Newsletter of the District
- Dec 2002
Seven Blessed Martyrs of Thailand
story begins in Songkhon, a Catholic village—the only Catholic
village of Thailand—on the Thai side of the mighty Mekong
River as it flows along the North Eastern border of Thailand. The
people of Songkhon were all Catholics and since the beginning they
have always been in the Archdiocese of Thare-Nongseng.
The Year 1940
was a time of fear and uncertainty in many areas of the world. Nazism
was on the march in Europe and, in Asia, imperialism was spreading
rapidly. In Thailand, people felt fearful and threatened and a foreign
faith was an obvious scapegoat, although Catholicism had already
been in Thailand over three hundred and fifty years. In this tense
atmosphere the usually tolerant Thais forsook their normal friendliness
and began a religious persecution.
So it happened
that in the winter of 1940, the police moved into Songkhon. Their
first hostile act was to banish and then deport the parish priest.
With guns in their hands, they then went from door to door intimidating
the good simple people of the village and ordering them to abandon
their faith in Christ. Naturally the people were nervous and frightened
but they remained quiet and steadfast.
Living in Songkhon
were two Sisters of the Congregation of the Lovers of the Holy Cross:
Sister Agnes and Sister Lucia. There was also an excellent Catechist,
Mr. Philip Siphong. Since their pastor had been deported, these
three good people felt responsible for Catholic community and were
in charge of the village school.
gave both moral and physical support to the worried people by visiting
each house, praying with each family and speaking words of encouragement
and strengthening their faith. The police were naturally furious
at this act of rebelliousness and decided to get rid of Mr. Philip
So in early
December 1940 the police sent a letter to Philip supposedly from
the Sheriff of Mukdahan requesting him to go to Mukdahan to meet
the Sheriff. The people were suspicious and they warned Philip about
the false letter and not to trust the police. They also told Philip
that the police had every intention of killing him. However this
good man told the people that if that was the case, then he, Philip
Siphon was prepared to die for his Faith. Eventually he set out
with the police for Mukdahan. Actually when they got the poor man
into the forest, the police shot him dead. So on December16th,1940
Mr.Philip Siphong died for his Faith and became the first of the
Seven Holy Martyrs of Thailand.
When the two
Sisters Agnes and Lucia heard the news of the death of their faithful
catechist, they were both saddened and very frightened. Nevertheless
they continued their care of' the school and their guidance of the
community. Each day the children of the village came to the convent
to be taught and catechised. The police on their part kept up their
pressure on the Sisters and the local community. They tried to frighten
everyone by firing their rifles in the air and by shouting at the
people. They kept reminding the villagers of the murder of Philip
by warning the people. "We'll get rid of all of you."
like everyone else were terrified of the police but the Sisters
encouraged the children and themselves by saying that if the police
killed them, they would be martyrs for Jesus.
Day, Mr. Lue, the police officer in charge of Songkhon, came to
the Sisters' house. On arrival he discovered the Sisters were instructing
the children in their Catholic Faith. The officer was furious and
berated the Sisters: "I've told you many times not to speak
about Jesus. You must not mention God in Thailand, otherwise I'll
kill you all." Sister Agnes who was the elder Sister, conscious
of her role, in turn became indignant. She confronted the police
officer saying: "Mr. Policeman, do you mean to say that you
will kill us all because we are Catholics and loyal to our Catholic
Faith. Do you really mean that, Mr. Policeman?" Mr. Lue replied
: "Yes I do, I will kill all of you if you continue to talk
about God like this." Sister Agnes with rising indignation
and raised voice said to the officer : "Be sure you have sufficient
guns and bullets."
we have enough. guns and bullets to kill all of you." Mr. Lue
be sure you polish the barrels of your guns ..lest the bullets get
stuck." countered the brave Sister Agnes,
we will." Concluded the, policeman.
On the evening
of that same Christmas Day, the Sisters prepared some coconut oil
and sent a small bottle of it to the police so that they could clean
and polish their gun barrels. Then the brave Sisters began preparing
themselves and their companions for their coming martyrdom, by prayers
and hymns singing throughout the night.
Late that same
night, our inspired Sister Agnes sat down and wrote a letter to
the police. It is a document of utter simplicity and of a lively
the Chief Police In Songkhon
evening you received your order to wipe out, definitely, the Name
of God, the Only Lord of our lives and minds. We adore Him only,
Sir. A few days earlier, you had mentioned to us that you would
not wipe out the Name of God and we were rather pleased with that
in such a way that we put away our religious habits which showed
that we were His handmaids. But it is not so today. We do profess
that the religion of Christ is the only true religion. Therefore,
we would like to give our answer to your question, asked yesterday
evening which we did not have a chance to respond because we were
unprepared for it. Now we would like to give you our answer. We
are asking you to carry out your order with us. Please do not
delay any longer. Please carry out your order: We are ready to
give back our lives to God Who has given them to us. We do not
wish to be the preys of the devils. Please carry out your order.
Please open the door of heaven to us so that we can confirm that
outside the Religion of Christ no one can go to heaven. Please
do it. We are well prepared. When we will be gone we will remember
you. Please take pity on our souls. We will be thankful to you
and will be grateful to you for it. And on the last day we will
see each other face to face.
Do wait and
see, please. We keep your commands, oh God, we wish to be witnesses
to You; dear God.
We are: Agnes,
Lucia, Phuttha, Budsi, Buakhai, Suwan. We would like to bring
little Phuma along with us because we love her so much.
We have already
made up our minds, dear Sir."
is such a simple yet moving and powerful Gospel of faith that reminds
us that the faith witnessed in the early Church in Roman times is
still alive and potent in Thailand in our own time. The diocesean
archives now have Sister Agnes 's wonderful profession of Faith
reacted quickly. On the following afternoon of the December 26th,
1940 on the feast of St. Stephen the first martyr, they arrived
at the convent and shouted: "Are you ready; Sisters? If you
are, go straight to the bank of the Maekhong."
Agnes objected, "No,
that is not the place for us to die for Christ. We must go to the
cemetery, the holy place."
In line they
walked to the cemetery singing hymns and calling to the people.
bye, we are going to Heaven, we are going to become martyrs for
How these brave
and noble women remind us once again of the martyrs of ancient Rome,
joyfully entering the arena for the love of Jesus Christ.
police marching the children and Sisters to the cemetery, the people
of the village realized that the police were going to kill them
there. They too followed the Sisters and their companions wishing
to die with them. However the police brushed the people aside with
their rifles, saying angrily;
intend to kill those in the line."
A young girl
named Suwan was one of those in the line. She was willing to become
one of Christ's Martyrs but her father upon hearing what was happening
rushed to the scene to rescue his little daughter. Suwan on her
part clung to Sister Agnes begging him;
Agnes, help me please, I want to die with you and go to Heaven."
are too young to die" said her father and he snatched her away
and carried her back home where he locked her in a room.
at the cemetery the brave women knelt clown beside a fallen tree
trunk. Then continued praying and hymn-singing in that crucial atmosphere.
turned and addressed the police; "You
may kill us but you cannot kill the Church and you cannot kill God.
One day the Church will return to Thailand and will flourish more
than ever. You will see with your own eyes that what I am now saying,
will come true. So we thank you from our hearts for killing us and
sending us to Heaven. From there we will pray for you."
this noble woman demonstrated he true Christian spirit, full of
faith and forgiveness. Once again her words echoed those of many
great martyrs before her.
to her companions, Sister Agnes said; "My
dear friends, we will soon be in Heaven. On the cross, Jesus said
to the thief; ‘This day you will be with me in Paradise.’
When all were
ready, Sister once more addressed the police saying, "Mr.
Policeman, we are ready, please do your duly."
the police opened fire and left the cemetery shouting to the people,
them like dogs, for they are bad people:"
The poor villagers
who were watching the scene from behind nearby bushes, rushed toward
and began to shake the bodies to see who was alive or dead. They
found that both Sister Agnes and Phorn were still alive but badly
Phorn asked; “Where is heaven?” She understood from
the Sisters' teaching that if one died a martyr one went straight
to Heaven, but looking around Phorn saw not Heaven but a crowd of
villagers. Sister Agnes on her part enquired;
are the police"
left already,"someone spoke out.
you better call them back I’m not dead yet;" said the
brave Sister Agnes
So one of the
villagers returned to the village to inform the police that Sister
Agnes and Phorn although badly wounded were still alive.
In the meantime
another girl called Sorn who had knelt at the end of the line stood
up and looking around exclaimed;
her clothes were spattered with blood the people enquired if she
not, I don't feel any pain," Sorn replied. She then examined
herself more closely but found no bullet wounds. "You’d
better run home” she was advised, “as the police will
soon be back here." So the little girl ran home. (She lived
for many years in Songkhon, and was also an excellent catechist.
She died in the late 1990s’.)
In a short
time the police returned to the cemetery and killed the wounded
Sister Agnes and Phorn.
In all, six good and holy women were dead and the villagers buried
them hurriedly, placing two bodies in each grave for they had not
the time to make coffins. Thus were these brave arid noble women
of Songkhon laid to rest.
Many eye witnesses
including those who took part in the burial of our brave martyrs
are still alive. They are proud and grateful to recall, the bravery,
the loyalty to Christ arid the wonderful faith displayed on that
momentous day December 26th, 1940 by the Holy Martyrs of Songkhon.
Relics of the Seven Martyrs Behind the Altar
The persecution of the Christians went on for another four years
and then religious freedom returned to Thailand.
As soon as
the Church was granted freedom, the local Ordinary began setting
up the canonical investigation in the case of these Seven Brave
Servants of God. The reports were presented to the Sacred Congrgation
of the Saints in Rome for consideration of their beatification and
Canonisation as Martyrs of the Church.
They were finally
beatified in Rome on October 22nd, 1989.
The full name
of the Seven Blessed Martyrs of Songkhon are
Philip Siphong, catechist, 33 years old.
Sister Agnes Phila, 31 years old
Sister Lucia Khambang, 23 years old
Agatha Phutta, 59 years old
Cecilia, 16 years old
Bibiana Khamphai, 15 years old
Maria Phorn, 14 years old.
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