of Siam was Msgr. Pallegoix (1841-1862), whose fame spread
far beyond the borders of Siam. He had a brilliant mind and deep
knowledge of science, mathematics and languages. He acquired a
very deep knowledge of Siamese and Pali languages. He was the
author of the well known Thai Latin-French English dictionary,
the first such fundamental work of the Thai language. While he
was at Immaculate Conception Church, he learned Pali from Prince
Mongkut who had entered the monkhood at Wat Rajathivas near his
church. Prince Mongkut, in turn, took Latin lessons from him.
report of 1867 of Msgr. Dupond (1865-1872) gives us the general
view of the situation of the Mission as follows: the number of
Christians was 8,000, baptism of Siamese 667, baptism of children
257. Since Msgr. Dupond was full of zeal and could speak Siamese
as well as two Chinese dialects, he gave great exposure to the
Mission among the Chinese and the Siamese. He built eight new
churches for these new Christian communities and the older places
were also quickly developed. When he died on December 15, 1872,
he left the Mission of Siam composed of 10,000 Christians, 20
European missionaries and 8 native priests.
period of Msgr. Jean Louis Vey (1875-1909), a period of expansion
began seriously. The masterpiece of his work was the evangelization
carried out in Laos where he had initiated the spreading of the
Good News by sending P. Prodhomme and P. Xavier Guégo to
begin the new Mission on January 2, 1881. Finally, Pope Leo XIII
erected the Apostolic Vicariate of Laos on May 4, 1899 and P.
Cuaz was nominated Apostolic Vicar of Laos on May 24, 1899."
Under the direction of Msgr. Vey, who had governed the Mission
for 34 years, the Mission of Siam progressed greatly in various
ways. In 1909, the last year of Msgr. Vey's episcopacy, the Mission
of Siam included 23,600 Christians, 57 churches and chapels with
79 Christian communities, 59 seminarians, 44 missionaries, 21
native priests, 17 religious men, 123 religious women, 21 catechists,
3 colleges with 861 pupils, 62 schools with 2,692 pupils and one
had envisioned the needs of modern times and cooperated in the
country reformation initiated by King Rama IV and King Rama V.
A printing press had been set up quite early. In 1885, P. Colombet
founded the first modern Catholic school in Bangkok Assumption
College. It was placed under the care of the Brothers of St. Gabriel
when they arrived in 1901 following Msgr. Vey's invitation. The
Sisters of St. Paul de Chartres came to Siam even before the Brothers
of St. Gabriel; that is, in 1898 to take care of and direct St.
Louis Hospital which Msgr. Vey had just founded and also take
responsibility for formation of native religious women which had
been revived at Samsen, the so called Amantes de la Croix community.
to time, Msgr. Vey mentioned the project of evangelization in
the Northwest of Siam, close to Burma, since the central West
already possessed several stations. However, the circumstances,
the necessary resources, the required personnel for this enterprise
had never been at his disposal to undertake the evangelization.
During the time of Msgr. Perros (1909-947), his successor, the
spread of the Catholic Mission prospered more than previously.
Missionaries were sent to fulfill projects in the Northwest in
Chieng Mai, Chieng Rai, and Lampang, and in the North. They advanced
also to Nakorn Ratchasima. As a result, it can be said that the
Catholic religion had spread to all parts of Siam. During the
20th century, the Mission of Siam followed slow but
uninterrupted progress of the other Missions. The Southwest part
of the country became an independent Mission in 1930. This was
the Apostolic Vicariate of Ratchaburi under the care of the Salesian
priests. It became an Apostolic Prefecture in May 28, 1934 (AAB,
Perros, annual report, 1940). Then it was erected an Apostolic
Vicariate on April 3,1941. (AAB, Document of Dioceses, Ratchaburi
Diocese). Ratchaburi was finally erected a Diocese on December
18, 1965. The Chanthabun Apostolic Vicariate was established on
October 18, 1944 (AAB, Documents of Dioceses, Chanthaburi Diocese)
and was also erected a Diocese on December 18, 1965. The Apostolic
Prefecture of Chiengmai was established in 1960 and was also erected
a Diocese on December 18, 1965.
20th century, many other religious congregations, both
men and women, came to work in Siam, now known as "THAILAND",
the land of the free people. They include among others, Ursulines
of the Roman Union, Carmelites, Salesians, Sisters of Mary Help
of Christians, Capuchin Sisters, Redemptorists, Camillian Fathers,
Fathers of Betharram, De La Salle Brothers, Stigmatines, Jesuits,
Sisters of the Holy Infant Jesus, S.A.M. Fathers, Oblates of Mary
Immaculate, without counting the various Thai congregations of
Sisters in the dioceses.
Catholic Church in Thailand had increased through zealous labor
of Bishops and Missionaries, and indications had shown greater
growth in the future, the Sacred Congregation of Propaganda Fide
judged that the time was ripe to establish the Sacred Hierarchy
in Thailand. Strong support was also given by two former Apostolic
Delegates to Thailand; namely, Right Reverend Msgr. John Gordon
and Right Reverend Msgr. Angelo Pedroni. Therefore, on December
18, 1965 two ecclesiastical Provinces of Bangkok and Thare Nongseng
were created, giving to Thailand its first Archbishops for the
At that time,
there was a great amount of political and social changes, especially
in the capital city of Bangkok. In consequence, the Church felt
an increase in its responsibilities and a need for expansion of
its numerous and varied activities, especially in the fields of
welfare and social development. The Church also took on the responsibility
of the refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Burma. The Church
in Thailand assisted the government in helping these refugees
by establishing the organization of COERR (Catholic Office for
Emergency Relief and Refugees) in 1975. These many efforts were
aimed to protect the moral values of life and to face the urgent
problems created by the influx of refugees from Indochina.
In 1984 on
the 10th and 11th of May, His Holiness Pope
John Paul the Second came for a short visit to Thailand. This
gave to all the faithful a wonderful opportunity to welcome him
and to see and closely feel his solicitude and his presence.
In the remote
village areas, Thailand faces great poverty, lack of education
and lack of public health facilities, with the consequence of
an increase in the problem of a migrating work population. This
goes hand in hand with a rise in prostitution. Furthermore, the
rapid spread of materialistic progress and modern technology have
not given much chance for the population to adapt itself properly
to these new changes. Hence, the population is often unable to
make reasonable choices. Everyone wants everything as soon as
Today, in the ten dioceses of Thailand, the various responsibilities
of the ten Bishops are well coordinated through the regular meetings
of the Episcopal Conference. The whole population of Thailand
is around 60 million inhabitants (statistic of 1994), but the
Catholic population is hardly 250,000; that is only about 0.4%
has been called "The Land of Smiles"; in fact, in spite
of the presence of various different religions in the country,
people live in peace and harmony. And so, in a true spirit of
friendship, the Catholic Church continues to collaborate in the
spiritual and social development of the country.