Mary Sarindhorn Mativachranon
Your Eminences, Your Excellencies, Rev. Fathers, Brothers, Sisters, Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
“You did not choose me.
But I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit —fruit that will last.”
Yes. With this verse from the Bible, here I am, standing before you a humble witness, born a Buddhist, but a very devout and faithful servant of God nowadays. And it is because of God’s Love and Divine Mercy that a life like mine which was torn apart, accused of a crime I did not commit, and shunned by society is able to forgive, turn around, and come back to be who I am today.
Let me share with you my life story which is more intriguing than a novel.
I was born the youngest daughter of my family whose parents were devout Buddhists. However, they sent their three daughters to catholic girl schools taught by the Ursuline Sisters. Looking back, it was God’s plan to plant the seeds of faith in me since my childhood. After high school I went to the U.S.A. and graduated with an honors degree in Business Administration in 1969 at the age of 20. Later I became very successful being the co-founder and 1st Managing Director of one of the largest finance and securities companies in Thailand at the age of 25. Five years later I became the largest shareholder of the company when the
chairman wanted to retire early, and sold all his shares to me. At the age of 30 I was at the top of the world. At that time, I had no way of knowing that I had to be successful at such young age so that I could fail, buried alive, and be able to come back after 20 years. Imagine. If I were successful at the age of 50, what would be left of me when I returned at the age of 70?
Less than a year after I acquired the company, the Stock Exchange of Thailand crashed for the first time. Forced by the circumstances, I decided to sell my portion of the shares at a tremendous loss back to the bank of my former chairman who sold all his shares to me only a year earlier. To save the money of the depositors many of whom were catholic schools, I was willing to sacrifice myself.
Having brought the ship back safely to shore, I resigned. Two weeks before the new Managing Director took office, something unimaginable happened. I was held at the meeting room forced by an influential bank director to sign some documents. Seeing that it was not ethical, I steadfastly refused. After 7 hours from 4 pm. to 11 pm. without any food nor drinks, the bank director had to let me go. Before I left the meeting room, pointing his fingers at me, he said, “One day you’ll be sorry.” Little did I know that what I did or did not do that day would cost me 20 years of my life.
Later this man became the new chairman of the company, and he was true to his words.
One day I got the shock of my life when I was tipped off that an arrest warrant was on the way for me for allegedly embezzling my former company a staggering amount of B196 m (approximately US$ 7.84m at that time; B25 = US$1 then). A former employee of mine whose wedding was officiated by me was willing to give false testimonies to the police in exchange for a promotion. While all accused are presumed innocent until proven guilty in court, I could be jailed rotten if I could not produce enough bail. Where could I obtain that amount of money for bail? Having no choice, I took the first plane out of Thailand the next morning leaving my 4 young children and husband behind. As soon as the plane took off, I cried in my heart, “God. I am innocent! I am innocent!”
“In all truth I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.” John 13:21
My life from that point on was like that of the doctor played by Harrison Ford in the movie, ‘The Fugitive”. Fearing I might be arrested, I moved from place to place, some days eating just one meal. At night I’d be too scared to sleep. My life as a pitiful fugitive went on till Dec. 25, 1989. Having been awake the whole previous night, I went to sleep late in the morning; and woke up around 7:00 pm. I was starved. It was pitched dark outside and it was cold, very cold and raining. When I came back to my room empty handed because all shops and restaurants were closed, I was hungry and angry. I became hysterical and started cursing the man who put me through this suffering, and the lawyer and the false witness who were both my previous employees. I started writing letters and sending by fax call collect to my husband telling him how much I was suffering. When he curtly replied that I was costing him too much in sending him many pages of fax, I put down the phone. I must have temporarily gone insane at that point, and saw my own life less worthy than the dust on the floor. I ran around my 3 x 4-meter room like a mad woman looking for something—a knife, a rope, anything that could end my miserable being. When I could not find any, I knelt down in the middle of the floor and cried out to the Lord. “Dear God, please come and take me to be with you. I can’t go on living anymore.”
St. Teresa of Calcutta once said, “Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat.”
Yes. Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, that was exactly how pitiful my life was during that stage.
At that time, I was still a Buddhist officially. But throughout my ordeal I prayed feverishly night and day to God for His help. That night I did not know how long I was kneeling there, but was jolted awake when a thought flashed into my mind without my awareness. “Don’t give up, my child. One day the truth will prevail. God has a mission for you.”
I jumped up from the floor. Did someone just speak to me? Or was I hallucinating? There was no one in the room except me. Then it dawned on me that though I was suffering beyond words, I was still free, wasn’t I? Besides every time I thought I had come to the end of the rope, I’d get some reprieve. There couldn’t be any other explanation. It must be God who had been taking care of me and had just spoken to me.
“None of the trials which have come upon you is more than a human being can stand. You can trust that God will not let you be put to the test beyond your strength, but with any trial will also provide a way out by enabling you to put up with it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13
I knelt down again and prayed, “Dear God, if it’s You who have just spoken to me, I’d be and do whatever You want me to.” Then I prostrated. Just as I did that, a righteous thought came into my mind. If I was to continue living, I must first forgive. But how? Only moments ago, I was cursing them to death. After trying the whole night, I prayed again. “Dear God. I want to forgive my enemies, but I cannot do it on my own. Please help me be able to do so.” What happened next was something I’d remember as long as I live. As soon as I finished my prayers, the feeling of hatred in my heart like a fire in the desert was blown away. Instead, a breeze of coolness like the first fall of snow swept through my heart. It was wonderful. I felt redeemed and refreshed. I knew immediately a miracle had happened. God had touched my soul with His love. I was able to forgive all my enemies through His blessings. I was ecstatic, and cried the tears of joy and excitement the whole night. Later I even prayed for God’s blessings for all of my enemies and their families.
“Be generous to one another, sympathetic, forgiving each other as readily as God forgave you in Christ.” Ephesians 4:32
I was to remain living the life of a fugitive in exile till the statute of limitations expired before I could return to Thailand. Though I could not be arrested on criminal charges, I was sued in the civil court as well. When one lawyer after another wanted to charge me millions, I remembered what I heard on the night of December 25, 1989, “One day the truth will prevail!”. I had God. Why would I need any lawyer? My faith was so strong that I could call it a ‘blind faith”. I decided to go to court defending myself. Believing that God helped those who helped themselves, I decided to head back to my former company to petition for justice. Another uphill battle had just begun.
“In truth I tell you, if your faith is the size of a mustard seed; you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it will move; nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17:20-21
From the former top boss of the company, I was reduced to being just an ex-con woman. I’d go there in the morning day after day hoping to get an appointment with someone. Nobody would see me. The board shunned me like a stray dog. The humiliation was so heart drenching that at times I thought I could not go on. However, I dared not get discouraged. If I did, I would be turned to ashes. I prayed vehemently with my unconditional faith till……one Monday. On January 17, 1994, as usual I went to see the Director of the Legal Dept. of my former company. Ignoring his secretary’s refusal for me to see him, I barged into his room and presented him with a list of documents I said would prove my innocence. He shook his head. “It’s been 14 years. All documents had been destroyed.” Without premeditation I blurted out. “Then let me go and search your store room myself.”
Nothing could be more absurd than that statement. However, “Nothing is impossible with God. Luke 1:37” Accompanied by 5 of the company’s staff, I was allowed to go to the specially built and well-guarded storage of the company. The Legal Director gave the permission so that he could rid himself of me the nuisance once and for all because he was sure after that day, I could not go to see him again. Within only 2 hours however, I was able to dig out the evidence that would prove my innocence beyond any doubts. One of my former staff was ordered to destroy all the documents; but for some reason she did not, but reported to that chairman who ordered her that she did.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him.” Romans 8:28
The Board of Directors learned of the fact at their next board meeting with shock and disbelief. They were stunned and speechless. One of them remarked, “We have killed an innocent woman.” Their resolution was to withdraw the case from the civil court immediately, and also asked me not to sue them back. Though penniless and desperate, I remembered the night of December 25, 1989, when I was able to forgive them because of God’s Grace. Against everyone’s advice, I decided not to sue them back for any amount of money though I could have sued them for millions of Baht in damages. To my husband who could not understand my decision, I simply said, “It’s between me and God”.
On March 21, 1994, I walked out of the court room for the last time—as an innocent person. Even the sky cried the tears of joy for me. It rained the whole morning.
And so it ended. So had everything. For the past decade I told myself I could not die before I could prove my innocence. Now that the truth was known, there was nothing but emptiness. My former company went back on their words on publicizing the truth about this case. While my former colleagues were then millionaires or chairmen of various companies; I was a forgotten woman, wounded physically, spiritually, and financially. I could not even read business newspapers without crying. All I had for myself was self-pity. It was the prisoner of war syndrome.
As if the Cross I was carrying was not heavy enough, an extra weight was added onto my shoulders. Shortly after my court case ended and before I was able to heal or recover financially, Thailand suffered the economic meltdown. At the time when I needed him most in my life, my husband walked out of the family, leaving me to care for our four children alone. With the deep would still fresh in my heart, my life at that point was like a beautiful porcelain vase being thrown to the floor, then stomped upon by a strong rogue man. There was nothing left but pieces strewn around. I wanted to take my own life again.
During those painful years whenever they saw me cry, my children would hug me, wiped my tears and said, “Mommy, don’t cry. We love you. We promise we’ll be good children. We will study hard and make you proud of us one day.” I’d pull them close, hugged them, and told them I loved them too.
Today both my daughters who are now grown up are here. My younger daughter has accompanied me to every country that invites me to speak, to give me moral support and to help me with the power point work like today.
The only 2 things that kept me going at that point were God’s and my children’s love. Alone, scared, and desperate, I turned to God. I prayed every day begging God to please help carry me over the troubled waters safely. Thinking there were millions of people praying for God’s help each day, I was afraid my prayers would not be heard as I was not a Christian yet. So I wrote a lot of prayers too, pouring my heart out to God hoping that my written prayers could help get God’s attention. Evidently it did! One day God spoke to me again. Thailand was hosting the FESPIC Game, the sport event for the disabled. Before the games started, the head of the Thai team, a man with a missing leg, said on television, “No one wants to be born disabled. However, if we could accept this fact of life; we could live a normal life.” It was like an unlit light bulb being turned on. The key to solve my psychological problem was that I must be able to accept what had happened to me. So what that the society shunned me? So what that I was a single mother? I still had 10 fingers and a perfect body and a sound mind, didn’t I? I could not go back to change my past, but I could live the present and shape my future.
That night I prayed the whole night again. The truth had now prevailed. It’s time to move on and find out what God’s mission for me was. If I continued living in this sorry state of mind, God’s miracle to me would be a waste.
I started searching for God officially, and was introduced to go to a protestant church. After a while I had to find a new church as I could not understand the language used in the Church— Mandarin. Then another friend introduced me to another Protestant church. I was so happy, and was sure that church was the right path for me. For 3 years I went diligently with my children to this latter church, attended the Bible classes; and immersed myself fully in the Protestant way of life of evangelization. Time passed. I was like a lost child who thought he had found his home only to discover there was a canal surrounding the house without a bridge. Then another friend led me to study catechism with a catholic priest. Within 6 months on June 2, 1996, I flew to New Rochelle, N.Y. to be baptized at the chapel of my former teacher, an American nun. As my Godmother she said lovingly to me, “God finally catches up with you, Sarindhorn!”
Feeling ecstatic, I was eager to channel all my energies into serving God. At the same time, I desperately wanted to heal. I went to see a psychiatrist only to realize it would take me a long time and a lot of money to be clinically healed. I learned that the key element in healing was to open up the wound to someone. Besides the long route of seeing a psychiatrist, did I have an alternative choice?
Twenty-seven years ago, giving testimony was not a catholic way of life. But within the circle of the protestant church that I attended, they wanted to have me back and hear my testimonies. My children told me they were proud of me, not ashamed of me for what had happened. A lifelong devotion of being a witness had begun.
At the same time, I followed the discipline and catholic way of life to the strictest sense. Thinking that the only way to serve God was through serving under the religious organizations, I joined almost all organizations you could think of. I became the Secretary General of CBEG—Catholic Business Executive Group, 1st VP of the Catholic Women’s Association, Treasurer of Catholic Commission for Women, Founder of Hot Line, a support group under the auspices of the Catholic Association of Thailand, etc. etc. etc. At that time, I did not even understand the meaning of the word ‘vocation”.
And all was not lost with my 3 years at the Protestant church. I carried my thirst and quest for Bible study to my life as a Catholic though at that time there was no Catholic Bible. Night after night I studied the Bible. Gradually I came to know God more and more. My initial fear of God diminished. Finally, I discovered that God was not fearsome and far away in heaven. Instead, God is loving, and is in our heart—everyone’s heart. It was the most precious discovery for me. It should be the biggest discovery for mankind!
During the long span of my suffering, besides praying incessantly to God begging Him to help heal me, I also wrote ‘My Little Prayers’ in addition to my daily prayers. Even after I was miraculously exonerated, I continued writing. When a senior member of a church asked to publish them in his church’s Sunday bulletin, I felt my writing alone was not adequate. I then thought of what I read in Guidepost, a Christian publication I read in the USA. In every chapter which was real life story, there was a verse from the Bible. It turned out to be an utmost blessing for me as I had to study the Bible attentively in order to find the right verse for each of my Prayer.
My Little Prayers were so well received by readers both Christian and non-Christian that later the first 100 chapters were published as a book, my first book. It was printed 3 times. The books were distributed free of charge nationwide among catholic as well as protestant churches and even Buddhist organizations.
The director priest of St. Louise Hospital put my book besides the Bible in each of the 300 rooms of the Hospital.
A protestant radio operator in a Northern province of Thailand asked for my permission to read My Little Prayers one chapter per day on his daily broadcast. Etc.
I continue writing My Little Prayers till today. My bi-monthly prayers are published officially in the website Thaicatholicbible.com and in Udomsarn, our Church’s official magazine. I also have a list of direct recipients both by emails and postal mails.
Then one day there were calls for us to practice Duc In Altum. Around that same time, I learned of the meaning of the word ‘vocation’. I learned that as Christians we could serve God through our daily lives, through whatever we could do best, not necessarily only through religious organizations. Really?
Thailand is a predominantly Buddhist country with 95% of its population being Buddhist. Out of the population of approximately 70 million people only 350,000 are Catholic or a mere 0.5%. “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” Luke 10:2 I decide to go into the Thai society to evangelize using my life story as a bridge. As a businesswoman, an associate judge of the Labor Court, Region 2 of Thailand, and a socialite, I evangelize to the business circle, the judiciary society, the political arena, and even to the military junta, and to anyone whenever I have a chance.
Before my 60th BD celebration in 2009, I decided to write a book about my life story to glorify God. It was in Thai with the title, “Moving the Mountain”. This book became very popular to the point that Post Books, the publishing arm of Bangkok Post, Thailand’s oldest English newspaper, approached me to buy the rights of my book. It was a blessing beyond any words.
To evangelize among my Buddhist friends, before all else I try to live my life in such a way that people can see how a good Christian should be—forgiving, loving, faithful etc. I am firm and solid in my faith, but I never try to convince others to convert or to believe in my God. I tell people what God has done for me. People can see how I am today. Whether they believe God is real is up to them. Gradually, my evangelization in the Thai society takes root. My subtle way of proclaiming the Good News works. All those who come to know me respect me for who I am—a faithful Christian with unwavering faith, but not someone out to convert others. An Air Force General remarked to me he wished his Buddhist friends could be as faithful religiously as I was. A director general told me I had become her source of knowledge of something that seemed like ‘an alien’ to her previously. A lawyer who is Buddhist begged to have a confession with me to ask for our God’s forgiveness for something he did years ago, but still feels guilty. In Buddhism there is no atonement for any sin once committed. The former Legal Director of my former company remarked that anyone who came to know me could not say there was no God. I was interviewed on the Radio of Parliament which broadcasts nationwide on the program “Religion and Democracy”. I was invited to appear on a very popular TV program, JohJai, the 1st time a catholic was able to speak about God on a national TV. I was invited to lecture many times on the subject of “The History of Thai Monarchs and Christianity” by Thailand’s No. 1 university. A group of my friends have started a chat Line to propagate Buddhism. I ask to join the Line, and occasionally send Word of God from the Bible to let them know what Jesus teaches us. My friends are thrilled. A protestant preacher who invites me to give sharing speeches at her Baptist church regularly was ecstatic when she called me one day. Because of my book, “Moving the Mountain”, two of the newcomers to her church agreed to be baptized! The list could go on. In summary through me some of the Thai elites have come to know God and Christianity, many of them for the 1st time.
Later I learn that what I have been doing is in line with Pope Francis’ teaching of ‘New Evangelization’.
I have been very busy serving God that I did not have time to look at my wound. By the time I do, I find that the pain in my heart is gone. I am completely healed! Life is not perfect, but life is beautiful!
Looking back, I likened my experiences to that of someone who was thrown into a ravaging river. Submerging in the middle of the rapid current, I was struggling to stay afloat. I saw Jesus standing on the shore watching me attentively. I cried out to Him for help. Instead of jumping into the river and rescued me, He’d throw materials, sometimes a log, sometimes a piece of wood to me. Finally, when I was able to swim ashore, He was there smiling and welcoming me with His open arms. By watching over me but letting me learn how to swim myself, Jesus had made me a competent and capable swimmer.
I also discover that the virtue of forgiveness benefits the forgiver, not the forgiven. Forgiving is not a sign of weakness. On the contrary it is the sign of strength. It frees the one who forgives from the chain that ties the person to the pole near the fire of hatred. It is not easy to forgive your enemy. I also find out that it is much, much more difficult to forgive someone whom you love but betray you. However, once you are able to do so, you are free. You can walk away from the bonfire and breathe fresh air again.
Meantime, the Catholic way of evangelization also evolves. I have been invited to speak about my life story in almost every diocese in Thailand. When Thailand was the host of the AACOM II (The 2nd Asian Apostolic Congress on Mercy) in October, 2012, I was the choice as the Keynote speaker. Since then, I have been invited to speak 9 times within the period of 6 years as a witness of God’s Divine Mercy internationally. I was a witness speaker in the Philippines 7 times, in Indonesia 1 time, and in Columbia 1 time. Starting in 2013 I spoke at PACOM II (The 2nd Philippines Apostolic Congress on Mercy) in Cagayan de Oro. In 2014 in Bogota, Columbia at the WACOM III (The 3rd World Apostolic Congress on Mercy. In 2015 in Medan, Indonesia, at AACOM III (The 3rd Asian Apostolic Congress on Mercy). In 2016 at the 51st IEC (The 51st International Eucharistic Congress) in Cebu, Philippines. In the same year 2016 at PACOM III (The 3rd Philippines Apostolic Congress on Mercy) in Bacolod, Philippines. In the same year 2016 I was invited to be the Guest Speaker at the Gala Dinner in Cebu to raise fund to build a school for the poor children in Samar, Western Philippines replacing the old building abolished by typhoon. In summary I went to the Philippines 3 times in 2016 to speak. In 2017 back to Manila, Philippines, at WACOM IV (The 4th World Apostolic Congress on Mercy). Also in 2017 at VACOM III (The 3rd Visaya Apostolic Congress on Mercy) in Iloilo, Philippines. And in 2018 at the RACOM I (The 1st Region 8 Apostolic Congress on Mercy in Tacloban, Philippines. A priest from the Philippines who had been at all the Divine Mercy Congresses came up to me at the last Congress, and said “I have listened to your testimony for the 6th time, and still want to hear more.”
Of all the venues that I went to give testimony, the farthest destination was WACOM III (The 3rd World Apostolic Congress in Mercy) in Bogota, Columbia, in August, 2014. It took me and my two children who accompanied me 32 hours one way to fly from Bangkok to Bogota. The Convention that had the most audience attendance was the 51st IEC in Cebu. There were over 15,000 participants attending the Convention from 71 countries around the world. I humbly pray to God that I’ll go to the end of the world to be a witness of His love and divine mercy. And He has given me opportunities I never imagine were possible.
With my witnessing outside Thailand, there was demand to read my book by the international audience. So I decided to write my book, ‘Moving the Mountain’ in English. It was published on amazon.com so that the book could be read anywhere in the world. And with God’s providence, the English version of my book in paperback was published by the Diocese of Bacolod, Philippines, in 2016. I donated the proceeds from the sale of all my books to the Diocese.
At the time of the economic crisis in Thailand in 1997 I was very desperate financially having just started a small business. However, with my unconditional faith and earnest prayers, I was able to pull through the economic crunch miraculously. Today I am the Chairwoman of 2 companies manufacturing shower enclosures and tempered and laminated glass. My children join me in our businesses. Who would have thought that a broken woman like me and a troubled family like ours would be healed and blessed like this today?
I might have lost 2 decades of my life, but I can say now that it was a blessing in disguise. Today I am having a special kind of fever—Jesus Fever—the kind of fever that I do not want its degree to subside no matter what. If your heart is full of Good News and Jesus Christ, it will spill over. You can’t keep it for yourself!
If someone asks me to introduce myself today, I’d go like this. I am a faithful servant of God, a happy grandmother and mother, a businesswoman, and an amateur artist, in that order.
I even use my hobbies to evangelize nowadays. I give my paintings to churches and convents and donate proceeds from the auction of my art works both in painting and photography to charities. The official website Thaicatholicbible.com has a column specifically for my religious paintings, called ‘Art for God’.
I even select some verses from the Bible to paint. All my bible- inspired paintings are hung in my studio. Whenever I have friends or guests visiting my home and my studio, I can evangelize.
Some of the verses that I choose to paint are:
“Love your enemy.” Luke 6:27
“Suppose one of you have a hundred sheep and lose one of them……”
Luke 15:4 and
“The parable of the lost son”
“Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” 2 Corinthians 9:6
“I am the true vine.” John 15:1
“Ask and it will be given to you.” Matthew 7:7
“Knock and the door will be opened to you.” Matthew 7:7
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart.” Matthew 22:37
“His praise will always be on my lips.” Psalm 34:1
“Blessed is a man who listens to me.” Proverbs 8:34
Then came 2019 before the outbreak of the pandemic Covid 19. Serendipitously I had the chance to refresh the project regarding food waste which I initiated with one of my former teachers, an American Ursuline sister 13 years ago, but she went to heaven before the project took off. With the kindness and assistance of H. Emn. Cardinal Francis Xavier Kriengsak Kovitvanich, Archbishop of Bangkok this time, in 2020 I set up a foundation called VV Share Foundation with the objectives of serving as a matchmaker for food donors and food recipients to utilize the excess and leftover from the food supply chain, and also to share the global effort to reduce food waste. The project was blessed by Pope Francis during his visit to Thailand in November, 2019, during my private audience with the Holy Father to present Him with one of my paintings, and my book in English. This project is also in line with the Pope’s call for Synodality, cooperation between the religious and the laity two years later.
From March 1, 2021, the day VV Share Foundation started its operation till May 31, 2023, VV Share was able to rescue 110,103 kgs. and 34,602 boxes of excess food that was still edible but otherwise would be thrown away as food waste, and made it into 274,735 meals for the less privileged and the vulnerable people of many dioceses and also of all religions around Thailand.
Yesterday I donated 4,500 sets of children’s clothings and 300 blankets to children under the care of Chiangmai Diocese.
“Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter- -when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.” Isaiah 58:7-8
In October, 2019, I was invited to be an honorary advisor of the Committee on Religion, Morality, Ethics, Art and Culture, of the Senate—the position which I hold till today.
On August 26, 2022, I was awarded the National Moral Award 2021, Individual Category.
In his Apostolic Letter ‘Salvifici Doloris”, St. Pope John Paul II wrote, “Do not let suffering pull you down. What if we could turn the tables on suffering—not by eliminating our pain altogether but by doing something to give it purpose and meaning? What if we could do good through our suffering?” This is precisely what our relationship with Jesus Christ empowers us to do. This is exactly what I have been doing since my conversion.
“And those He predestined, He also called; those He called, He also justified; those He justified, He also glorified.” Romans 8:30
To Jesus’s call, “Come and Be,” I humbly reply, “Here I am, Lord.”