January 14, 2013

In Memoriam: Father John Kennedy Bingham SJ

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Cha John Kennedy Bingham SJ
Một Vị Ân Nhân Của Người Tị Nạn Đường Bộ
Hôm nay là ngày kỷ niệm 10 năm cha John qua đời. Gia Đình Nguời tị nạn đuờng bộ xin thành kính tri ân cha John Bingham. Ngài luôn vào trại tị nạn dâng thánh lễ, giúp đở và chia xẻ lo âu với chúng ta. Cầu xin ngài luôn phù hộ cho nguời tị nạn trên mọi nẻo đuờng.

Thành Kính Tri Ân
Cha  John Kennedy Bingham SJ 
Cha  John Kennedy Bingham SJ 

For six months from September 1980- March 1981 Fr. John, an American from  Jamshedpur province India, together with Fr. Pierre Ceyrac began work with Caritas India, doing whatever could be of help to the people from Kampuchean People's National Liberation Front (KPNLF) who had fled to the Thai-Cambodian border and were held in Thailand. Together they started an Adult Education school in English in what was known at  that time as the Chonburi Holding Camp. It later became the Phanat Nikhom camp which persisted for  a long duration.

Father John K Bingham and
the Newly Baptized
(Photo courtesy of Pham Dinh Dai)

Later he was to be found at almost every camp at the border. By May 1984 when the possibility of closure of Ampil camp was in the air, the JRS Jesuits had decided to rent a house in Kokmakok village and Fr. John successfully found what was needed. With that accomplished his English-Khmer Dictionary came into focus and soon it was selling like  hotcakes. Perhaps it was this initiative which led to his opening of a Library- Bookstore many years later in Lhasa.

After that it was medical care for children. soccer balls and shoes which were needed for the growing numbers of refugees. By 1987 he had a Vietnamese- English dictionary in the his book business. In 1986 on a visit to India he met of the SJs with the Khmers and looked to the future of the 150,000 Khmers at Site II. He planned to remain with the Khmers until they could return home. Later that year back in Ta Praya, JRS bought the blue Toyota station wagon (still parked in front of JRS office but owned by one of the Xavier Hall staff) which served as Fr. John's transport for a decade or more. However. his well-worn green shirt for all occasions is nowhere to be found. In his file for 1987 the first copy of a signed Volunteer Work Agreement with COERR's Education and Social Services program can be found, but he may have made such a commitment years before. Fr. John Bingham in 1991 was still at Site II, where he had invited two fellow Jesuits to join him in his mission for 

Father John K. Bingham, Father Cha Pierre Ceyrac
and father Jean Houlman  celebrate
Christmas Mass at Emmanuel church
Site 2 - 1986
(Photo courtesy of Trinh Huy Chuong)
several months. Later that year he went to Cornell University for Khmer language study during the summer. On his return in September he requested permission from the Jesuit Regional Superior of Thailand to work in Cambodia after the Khmers on the border have returned to their homeland. The Jamshedpur (India) Provincial had received a request from Bishop Ramousse who was in charge of the Church in Cambodia for John's services. However. after over 13 years of John's assistance to the refugees and asylum seekers in Thailand, his wish to provide pastoral assistance in the Khmers' homeland was not to be. The official decision was given to him in April 1993 and with a saddened heart he prepared to return to India. John returned to India but not for long, for he went on further north to Nepal where he had the joy of preaching the Gospel to the Nepali people on the border of Sikkim
In his December 1994 Christmas message he wrote: "It is a great job for a Jesuit as I can try in this place to continue the great work of Xavier who came here to the East in 1552." Later Jamshedpur Province. which had loaned him to Darjeeling Province, sent him to Lhasa. Tibet became important to him when he worked in an area where two ancient passes lead into that country and where the Fathers of the 'Socit des Missions trangres de Paris' (MEP) had erected a cross at the time when they had had to leave it. "Reaching for even mountains to conquer. he and a companion, Fr. Mike Parent, went to China, where they opened both a library and a carpet shop. as part of his pastoral work among the people."

In October 2002 Fr. John was returning to the USA via Frankfurt where he was to meet with donors and friends, but he suffered a stroke and was in a rehabilitation clinic until 17 December. The first thing after returning to the Jesuit House was to renew his visa for China (it was handed to him on 14 Jan., a few moments before died). A meeting was held on 14 Jan with the people in charge of China operations at the 'Church in Need' agency. He presented himself and his cause in the best possible way.

On his return to the house at about 3 p.m. he took a rest- planning to be together later. At 6:15 p.m. he was found dead in his armchair, he had died very peacefully (the doctor did not find any perspiration or similar signs of stress); his heart, instead of just going slow, had stopped going altogether.

He had achieved what he had come to do, and we all said: "God has called him, saying Now take your rest." Two of the nephews, Charles jr. and John (his godson and helper for  several years during the JRS time) came to Germany as representatives of the whole family and a wake at the open coffin was held. As he had been claimed for Christ even before he was baptized, we claimed him again for our Lord by signing his forehead with the sign of the cross for the last time on earth.

(Excerp from JRS Remembering 25 Years)


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