Father Nicholas Bunkerd Kitbamrung, was born on February 28, 1895, in Sam Phran, Nakhon Chaisri district, Thailand. He was one of six children. His parents were converts from Buddism, and he was raised a Christian.
He entered the Hang Xan Minor Seminary at age 13, and the Penang Major Seminary, Malaysia in 1920. He was ordained a priest at the age of thirty-one for the archdiocese of Bangkok on January 24, 1926, at the Cathedral of the Assumption in Bangkok. As a priest he worked in Bang Nok Khneuk and Phitsanulok. While serving as parish priest, he assisted the religious of the Salesian Order following their arrival in Thailand in 1927, teaching the priests his native tongue and training the seminarians in catechesis.
In 1930 he was sent as a missionary to northern Thailand near to Vietnam. His main work there was bringing back Catholics who had fallen from the practice of their faith due to poverty.
During World War II, Thailand, while officially neutral, was dominated by an anti-Western government that was suspicious of any foreign influences. The Catholic Church was seen as a puppet of the imperialist French government, who had colonized the neighboring nations of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Nevertheless, Fr. Nicolas carried out his ministry under the shadow of an anti-Christian Thai government which considered Catholics “unpatriotic.” At the time, being Buddhist and Thai meant the same thing. Catholics were often considered “parasites”, exploiting the great tree of Thailand, and had to be “eliminated”. As a result, priests were killed, and Catholic schools and churches closed. Fearless, Fr. Nicholas fought for the freedom of worship and the right of Christians to profess their faith. Because of this battle, he was accused of collaborating with the French, defending colonialism and inciting Thais to turn against their own government.
On the morning of January 12, 1941, Father Nicholas rang the church bell to summon parishioners to Sunday Mass. For this simple act he was arrested. Prosecuted for “rebellion against the kingdom”, he was sentenced to 15 years and sent to Bang Khwang Prison in Bangkok.
He continued his missionary work behind bars. While in prison, Father Nicholas catechized his fellow prisoners, baptizing 68 of them. Unable to say his breviary, he found his consolation in reciting the rosary. Harshly treated, he soon contracted tuberculosis, and was then left to die in the hospital, denied care because he was a Catholic. He died on January 12, 1944.
Among the great figures of the Catholic Church of Thailand, local Catholics remember with special veneration Fr. Nicholas Bunkerd Kitbamrung, better known as Fr Benedikto Chunkim, first martyred priest in the history of modern Thailand, where 96% of the population is Buddhist and less than 1% Christian of any kind. He fought for religious freedom and paid with his life for his actions and missionary witness.