Nicholas Bunkerd Kitbamrung was born in Nakhon Chaisri, Thailand in 1895. Instead of being Buddhist, like the majority of Thais, he chose to be a Catholic and was ordained at 31 at Assumption Cathedral in Bangkok. After that, he travelled up to Northern Thailand to preach Catholicism, a religion the Thai government viewed with increasing suspicion.
“At the time, being Buddhist and Thai meant the same thing. Catholics were often considered “parasites,” exploiting the great tree of Thailand, and had to be “eliminated””.
On January 12th, 1941, Friar Nicholas rang the church bell to summon people for Sunday Mass and was arrested. He was sentenced to 15 years in Bang Khwang Prison. He was also accused of collaborating with the French and trying to turn Thais against their own government. It was a very scary period for Catholics in Thailand. Many hid their faith from authorities.
Nicholas was not one of them. While in prison, he kept his faith and baptized 68 prisoners. Many people visited him as well. Sister Cecelia Sunee Suparsri was one of them.
“During the years of anti-Christian persecution, police officers and administrators used threats to force us to give up our faith. They said it was ‘illegal’ to be Catholic. They shut down various churches for many months and priests were forbidden to celebrate mass.”
– Sister Cecelia Sunee Suparsri, AsiaNews.it
After three years, he contracted tuberculosis, dying on January 12th, 1944. According to Catholic.org he was “denied hospital care” because he was a Catholic and was “left to die”.
In 1992, Catholics in Bangkok began pushing for his beatification. He was beatified in 2000, at Saint Peter’s Square.
Presently, 93% of Thais are estimated to be Buddhist. 4.9% are Muslim and 1.2% are Christians.