Sr Grazia Patthayaporn: The power of love makes us strong
From the refugee camp on the Thai-Myanmar border where she works, Sister Grace Patthayaporn can hear the bombs falling in Myanmar. "Whenever I hear them, I pray."
Sr. Grazia Patthayaporn is a member of the Sister Ministers of the Sick of St Camillus, commonly known as the Camillian Sisters. In an interview with Vatican News, Sr Patthayaporn shared her experience in a refugee camp on the border of Thailand and Myanmar, and her mission on the mountain with Karen Catholic Christians.
Sr Patthayaporn tells us that many are escaping Myanmar and finding refuge in the three camps where she works in the province of Tak: Maela, Umpiem Mai and Nupo. The refugees are received under the protection of the UNHCR and the Thai government. The UNHCR estimates that over 90,000 refugees from Myanmar are being cared for in nine temporary shelters along the border of Myanmar and Thailand.
In the particular camp where Sr Patthayaporn serves, there are many children, young people, elderly and sick. She works with COERR (Catholic Office for Emergency Relief and Refugees), an NGO which is a branch of Caritas Thailand, coordinating with the UNHCR, and with other Catholic organizations providing social services to both Christians and non-Christians alike.
Working in these mountain areas is quite challenging. “I feel very small”, Sr Patthayaporn explains, “but I feel very happy that God is allowing me to accompany these people. I love them and they also feel the love of God through the service that we give”.
Working together and networking is very important, Sr Patthayaporn says. “We are trying to do our best – not in our name, but in the name of Jesus Christ”, she continues, reaching out to everyone as a brother or sisters. “This is what makes us strong…the power of love. I feel that the more we give, the more we receive because God is our means, the motive” behind what we are doing.
Sr Patthayaporn says she discovers on a daily basis how she is a “small instrument of God” for all the people she meets. “We can listen, we can share”, she says. “In many ways, we can help find ways to improve the quality of life. I know this is not easy, but together we can do great things”. The challenge Sr Patthayaporn acknowledges is the small number of Catholics in Thailand. “But we feel that God empowers us, the Church also empowers us” through networking.
“Being a sister is not something difficult”, Sr Patthayaporn says. “It means answering to the love of God and God will do everything. I just need to open my heart and respond to his call wherever he calls me. This is the grace of God. More and more, my life is fulfilled by answering God’s call”.
“To love and serve the sick” is Sr Patthayaporn’s guiding star received through Blessed Maria Domenica Brun Barbantini, the foundress of her institute, and St Camillus. Through experience, she herself has discovered that “people are sick in many dimensions, not only physically…. Being a Minister of the Sick, to heal their wounds, means that I should be attentive to the calling of God in many ways”.
“Right now, we are in Thailand, we are on the frontier of Myanmar. We can hear the bombs. Every time I hear them, I just pray. And we organize ourselves to help” the people who suffer the consequences“. And they feel that some of God’s love is going toward them….” She affirms that the awareness that “God is calling us to respond to the needs of the people”, makes them more sensitive to their needs.
Sr Patthayaporn recalls that she was in Italy when she heard about the recent escalation of the civil war in Myanmar. “My heart was crying”, she confides since she had experience working in a refugee camp, and knew what the suffering of the people would be like. “When I returned”, she says, “I received the opportunity to return and console them. I feel that God really loves us by giving us the opportunity to share and to find new ways, innovations, to improve” how people can be helped. She also dreams of “improving the quality of life of Christians by working together with non-Christians”. Sr Patthayaporn sees herself as a bridge in this endeavour, since she lives with her community in the midst of Christians, Muslims, Buddhists.
In addition to providing help to refugees fleeing the civil war in Myanmar, “there is another problem”, Sr Patthayaporn explains. “Many people on the Thai border are Thai. They were born there, but cannot obtain an identity card” due to the long and distant journey needed to file the necessary documentation. Not possessing this identity card means these people cannot qualify for benefits offered to Thai citizens, Sr Patthayaporn explains. The sisters have begun helping in this area as well, even “coordinating with the state. The government has the way to help”, she explains. “But at times they lack food…the government also has limits…. So, we are trying to learn new ways to organize things for the good of these people who are suffering”.
“I feel very happy that God gives us his wisdom. I am not doing anything alone. The people are also happy that we are collaborating together. I would like to share my happiness in finding the best way to improve the quality of our service, and love our God very much”.
Sr Bernadette Reis with Sr.Grazia Patthayaporn