Father Udomsak Dehear was ordained on Saturday June 29 at Chiangmai cathedral by the bishop Francis Xavier Vira Arpondratana. It’s a new start for the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in Thailand who suffer, as all the Thai Church, for a deep vocations crisis.
It was impressive to see hundreds of people squeezed in the large Chiangmai cathedral, all dressed in the typical Karen tribe costume and to listen the loud songs which expressed their enthusiasm and their joy for the new priests.
Fr. Udomsak and other four new ordained are members of the Karen people, this tribe lives in small villages located in Thai and Myanmar mountains forest, far from the big cities. The Karen people speak their very distinctive language, they have their own culture and tradition as well as their own religion. They are poor people who practice subsistence farming, but the lack of resource is, paradoxically, a great gift for them since it obliges them to cooperate and to build a strong relationships and sense of community.
Father Udomsak comes from this environment and his personality traits are very peculiar of his tribe: he easily builds relationship with others, he is always available and he is not afraid to work in any condition. Sometime the narrow environment in which he grew up affects his way of thinking, but he is not afraid to deepen his knowledge and open his vision.
This was the person who kneeled in front of Chiangmai bishop on Saturday June 29 and received the mandate from the church to take care of the faithful in Thailand with a special attention for the people outside this narrow circle because fr. Udomsak is an Oblate of Mary Immaculate, he is a missionary. Not only the bishop, with a solemn and beautiful rite, entrusted him this duty, but also the people gather at the cathedral, they left their far away villages and traveled for hours in order to attend the ceremony and show the new priests their trust and their hope. The people of the Northern Thailand are well aware of the diocese needs of priests, they know that many villages haven’t received the first proclamation of the gospel jet and many others have the mass only once in a while. The Chiangmai church is a young church, the majority of the faithful are Karen who received the baptism in the last few decades when the Betharram congregation started a widespread work in the Karen region. From that time on the needs of priests has been growing and the bishops have invited many religious congregations in order to develop this successful missionary work. More and more villages welcome the new faith and the pastoral work as well the missionary work grow significantly. The Chingmai church doesn’t know the vocation crisis that affects other diocese and its seminary is always full of young men who wants to become priests in order to serve their people, this desire arises from the catholic way of life in the villages which is always a source of inspiration for the young kids that, from the early age, start to think about a priestly commitment.
Just after the ordination, and the nice meal together, the people went back to their villages to be close to their priests during the celebration of their first mass. The family welcomed the guests as they do in the great events, they prepared everything for the day after mass: the church, the procession, the meal.
Fr. Udomsak was tense during the mass which he presided for first time, but in spite of the pressure, everything went on well. The most moving moment, anyway, was when he shared about his vocation. Fr. Udomsak made his audience understand what a missionary call involves through his simple experience, he told the faithful about his decision to leave his house in spite of the family needs: “Once in the seminary I could not go back home to plow the land for the sowing every year, my father urged me to leave the seminary and help him because he was in need. I did it once, twice, but the third time I had to decide if I wanted to stay or to go and this decision was one of the most difficult decision I have ever made in my life: denied some help to my father and my mother was like to break a sacred bound, but I realize that I had to do it because this was my vocation, this was the kind of life I was meant for”.