Thailand: Buddhists, Catholics join forces to fight deforestation

Picture: Thai Catholic Bishops Conference

Picture: Thai Catholic Bishops Conference

Sam Phran, Thailand: The Catholic Church is working with local tribal people and a Buddhist temple in western Thailand to fight deforestation in the area.

Recently, the Ratchaburi diocesan Social Development Centre and Ban Dong Salao village's Oang Ju Temple organized a "forest consecration" ceremony in Ban Dong Salao, a village inhabited by the ethnic Pgazkoenyau community.

During the event, a piece of orange cloth is tied to trees. Orange is the color of Buddhist monk's robes in Thailand, a predominantly Buddhist country where monks are highly respected.

The trees with the cloth tied around them are then deemed holy and cannot be cut down.

About 30 people, including community leaders and young people who had left the village to work as laborers elsewhere, gathered for this ceremony on 16  June.

Later that week, more than 70 trees in the forest around the village were "consecrated."

According to Father Prasit Rujirat, director of the Social Development Centre, deforestation has been increasing due to development projects, especially for tourism.

The village has been seeing an influx of tourists even though the area is designated a forest reserve, said the priest. This is because of its location near the scenic Sri Nakarin Dam.

"As Christians we have to love and respect all of God's creation," he stressed.

During the ceremony, the temple abbot noted that "planting trees is the same as planting life," adding that "in preserving the forest we also preserve oneself and all creation."

He added: "We have to work together nowadays. We cannot fight alone."

Fr Prasit noted that the act of tying cloth around trees may be just a small gesture, but it holds deep spiritual significance. People believe in preserving natural resources and fighting injustice with peaceful means, he said. Moreover, the event also strengthens the already good relations between Buddhists and Catholics.

Sornsak Pornjongmun, a Pgazkoenyau staffer at the Catholic social development centre, said:  "This 'forest consecration' ritual is symbolic in fighting the capitalist invasion of the community forest."

The Church centre and  Buddhist temple have agreed to continue organizing such events to counter deforestation.

Fr Prasit pointed out that the Church has worked in the area mainly on projects to promote people's livelihood and preserve their culture.

He added that future Catholic-Buddhist cooperation will see both communities working together on sustainable agricultural practices, networking with other communities, and stopping the removal of people from forests. Both sides will also promote traditional ways of forest management, he said.

Source: UCAN

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