“when I meet a handicapped person who smiles I realize that life is stronger than sorrow, suffering and depression. There are no losers or winner in life, but people who are able or unable to smile.” These are father’s June Ongart simple, but inspiring, words and these words come from his daily missionary life.
Father June is a young priest, ordained only seven years ago, he has the rare gift of breaking walls and create intimacy with the people he speaks with. His smile is contagious and his ability to listen opens the door to a deep and fruitful dialogue.
This Oblate of Mary Immaculate loves the poor and he is able to create a relationship of trust and esteem with them. His way of serving them is not paternalist at all, on the opposite, the most abandoned see him as a brother as a family member who takes care of them and they don’t find strange his way of helping them.
Father June’s field of action is wide, he is the parish priest of the main parish in Pethchabun, Our Lady of Lourdes, but this commitment doesn’t seem to be enough for him. He also helps in a well-known school in Petchabun, Saint Joseph School, but also this work is like a diversion for him, his main concerns are the poor, the most abandoned. Pope Francis urges us to cross the border, but father June doesn’t find it difficult because this is already his way of life, his habit. He doesn’t wait for the poor at his parish, they could not go there, he goes to look for them in their houses and he is not happy until he finds them, until he sits at their side and talks long hours with them.
“Form me – he says – poverty, hardship are great challenges. I wander how handicapped, poor, abandoned people can be happy when they are in this situation, but when I sit at their table and listen to them I discover their world of suffering and sorrow, but also of courage and strength. Life is battlefield that trains and help them to succeed in the struggle against discomfort and depression. When I see them smiling I understand that life is stronger than sorrow, it has meaning in itself. Their stories are a great lesson for me, they help my faith and they allow me to see God inside their sorrow.”
Father June travels all day. Often he comes back home late night or he lives the community after dinner because somebody calls him, somebody needs his help. His life has no rules except for the rule of serving the poor and this makes it – he says – very exciting. He helps handicapped people in the villages where he works; he builds them small houses where they can stay with some comfort; he looks for wheelchair so they can go around easily; he tries to create jobs, or he looks for employment for unemployed poor people – this commitment is very though he said – ; he brings the sick to the hospital, he talks with the doctors, he takes care of them when they go back home. But his greater concern is the fate of youth, the children. “The kids – he says – should go to school, they have to prepare themselves to face the hardship of life so they need an environment full of values, able to help them to grow”. This young missionary is never tired to look for good schools that can welcome his kids, if they have nowhere to go they can stay at his parish, when they have problem at school he goes to speak with them.
Father June is a member of an old tribe present in the Northern part of Thailand: The Pakayo. He doesn’t speak much, as costume among these people, but during our conversation he became very talkative, he raised his voice and I had the impression that the poor he speaks about are there, in front of him, with their load of problems and needs. It seems as if he has to do something, immediately, on the spot because there is no more time to loose, the poor have been waiting enough, he says.
“When I meet these people: poor, disabled, HIV positive children, I tell myself that it’s not fair, it’s not their fault, they did nothing wrong to deserve such a fate. But when I calm down I feel that I have to do something because my care can changes something in their life. When I see a smile in their lips I realize that hope is growing in them and this confidence move them to help others. It’s a miracle! At the end of the day, every human being needs love, attention, care, every human being needs to be noticed and this sight gives value to one’s life. I received this kind of love and I know that it can do miracles so I want to give it to the people I meet, especially to the ones who had never experienced it.”
At this point of our conversation no more questions are needed, father June tells his experiences with enthusiasm and precision and I realize that the small things he talks about are the fruits of the Gospel values deeply rutted in his heart. “Once – he said – I was ready to celebrate the funeral of an old, abandoned lady, she was so badly depressed that her body didn’t react to any stimulation. She was really at the verge of death. But when she realized that somebody cared for her she started to recover, she didn’t need funeral anymore, but she started to smile. Now she has a small house, she is no more depressed and she feels that life is worthy to be lived. This woman is a living sign of what care can do. Care, love is really life and I believe the this is our missionary job, we have to tell the people, especially the poor, the suffering, the despaired, that God loves them, He care for them, ad they are not useless or, how they say nowadays, losers”.