Jeunesse et formation (1923-1956)


After surrendering to the government of the Reich, France was invaded by the German army and partly occupied. The Lot Department was in the French unoccupied zone, the 'free zone'. In June 1944 the Allies landed in Normandy and began liberating the country, but the war lasted until May 1945. Despite the local nationalists' plea for independence France decided to hold on to her colonial power in Indochina. War broke out there and the French remained involved until their defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954.


Edmond PEZET was born in Larnagol (Lot Department, France) to a family of very poor farmers. His own wish was either to stay on the farm or to learn a trade such as carpentry, but the parish priest persuaded his father to enrol him at the Gourdon junior seminary. Secondary studies were less expensive for poor families that way.


His studies were interrupted for eight months, first due to mental exhaustion then to his joining the Chantiers de la Jeunesse Française (French Youth Work Camps).


He studied philosophy and theology at the senior seminary in Cahors.


He had to do his national service firstly as a member of the French Force in occupied Germany. Tricked by a false hope he was given that he could shorten his service if he joined the French Far East Expeditionary Corps, he was sent out to Indochina. There, now caught in the Vietnam War, he was appalled at atrocities committed by some of his army friends on Viet-Minh suspects. This eventually triggered his desire to later go back to Southeast Asia as a missionary priest to tentatively make up for the great harm to Vietnamese people he had witnessed: I felt the need to make some atonement that would compensate, in a modest way, for the harm that I had seen being done to the Vietnamese people.


He returned to France, resumed his theology studies and worked on the family farm until he was ordained as a priest in 1949. He also made his first contact with the Société Auxiliaire des Missions (S.A.M), a Belgian religious organisation sending out priests to assist local bishops in countries where the Catholic church had missions.


He was a curate and primary-school teacher at Cajarc (Lot, France) by way of helping his diocese in return for the tuition he had received in his youth.


He undertook spiritual training at the S.A.M. in Leuven (Belgium), then a first-aid training course in Lille (France), and stayed in England briefly to study English.

Discovering Thailand (1956-1964)


Pope Pius XII died. John XXIII became the pontiff and was the initiator of the Catholic Church’s “aggiornamento”.


Opening of the Second Vatican Council, now known as Vatican II, and the first arrival of American troops in Thailand, a country used as the rear base for rest and recreation for combatants in Vietnam. By 1966 nearly as many as 34,000 GIs were stationed in Thailand.

1956 Pezet departed for Thailand in December. In the north-east of Thailand (Tha Rae diocese), he discovered the country, the local church and studied the language, being first a curate, and then a country parish priest in that area. The region was inhabited by former refugees from Laos and Vietnam who converted from animism to Christianity. Therefore the people of the north-east felt Laotian at heart. At one time the Christian mission in that region had also been under the supervision of Laos for all ecclesiastical matters. The ‘Siamese’ Thais on the other hand were regarded as foreigners there. Right from the very first weeks after his arrival, Pezet became aware of the situation and reported it in great detail.

Very soon too, Pezet’s respect for the country’s Buddhist tradition became clear. Nor was it long before he was made painfully aware that the religious teaching to Christians and catechumens was terribly inadequate. He showed how absurd the methods used were: before baptism could be administered, the catechumens were required to memorise the questions and answers of a catechism whose religious terminology, borrowed from Sanskrit, and whose philosophical concepts were not understood by ordinary people. Pezet also felt sad that missionaries had very little interest in the Buddha, and sometimes even showed contempt for him. He also noticed the “westernized” standard of living and way of thinking of the local clergy.

Searching for a New Way: Trying Out The Buddhist Way (1964-1974)

To his superior, Pezet clearly expressed the unease and doubts he had felt for years about his being in a church devoted to propaganda based on prestige and money. For his part, as a first step, he wanted to “bury himself in the nourishing soil of his people”. He clearly explained that he needed to change directions. He was convinced that if pastoral work consisted merely in administering sacraments and seeking prestige, it could not be the right way for him. Following Father Monchanin’s example, he wanted ‘to seek the providential ways from Buddha to Christ’. Pezet made contact with Buddhists as he took part in Buddhist meditation exercises at a temple under the supervision of a Master.


The Americans withdrew from Vietnam.


Following the removal of Prince Sihanouk by a far-right military group, the American military intervened in Cambodia and Cambodians were given military training by American troops stationed in Thailand.


After going to France on leave, Pezet wished to break away from his clerical status by ‘reducing it to the status of deacon’, while maintaining a consecrated life. His aim was to devote himself entirely to Buddhism, with initiation into Buddhist “doctrine” and spiritual practices in Bangkok. There he shared the communal life of a Buddhist temple and then he stayed with the forest monks.


A large-scale popular movement for democracy started. On 14 October, 500,000 people demonstrated in Bangkok; a brutal repression left hundreds of people dead and thousands wounded. The dictatorship was toppled down and a democratic regime introduced.

With the Buddhist forest monks, a hermit, then in a refugee camp (1974-1984)


Right-wing extremists became organised and stepped up their terrorist activities, murdering several dozen peasant, worker and student leaders. On 6 October 1976, a bloody coup d’?at was conducted by a far-right military junta.


The communists gain power in Laos and Cambodia and the fall of Saigon.


Pezet stayed for six months at an Orthodox monastery in Chevetogne (Belgium) and studied Orthodox mysticism.


He lived with a community of Buddhist forest monks in the woods of north-eastern Thailand.


After explaining his own spiritual path to his Christian community, Pezet lived in a straw hut put up for him by them, a few kilometres from his village of Dondu. There he led the life of a hermit in the same way as Buddhist monks, begging for his food and welcoming everyone looking for spiritual guidance.


For five months he provided care services at a camp for Khmer refugees at Sra Kaew (formerly spelt as Sakeo), next to the Cambodian border.


He returned to Tha Rae diocese, which now had a new bishop, fulfilled some pastoral duties, while remaining in touch with Buddhist monks.


A « Cessat » was pronounced by a Cardinal. That was a formal ban on him continuing further work in Buddhist circles.

Back to France: various translations and writings. A short stay in Thailand with pensioner status (1984-2008)


He returned to France, to the Cahors diocese, then went to Paris where he undertook various translations of Thai and ancient Pali texts. He applied to return to Thailand with a residence status unconnected to ecclesiastical authorities.


He stayed in Thailand as a simple pensioner, wrote various texts in Thai and did several translations.


He was back in France for good. There he fulfilled pastoral duties until 2004, and then entered a retirement home, where he died in December 2008, aged 85.