FORT SMITH (KFSM) – Hundreds of people gathered in Fort Smith on Saturday (April 4) to celebrate the life of a Buddhist priest who was killed in a temple fire last month.
Members of the Buddhist community from Canada, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and at least one dozen states attended Souphanh Inthalangsinh's funeral.
"Very honored for everyone to be here -- so thankful that everybody's here and traveled so far just to be here,” Lilac Soulivong said.
Soulivong drove nearly 11 hours from Illinois to be in Fort Smith for the ceremony.
"It's a celebration of his life, that's what it is. We’re wearing black to recognize his passing and stuff. But we're here to celebrate what he's done for us, how he accomplished what he accomplished,” Soulivong said.
The 68-year-old was with the congregation since 1988, and was a monk for several years before becoming a priest.
Soulivong said one of his accomplishments was keeping the next generation interested in Buddhism.
"It's a blessing. They have kids who want to be here,” Soulivong said.
The temple caught fire last month. Investigators said the cause is undetermined, and it is believed he was sleeping at the time.
“He was an open man. He spoke little English, but he made every attempt to teach and to preach,” Virapol Sengmanivong, a member of the congregation, said.
Members of the congregation said they hope to build a new temple this year.
The congregation is still in the process of finding a priest to take his place.