Brief Biography of Father Nicolas Bunkert Kitbamrung (Benedictus Xunkim) By Fr. Surachai Chumsriphan
His Childhood and vocation.
Father Nicolas Bunkert Kitbamrung was the first son of five children born of Mr. Joseph Poxang and Mrs. Agnes Thiang Kitbamrung. He was born on January 31, 1895, and baptized on February 5, 1895, with the Christian name "Benedictus"by Father Ren Perros, who had later become Vicar Apostolic of Siam from 1909 to 1947. Father Joseph Ferlay, as the parish priest, introduced him to minor seminary of the 1 Sacred Heart of Jesus at Bang Xang (precinct) in 1908. According to the seminary curriculum at his time, Father Nicolas would have studied for eight years at Bang Xang Seminary and must have been a catechist for four years. Afterwards, he was admitted to the major seminary in Penang and studied there for six years. It is worth noting that during the six years study of Father Nicolas at the Major Penang Seminary, the superior of the Seminarians had as his duty to report annually to all seminarians' bishops about their study results and conduct. These documents tell us that Fr. Nicolas was well behaved, made good progress in study, was of good health, and that he was most diligent and of good character, but rather haughty, irascible, susceptible and obstinate. He and his other four Thai colleagues (Paul Klin Phonsuwan, Peter Kin Minlukun, Peter Thang Lamcharoen and Alexander Plat Wisetrat) receive the four Minor Orders: Porter, Lector, Exorcist and Acolyte on August 15, 1924, and was administered by Bishop Merel. They later received sub-deaconate on August 16, 1925, and deaconate on September 24, 1925. They were ordained priests at Assumption Cathedral, Bangkok, by Bishop Ren Perros on January 24, 1926.
As an assistant at Bang Nokkhuek parish. The first assignment of Father Nicolas was an assistant to Father Durand who was the parish priest of Bang Nokkhuek Church at that time from 1926 to 1928. In 1925 Bishop Ren Perros requested missionaries of the Salesian Congregation in Italy to work in Siam (Thailand), and assigned them a missionary diocese with Bang Nokkhuek Church as its center, because it was a large parish with a big number of parishioners. Father Durand and Father Nicolas welcomed the Salesian missionaries who arrived in Siam the night of October 26, 1927. Both of them still continued to help and advise on pastoral work here for the Salesian missionaries. In addition to his pastoral assignment, Father Nicolas still helped teach the Thai language, Thai tradition and administrative methodology to the priests and seminarians for more than a year. Having completed the pastoral assignment here , Father Nicolas and Father Durand said a farewell to the Salesians and parishioners of Bang Nokkhuek Church after the celebration of the New Year 1928. They thus handed on to the Salesians a good pastoral parish without reserving anything for themselves.
As an assistant at Phitsanulok parish. In 1929, he was an assistant to Father Mirabel in Phitsanulok province. He was recommended to teach the Thai language to Father Mirabel who had just arrived in Siam (Thailand). Father Nicolas himself had also to learn the Chinese (Hakka) language and look after parish administration. Pastoral work in Phitsanulok was challenging and extensive, but the pioneer task in Chiang Mai still needed more strength, both physical and spiritual. This burden would later on be assigned to Father Nicolas. In Phitsanulok (province), Father Nicolas and Father Mirabel worked together and built a new church made ofwood to replace the small former one which had been erected by Father Andr Phloi Rotchanasen.
His Mission in the North of Thailand. In 1930 Father Mirabel began expanding his pastoral mission to the North of Siam. In the meantime, he also asked Bishop Perros to send a priest as his replacement in Phitsanulok and requested Father Nicolas to work together with him in Chiang Mai. In fact, they started working in Lampang; instead Father Mirabel recommended that Father Nicolas operate in Lampang and he himself went up North to work in Chiang Mai. In Phitsanulok, Father Nicolas tried seeking out a number of the missing flock (Christians). This task was very difficult and not highly productive, but very meritorious. On 18 January of the same year (1931) Father Mirabel and Father Nicolas went and settled in Chiang Mai on a plot of land bought by Father Mirabel. This indicated that missionary pioneer work had already begun in Chiang Mai. The evangelisation in Chiang Mai progressed well, relying on the cooperation of the local Ursuline nuns and St. Gabriel brothers who managed three schools there. Meanwhile, Father Mirabel tried to expand the missionary operation further. In fact, Father Mirabel had asked permission of returning to France in order to be a monk of the Abbey of Chartreux. However, his M.E.P. head-office in Paris still assigned him to continue his missionary task for three more years. Father Mirabel still reported to his M.E.P. head-office in Paris asking for support of both manpower and finance. He also stated that beside Chiang Mai and Lampang, there were very interesting locations for expanding evangelisation up North as follows: Chiang Rai, Luang Phra Bang, Shan State. They could also evangelise various hill tribes in the North (of Thailand). This was the reason of Father Mirabels suggestion for travelling and exploring in the jungle, and contacting the native peoples as the first time. Father Nicolas had closely been cooperating in evangelisation with Father Mirabel in accordance with his desire from the very beginning. In Nan province, Father Mirabel and Father Nicolas travelled and evangelized and kept tracing the Protestant development there. Father Nicolas also met some Christians (Catholics) and catechized them and their children for their baptism and their first holy communion. Then he left Father Mirabel alone, leaving Nan to go back to Chiang Mai. In their first two yeas in Chiang Mai, both of them had worked hard, travelling all the time. Meanwhile, Father Nicolas attempted to follow up the development of his work, and looked for catechists to continue his missionary work done by him in various localities. In the meantime, Father Mirabel and Father Nicolas were ready for their journey of exploring the routes in the North, as having been proposed by Father Mirabel, departing from Chiang Mai to Mae Sarieng, Phapun, Rangoon, Mandalay, and on the return via Chiang Tung (Keng Tung), Chiang Rai and then Lampang. The journey would take about six weeks altogether.
He published his articles, entitled Daily archives recording a visit to Burmese Mission, in Sarasat a Catholic magazine in those days. The article was very long and successively published in the magazine for four months from July to October 1933. This report pleased Bishop Perros and he become more zealous and earnest for the evangelisation in the north of Thailand. The Bishop also realized the very high possibility that various hill tribes might embrace the Catholic faith, as had occurred in Burma. So the Bishop asked for more man-power in order to accomplish the missionary expectation more quickly. Father Nicolas life was the very life of evangelisation, and he travelled always on the mission. A number of people asked him to preach and prepare them for receiving the sacraments. On April 18, 1933, Father Nicolas and Father Vincent went to Nan province and stayed there for about two weeks. Afterward, in June (1933), Father Nicolas went to assist Father Eugne Loetcher (parish priest of Nakhon Chaisri Church) in preparing some Christians for the sacrament of confirmation. Before his trip, he had completed a similar work in Lampang already. Those who used to work with Father Nicolas were impressed by his deep concern for pastoral administration. It was certain that having settled in Chiang Mai, Father Nicolas undertook to evangelize in various localities such as: Wiang Phrao, Chiang Dao, Wiang Pa Pao, Lampang, Nan, Phitsanulok, Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai. In 1934, Father Nicolas, together with local Catholics who had been instructed and looked after by him, built residences, small churches and schools. At the same time, these Catholics also assisted him in evangelisation. They were a firm group of Catholics founded by Father Nicolas. In 1934, Father Meunier was sent to assist in pastoral work in Chiang Mai and stayed with Father Mirabel. Father Mirabel gradually assigned Father Meunier the work of evangelizing the North (of Thailand). Then Father Mirabel himself resigned from the missionary diocese on June 29, 1934, and returned to France in order to become a Trappiste hermit according to his intention. On December 12, 1936, Father Nicolas fell ill, due to his intensive work, and was sent to St. Louis Hospital in Bangkok. On December 15, 1936, the hospital director stated that his symptoms were serious. However, he later on rapidly recovered from his sickness, and on December 23, 1936.
As parish priest at Khorat parish and Non Kaeo parish. Father Nicolas was assigned as parish priest of Khorat Church. There he had an opportunity of preaching a retreat to the parishioners of Ban Han, which is not far from Khorat. Their retreat ended on March 19, 1937, which was the feast day of St. Joseph and the day of the ceremony of solemn communion. On the same day, 74 of the 160 Catholics received Communion. At Khorat parish church, Father Nicolas main tasks were: catechism, and contacting fallen away Christians. Meanwhile, he was also very concerned about various problems of the Christians. Those obstacles impeded the Christians conversion and the returning to the church of lapsed Catholic. He was concerned about the teaching of catechism for children too.
Father Nicolas had remarked that one of the impediments was poverty which forced them to more to various localities for their sustenance. While they were far away from churches, they had no opportunity for receiving the sacraments, listening to preachings or attending catechism. Their children had also been left with no chance of baptism, because they were being looked after by non-Christians. Thus their conversion to Christianity was extremely difficult, for pagan fathers or mothers did not allow the children to attend catechism. Father Nicolas still believed that those Christians who did not pray to God would not receive the divine graces that God grants to those who trust in him. Having spent a reasonable time reflecting, Father Nicolas stated that there were many people instructed for baptism, but they would not be baptized yet, because their faith was not firm enough. Father Nicolas was an able preacher. Thus he had always been invited to give sermons in various locations. On January 6, 1938, while he was the celebrant of the Mass on the feast day Ban Lao Church, he delivered an impressive sermon. From 1938 onward, Father Nicolas had also been assigned to take care of Christian parishioners of Non Kaeo Church. He wrote many letters from both Khorat and Non Kaeo to Bishop Perros. His letters revealed that he was very concerned about his assigned responsibility. Apart from these, they also indicated that he expressed his ideas concerning terminology used in the churchs (Thai) prayers at his time. We find that Father Nicolas was always concerned about fellow priests and he did his best to help them free them from their (financial) debts. Moreover, he also encouraged them as much as he could. Due to his constant concern about both priests and Christian parishioners, he continued his pastoral task until his arrest due to the allegation of being the fifth columnist for France in 1941.
Arrested at St. Josephs Church Ban Han. In those days, Thai (catholic) priests started their annual holy retreat on Monday night after the feast day of Epiphany (Holy Family) which was on Sunday 12 January 1941. From Non Kaeo, Father Nicolas reached Khorat on Friday 10 January 1941, with the intention of picking up Father Leonard Singhanat Phonsuwan in order to arrive in Bangkok together on the following Saturday morning 11 January 1941. In the meantime, Father Leonard had listened to radio broastcasting every evening, including the radio program of Conversation of nai Man-nai Khong that had been disseminating the intimidation among christians throughout the whole country. But before Father Nicolas arrival, Father Leonard left and escaped hastily to safe refuge at Huaphai Church. So Father Nicolas could not find Father Leonard in Khorat, and then decided to travel to St. Josephs Church at Ban Han on January 11, 1941, in order to join Father Ambrosio Kin Minlukun (Photia) who was parish priest of Ban Han Church. But Father Ambrosio was not there either. At Ban Han Church, Father Nicolas called the catholic parishioners for their night prayers and told them to attend Sunday Mass on the following day which was the Epiphany Feast. While they were praying at that night, the radio program from Bangkok was broastcasting the Conversation of nai Man-nai Khong to instigate people countrywide and to intimidate all christians. The Thai Blood Groups throughout the whole country had been confronting the French and all those who were allegedly pro-French They also kept watching the Catholics who were allegedly worshippers of the French religion. At that time, Father Nicolas was leading theLitany of Mary and the catholics responded Pray for us to the litany. But members of Thai Blood groups who were observing the prayers went to report to the district chief officer and the police in Sikiu District that Father Nicolas was leading the catholic prayers as Let the French have victory over the Thai
On the following day, Sunday 12 January 1941, Fr. Nicolas rang the church bell at 8:30 hours, to convene the catholic parishioners to celebrate the Epiphany Day. Such action led to the arrest of Father Nicolas and other eight catholics due to the allegation of violating the official ban on ringing church bells to call the people together.
Being accused as a fifth line (column) Bishop Perros wrote a letter dated February 23, 1941 to Luang Adundejcharat, the police director general stating that Father Nicolas was innocent. On March 24, 1941, Bishop Perros wrote a letter to his fellow-missionaries in Paris, France, telling about the arrest of Father Nicolas and his Thai (catholic) priest-mates. On May 17, 1941, Bishop Perros wrote a letter in French dated to Mr. Garreau, French consul to Thailand with details.
His arrest caused by Hatred of Christianity. Antagonistic environment of anti-christianity hatred had been very intensive in 19391945.In fact, it is well known that Thai government and constitution has never impeded worship of various religions in Thai kingdom. However, under certain circumstances, the Thai people had their Thai patriotism and antagonism against all those that are neither Thai people nor Thai citizens stirred up. For this purpose Thai Blood Groups were organized in various provinces throughout the whole country. Thai Catholics, like other Thai people, are not lacking in patriotism, and they are patriots like other Thai people. The situation in the Northeast had become very intensive, because the Thai people did not understand the Catholicspatriotism. So they misunderstood and executed seven Thai Martyrs of Thailand who later on October 22, 1989, were beatified by the Catholic Church in St. Peters Basilica, Rome as the seven Blessed of Thailand. Anti-christian hatred existing in the minds of Thai people in general led to the persecution of christianity and Catholics. The police director general at that time announced on February 1, 1941, forbidding people from instigating turbulence. Due to hatred caused by misunderstanding, Father Nicolas Bunkert Kitbamrung was officially arrested on January 12, 1941, at Ban Han church with various allegations of Thai Blood Group in Ban Han. Father Nicolas was officially arrested and accused of many crimes, eventhough he was innocent. The Bishop Perros explained further and tried to indicate that there were so many allegations against him, so that Father Nicolas could not commit them all in two days passing through Ban Han. In fact, before this action, that is to say on February 23, 1941, Bishop Perros wrote a letter to Luang Adundejcharat, the police director general, stating a Thai catholic priest was arrested and accused by those who hated him, and he had been detained without reason. The trial had been proceeded by using false witnesses who incriminated Father Nicolas and other eight catholics. Such procedure was unreliable and hardly understandable. Mr. Charoen Ratbuakhao, the eye-witness stated the same thing and testified that false witness were used for incriminating the defendants.
His Heroic Deeds and Spirituality. Father Nicolas was arrested as well as the thirteen catholic family headmen from Ban Han, and had been detained in Bang Khwang (central) prison. Father Nicolas wrote a letter in his own hand, dated February 15, 1942, to Bishop Perros, stating that those things that enabled him endure prison were: prayers, rosary and the Breviary, (that were sent to him by Bishop Perros). Eventhough, Father Nicolas was not guilty as the allegation, he had still been willing to take the penalty according to Gods will to atone for sins. During his imprisonment, Father Nicolas suffered much due to the filthy cell, very narrow, with no ventilation and oppressively hot. But he never complained about his
suffering. Moreover, he remained patient and had encouraged his those arrested with him. In addition, he had also preached to both christian and non-christian prisoners. Having been given things by his visitors, he had kindly shared them with other prisoners. Due to his imprisonment in filthy and ventless cell, Father Nicolas had fallen sick and sent for medical inspection. Then the prison authority told him that he had been sick of tuberculosis (T.B.) and separated him to the section for detaining prisoners of lung diseases. There he had still preached, helped and taken care of sick detainees. He had also baptized prisoners, in particular, those who were moribund. On the other hand, Bishop Perros sent Father Nicolas and the other two (Thai) priestdetainees both Thai and Latin prayer books, including the Sarasat magazine. But the prison authority sent back the Sarasat magazine to the Bishop, because they did not permit the three catholic (Thai) priests to read it. Department of corrections sent a letter dated September 1, 1943, to inform Bishop Perros about the temporary suspension of his visiting the three catholic priests and about further details of the books sent to the three priest-detainees aforesaid. On January 6, 1944, Bishop Perros wrote a letter to Pol. Col. Mongkhon Klaklangsamon, the director general of department of corrections, asking for official permission visit the prisoner named Bunkert (Father Nicolas) who had been very sick at the prison hospital, in order to give him a catholic sacrament but the Bishops visit was refused. Finally, on February 15, 1944, the prison authority sent a letter informing that Father Nicolas was dead of tuberculosis. Before his death, he wrote his will to give his things to Father Edouard and Father Henry. So his will and his things were sent to Bishop Perros. Bishop Peros wrote a letter dated February 16, 1944, to Bishop Adrien Drapier, the Apostolic Delegation, telling about Father Nicolas and his living in the prison. Father Nicolas dead body was burried at Bang Phrae Temple, near by the central prison. One month after, Bishop Perros wrote a letter dated March 9, 1944, to Bangkok governor asking for official permission to excavate Father Nicolas corpse to be moved and burried in the tunnel underneath Assumption Bangkok Cathedral. After his request was rejected, Bishop Perros had tried again several times, until two months later he received permission to exhume Father Nicolas corpse. So he called for Father Nicolas relatives to take part in excavating the corpse from Bang Phrae Temple. They included: Mrs. Phin: his younger sister in law, Mr. Kui: his neighbour and Mr. Ha Siang: Mrs. Phins son. They travelled to Bang Phrae Temple in morning time. But on their way, Mr. Ha Siang left from their group and went to see Bishop Peros. After their arrival in Bang Phrae Temple, the Buddhist abbot told them that not long before Mr. Ha Siangs arrival, Mrs. Phin and Mr. Kui had excavated and moved out the corpse already. Nevertheless, Father Nicolas corpse had been burried with neither coffin nor wrapping in a small square of soil pit and in curving downwards position. However, his corpse was still with complete flesh, skin and hairs, and had no odour.
Background of His Death. Because of anti-christian hatred, Father Nicolas was falsely accused, arrested and sentenced for fifteen years imprisonment. During his detention, he still continued his active priestly life, so that the prison authorities were displeased with him. Finally, because of his great suffering in the prison, he fell ill of tuberculosis and then died there before fulfilling the official sentence of fifteen years imprisonment. Thus his death was directly caused by the anti-christian hatred, and was an heroic sacrifice. His death is also a vivid witness and living faith among us. Such a great faith is found in Father Nicolas letter as he willingly accepted Goda will with his generosity as follows:
Your Excellency, please do not be sorrowful on my account. In fact I never anticipated that I would be imprisoned. Your Excellency knows very well that I love my country so much that I have sacrificed myself and my secular happiness. I then endeavored to preach to my Thai brothers to lead a moral life during the past 15 years. So I have helped the Thai Nation both directly and indirectly. I have also instructed others to be Patriots. Unfortunately, I was then falsely accused of being a nation-seller and a traitor. In the meantime, the three witnesses of the plaintiff were the most immoral. They dared to file a false accusation against a priest with intent. However, I felt that God was willing that it should be like that. So I was willing to accept this punishment according to God's will in order to atone for my mistake and sins, and for world peace and the civilization of my beloved country. I have always prayed God to forgive the guilt of those three false witnesses who filed false accusations against me, thus following the example of Jesus the Universal Master. Father Nicolas letter manifested that he willingly accepted with a full heart every thing happening to him until his death in the prison due to the anti-christian hatred . On the other hand, his whole life has been a striving for sanctification, and he had industriously carried out his pastoral work as Christs priest as he had been well known by all. Due to his sanctifying life and strenuous spirituality, Father Nicolas willingly and humbly accomplished Gods will, especially in the manner of his death.