Catholic Priest in Countryside Thailand: I Wish to See the Forest Again
Father P has been serving in a village in countryside Thailand where the majority of locals are Catholics. While endeavoring to enhance the social inclusiveness of Catholicism in predominantly Buddhist Thailand, Father is not only concerned about the people but also the environment of humankind. “Around twenty years ago, there was a dramatic drop in the wildlife population in the neighborhood. No more bears, monkeys, elephants, etc. The hills nearby look almost lifeless,” said Father. In fact, large areas of the hills surrounding the village look bare, with expanding patches of a specific kind of cultivation…
This is rubber tree plantation, which requires expansive land and proves to be lucrative, but raises such environmental concerns as desertification and local warming.
A Buddhist helmet and his novices living deep inside a hill also pitied the rapid environmental degradation, “The nature was originally bountiful. Villagers went uphill to gather fruits and water. Without the forests, the soil is more vulnerable to erosion by weathering. With the overall unpredictability of rainfall, the whole zone becomes so arid that there is water shortage in the village. The deteriorating biochemical composition of the soil also means its loss of fertility and exacerbated hardship for farming.”
In view of the chain effects, Father P has launched what he humbly calls “a forest project”. He has been recruiting volunteer groups for the purpose of afforestation. The local government has also been breeding and planting seedlings to mitigate the situations. It takes, however, seconds to destroy a tree but tens of years or more to convert the changed landscape to an ecologically forested land, not to mention that the restoration of the ecosystem can hardly be complete. One may conveniently blame “the planters’ greed” as the culprit. Father, however, realizes the complexity of the issue since it involves the local kinship systems, subsistence, governance, international demands, and many other intricate and sensitive factors.
Father still believes that it is worth working out a win-win solution. He has been conversing with various interest parties and also encouraging the community to diversify their productions and develop more sustainable lifestyles. In his belief, it is his dream to see the forest again before his reunion with God.