Thailand: Catholic church in 'eye of storm'

 One Catholic church in Bangkok was in the eye of a storm as anti-government protesters battled soldiers on the street outside on Monday, UCAN reports. Many parishioners from the church of Our Lady of Fatima were unable to get to a special service because of the protesting crowds.

Father Anthony Suthichai Boonpow, assistant parish priest, said none of the protesters entered the parish property, but they did block the road in front for a time. This meant that many Catholics could not attend the parish's monthly commemoration of their patron, Our Lady of Fatima.

Although the Mass with procession that started at 7pm. was not disturbed, as the church can be accessed from another road, only about 300 Catholics came, far fewer than the usual 1,000. "We had informed the people that they did not need to come due to the situation, and instead pray at home," the priest said.

He also said he heard gunshots from the street. "They were shots fired into the air," he added.

Over the weekend that included Easter Sunday, April 12 this year, the start of the annual festival for Songkran, the Thai New Year, parts of Bangkok turned into riot scenes. Red shirted protesters demanding the resignation of the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, set up road blocks, and burned buses and tyres.

But some churches managed to celebrate the New Year. The youth group of Holy Redeemer Church in Bangkok organized a Songkran celebration just after Easter Sunday Mass. Parishioners poured scented water over the hands of their elders and priests, according to Peter Hong, head of parish youth group.

On Monday, Father Joseph Maier, who runs the Mercy Center for street children and orphans in another part of Bangkok, said he told the youngsters to go in pairs and not to wear red if they went out to enjoy "water fights," part of the Songkran celebration. "We are in a spot of bother, but all safe and not threatened," he told UCAN by e-mail.

Source: UCAN/BBC

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