Thailand: an open road to dialogue

25 years after the opening of the Focolare in Chiangmai (Thailand), the interview with Metta Surinkaew, among the first Buddhist members of the Focolare Movement, today a collaborator for interreligious dialogue.

Religions are a variegated quality of plants that bloom continuously, conferring beauty and productivity in a balance and harmony for the whole earth ”.

A beautiful image that leads us among the peaks of Thailand and which is given to us by Preyanoot Surinkaew, nicknamed Tom, but better known as Metta, which in the language Buddha means “compassion”.

“I was born into a family in the north of the country. Here Buddhism is the root of our culture and since I was a child I have lived in a community based on the Buddhist way of life right next to the monks of the temple in our village ”.

Metta, when did the encounter with the spirituality of the Focolare Movement take place?
I met the Focolare Movement in 1993. At the age of 19 I saw my village depopulated and society changed radically. The temple, which in childhood was a place to run, play freely, and watch elders participate in ceremonies, had become a place where ‘seek fortune’ and ask for a good number for the lottery. I asked myself: “How can I, in my small way, help society?”. Just at the time when those questions arose in my mind, I had the opportunity to attend a youth camp with many young people from the Focolare Movement. What struck me most was the climate of harmony and the fraternal relationship that was created between everyone, even if of different religions. Every word I heard turned into real life for those young people and I immediately decided that I too would follow that lifestyle. Furthermore, I increasingly discovered with joy that some of the teachings proposed by the Gospel were also similar in Buddhism and that even among us of different religions it was possible to establish that unity.

What is necessary for this to happen also in everyday life?
Having an open mind, eager to welcome the identity of others and learn from the beauty of the teachings and practices of other religions, with love and respect. This gives rise to the awareness that it is possible to live together as “brothers and sisters”, overcoming the barriers that exist between religions themselves. The event organized on 12 and 14 August 2022 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the opening of the first Focolare in Chiangmai was another occasion to remember this.

What moment was it?
A big party. We organized a tour together with our community made up of Christian and Buddhist people in the places visited by Chiara Lubich in 1997, a decisive moment that paved the way for interreligious dialogue with Buddhist friends in Thailand. It was during that trip, in fact, and thanks to the meeting with the Grand Master Phra Ajahn Thong, that Chiara Lubich sensed the importance that the opening of the focolare would have: to continue living and working for interreligious dialogue. It was nice during those days of celebration to see each one praying according to his own religion and, as a sign of respect, to attend the prayer of the other. It is the confirmation that that bond of deep friendship born between Chiara and Phra Ajahn Thong has been given to all of us and, like a golden thread, continues to keep us united today.

Pope Francis on his recent trip to Kazakhstan said: “We need religion to respond to the world’s thirst for peace “. What do you think in the light of your experience?
Each religion, different from the others and according to the culture and origin, aims to allow human beings and society to reach the final goal of truth and peace, but the teachings and various practices must be transformed into life to be a reliable testimony. The key meaning of human existence is this: “Peace in people’s hearts and peace in society”. The true way of dialogue is first of all to fully understand the teachings of one’s own religion and then to work together with others, fraternally, on a project of true peace.

Maria Grazia Berretta

Thailand: an open road to dialogue – Focolare Movement