I have to tell you from the beginning I am not a Catholic, or particularly religious. I was baptised in the Church of England and went to a Church of England primary school. My involvement in religion stopped thereafter. I hadn’t really been in a church, other than as a tourist, since primary school.
Reputation of the Catholic Church
Unusually for Thai people, my wife’s family is Catholic. Her and her family were insistent on a Catholic wedding. Because it was important to them I went along with it. The Catholic Church has a bad reputation – child abuse scandals and accusations of financial financial exploitation – in the UK particularly amongst educated people of my generation. It is seen as controlling and antiquated as well. For these reasons I felt like I was going to be going through the motions and pleasing my wife and her family by getting married as a Catholic, rather than doing something positive by my own choice.
For the Catholic Church Marriage is a Serious Undertaking
The Catholic church takes marriage very seriously. You can’t simply book the local church and off you go. They have to give their blessing to you and the match. It is not unknown for Thai Catholics to be refused permission to get married in Church. If the priest thinks the couple are unsuitable – perhaps because of their age – or insufficiently committed to the Church then they won’t be allowed to have the religious ceremony.
The Church in Thailand is accepting of interfaith marriages. You do not have to be a Catholic to marry a Catholic in a Thai Church. I had to prove I was a baptised Christian (fortunately my mother was able to find the certificate) and also I had to attend marriage counselling with a Catholic priest. Again the Church was very flexible and allowed us to take a shortened course of counselling over two days at our nearest Cathedral – St Raphael’s Cathedral in Surat Thani. Work and other commitments had made it difficult for us to visit a Catholic Church over a period of several weeks before the wedding to do the normal course of counselling.
My Concerns about Going to Marriage Counselling
I have to admit that when I booked into the Wang Tai Hotel the morning before we were due our first counselling session at the Cathedral I was not particularly looking forward to it. I feared that I was going to get lectured about a religion I didn’t believe in and that wasn’t relevant to my life by a Thai priest with a poor command of the English language – in short several hours of being bored and patronised at the same time. I was wrong.
Practical Advice About Every Day Issues
The priest we saw on the first day was a really nice guy, very well educated and with a good command of English. His main job was administering the two huge schools which are in the grounds of St Raphael Cathedral – attended by both Catholics and Buddhists these are the best schools in the province – and he kindly took time out from his busy schedule to see us. The Catholic church provides couples who are to be married with a practical and very sensible course of marriage counselling. They get couples to talk about to each other about what they hope to get out of the marriage and talk about practical issues relating to marriage, such as dealing with disagreements. The course was very relevant to Thai marriages as well as it dealt with very Thai issues, such as overbearing families making financial demands on new husbands. There was a small religious element, but the majority of what we talked about seemed genuinely useful to people of all faiths, or none.
The second day we had a different priest see us. This fella had much more of a philosophical leaning and we discussed a variety spiritual and intellectual issues in relation to family life, including Plato and Socrates (I studied Philosophy at University so this was a subject which interested me), whilst my wife looked a bit confused. I really enjoyed the whole experience and found it useful. Much to the scorn and derision, I have to say, of my ex-pat friends in Thailand but that is another story entirely. There is real irony in being criticised for attending marriage counselling by people whose own marriages and relationships have ended badly.
Just in Time for the Wedding
Because of the timing, we completed the course of counselling in Surat Thani only a few days before the wedding itself, and we went directly to Bangkok before going onto Udon Thani where the ceremony would take place. My wife’s family live in a village about 2 hours drive outside of Udon Thani city.
The Wedding Itself
Because I had family and friends coming from the UK we decided to have the actual wedding ceremony in Udon Thani city itself, with the reception at the Chareon Hotel which did us proud. The family were not particularly happy that we had chosen to get married in Udon Thani city rather than the village and insisted that we have a traditional thai engagement ceremony in the village the day before.
Udon Thani Cathedral
My wife and her family had managed to organise that the wedding take place in Our Mother of Perpetual Help Cathedral in Udon Thani city, complete with English speaking Thai priests. The cathedral is large and beautifully decorated. We felt very lucky to have secured this venue, and the Church charged us only a token sum to cover the flowers and other costs associated with the wedding.
The ceremony was perfect. It was conducted by three priests led by Father Uoai, pictured on the left above. It lasted about an hour followed by mass for the Catholics who attended. Father Uoai has recently moved to teach in a Seminary in Fiji and I wish him luck with that.
My Opinion of the Catholic Church Has Changed
All in all I felt the Catholic Church in Thailand had done us a big favour and the experience changed my perception of Catholicism in general. The five Thai priests involved in the process were intelligent and caring people imbued with community spirit and unfaltering commitment to their calling. Not many other organisations can claim the same of their members.