By Laura Grisham
SOUTHAVEN – On June 28, well-wishers gathered at Christ the King parish in Southaven to say good-bye to Father Thi Pham, SCJ, as he left to begin a sabbatical.
A ‘COVID-capacity’ crowd at Christ the King gathered (and hundreds more watched a live Facebook stream) to show support for Father Thi at his final Mass in north Mississippi. Father Greg Schill, SCJ, was co-celebrant.
At the conclusion of Mass, Father Greg recognized Father Thi’s work, summing it up by saying, “This man has done a fantastic job.”
The church responded with exuberant cheers and three separate standing ovations.
Parishioner Don Kraft paid tribute to Father Thi, speaking for many to whom the priest has ministered. “On behalf of the congregation, the sheep of your flock, thank you for being our good shepherd. Your energy seems endless even when you profess to be tired. We truly appreciate your vision and care, and sharing of your many talents through the years,” said Kraft.
Touching on Father Thi’s numerous gifts, Kraft pointed out Father’s exquisite decorating of the churches for each liturgical season and celebration, as well as his expert culinary skills, which he shared with the parishes on numerous occasions. Kraft also mentioned the priest’s love of all things ‘outdoors’ — including camping, hiking and kayaking – which Father Thi is sure to do more of during his time of rest.
“Your exuberance and passion for your vocation will remain an inspiration to us all. You choose to be happy and set a grand example about attitude for those who know you … and those who do not. It has been a great pleasure and honor to work and worship with you,” concluded Kraft.
Extending their hands, the congregation shared a final prayer over Father Thi with an Irish blessing asking for guidance of the Spirit, mercy and provision: “May the road rise up to meet you. May the Wind be always at your back. May the Sun shine warm upon your face, the Rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.”
Father Thi addressed the church, thanking all for their support in his ministry and making him feel a part of their families. He also had a special message of encouragement for the children, reminding them of their importance in the Body of Christ.
Exiting the church through a flood of tears, parishioners presented cards, kind words and other tokens to their beloved pastor as they said good-bye one final time.