CHIANG RAI – The Vatican has appointed Father Joseph Wutthilert Haelom as the first bishop of Chiang Rai Diocese, allowing the Catholic church to offer improved pastoral care to some 16,000 Catholics living in remote areas.
The new diocese has been created in northern Thailand to better meet the pastoral needs of ethnic minority groups living in remote mountainous and rural areas.
Pope Francis appointed Father Joseph Wutthilert Haelom, vicar general of Bangkok Archdiocese, to oversee the newly created Chiang Rai Diocese.
The new diocese has been separated from Chiang Mai Diocese, which served more than 60,000 lay people.
Bishop-elect Haelom said he previously served in Chiang Mai for eight years and knows all the eight provinces that had made up that diocese.
“With the separation there are now 16,000 Catholics in the new Chiang Rai Diocese, most of whom are from ethnic groups,” said Bishop-elect Haelom.
Among the ethnic people in the new diocese are the Archa, Lanna, Lahu, Isan, Thaiyai and Kachin people, said a statement put out by the office of Cardinal Francis Xavier Kriengsak Kovithavanij.
The Catholic Church in Thailand has seen the need to offer more pastoral care and missionary work for different ethnic groups with their own languages and cultures in this remote part of the country.
Cardinal Kovithavanij announced the creation of the new diocese and its bishop at his office in Bangkok on April 25. The process to create the new diocese took three years. Nativity of Our Lady Church has been chosen as the diocese’s cathedral.
The new diocese will cover Chiang Rai, Phrae, Nan and Phayao provinces and Ngao district in Lampang province.