Remembering Father Ray Brennan

 A family of more than 750 young people are gathering in Thailand today to celebrate the life of Fr Ray Brennan, - founder of the Pattaya Orphanage and many other projects for homeless or disabled people - on the first anniversary of his death. Born in Chicago, in 1932, Fr Ray was a Redemptorist priest. In the early 1960s he was sent to northern Thailand, where he ministered to both his own parish, and many US troops stationed over the border in Laos and Viet Nam. In 1972 he was asked to go to Pattaya as a temporary replacement for the parish priest and worked there ever since. The war in Vietnam was raging, and the Gulf of Siam had become a popular destination for US troops on leave. With their arrival the commercial sex industry started up. One day, Fr Ray was handed an abandoned American-Thai baby. With help from a parishioner he kept the child and within weeks, several more babies had been left with him. By 1978 he had 58 children to look after and officially set up the orphanage. Thirty two years on, Fr Ray's successors - lead by Redemptorist Fr Philip Banchong Chaiyara, with a team of paid staff and volunteers, run the orphanage, a home for street children, thriving schools for deaf and blind children, and people with disabilities, a job placement agency, and an old people's home. They have also recently set up a new drop-in centre for street children - many of whom can get caught up in the sex and drugs industry. Fr Ray last visited the UK in 2002, and preached at Westminster Cathedral during a Mass to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the charity. During his homily, Fr Ray spoke of one severely deformed, mentally retarded baby who had been given to the home and placed in a bed next to a Downs Syndrome child. Soon the two became friends. They would reach out and hold hands. One day, one of of them died. The other one was inconsolable, refused to eat, and died soon after. "For us it was a real lesson in God's infinite wisdom" Fr Ray said. "These two children were severely handicapped but they knew love and they knew it deeply." He then described a young girl who had lost her leg in an accident and came to the school to study computer technology. "She told me she never thought she would be able to live a normal life or be able to send money to her family. She graduated from us and got a good job. And she fell in love with another of our students who had lost both legs. I married them and he is in now the principal of the school." A very modest man, in an interview in Pattaya shortly before he died, Fr Ray said he never expected to do this kind of work when he became a priest. His brother also joined the priesthood becoming an Augustinian, which is a teaching order but Ray had deliberately chosen the Redemptorists because he thought he wanted to be a preacher. "God had other plans", he said. "Now I'm so glad God gave me this job. For him being so smart and me being so dumb." By 2005 it is estimated that as many as 230,000 children under 15 will have lost their mother to AIDS in Thailand alone. Not all of them will have someone who can afford to look after them. Many might end up on the streets or could be sold to strangers. In addition, recent Thai government estimates suggest that 23,000 children are living on the streets in Thailand. In Pattaya alone, during the course of a single year, as many as 2000 homeless children pass through the city. To find out about volunteering at the The Pattaya Orphanage or to make a donation telephone 020 7602 6203 or visit:

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