Bangkok - Catholic students try to bridge Thai divide

As Thailand's political crisis continues, Catholic university students in Bangkok, are taking action to promote peace and prevent further outbreaks of violence.

The Catholic University Students Centre of Thailand based at Xavier Hall, the Jesuits’ residence in Bangkok, has been encouraging its members to meet 'red-shirts' and their opponents in order to listen to their views.

It has also urged members to join civic peace movements, visit people injured in the protests and to take individual action to promote peace in the country.

“The Church as an institution cannot get involved directly but it can and should encourage laypersons to try and help solve the country’s problems,” said centre chaplain Jesuit Father Maharsono Probho.

“The centre is encouraging students to listen and get as much information as possible from both sides about their grievances and demands.”

The red shirts, many of whom are allied to ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, have occupied Bangkok’s major business and commercial districts for almost two months in an effort to force the government to call snap elections.

Clashes with security forces and other groups opposed to them in past weeks,  have killed at least 26 people and injured hundreds of others.

More recently, red shirt members stormed government-run Chulalongkorn Hospital close to their main protest site forcing the evacuation of many patients.

On  1 May, around 15 Catholic student leaders of the Students Centre  met at Xavier Hall to discuss the crisis.

“We are continuously monitoring the situation since we don’t support violence from either side,” said Phanknaphang Laosim, the centre’s president.

The centre invited the civic group “Peace Witness Volunteers,” formed by the Catholic student’s alumni, to share their experiences at the seminar. The students then went to Bangkok’s Victory Monument to meet a gathering of the “multi-colored shirts,” who are opposed to the red shirts.

Phanknapang said the Catholic students have spoken regularly to protesters from each side.

She also said her centre is encouraging Catholic students to join groups such as the Non-Violence Network. This group campaigns for peace by talking to the opposing groups, the government and the military, as well as conducting peace workshops.

Maneerat Boonmak, a fourth-year student at Thammasart University, said she has visited different groups to listen their problems and also visited the injured.

“From my experience talking with soldiers, I found out they are not angry with the red shirts and don’t want to use violence, although they say they still have to do their duty”.

Source: Fides

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