It’s official, the Pope is coming to Thailand. Rumoured earlier but now officially announced. His Excellency Paul Tschang In-Nam, the archbishop of Thailand, and His Eminence Cardinal Francis-Xavier Kriengsak Kovithavanij, president of the Bishops’ Conference of Thailand, officially announced yesterday that His Holiness Pope Francis intends to make an official visit to the Kingdom on November 20 – 23.
They told the media gathering the Pope is coming to Thailand as a pilgrim of peace and aims to promote inter-religious dialogue. The Pope will also preside over two public Masses – one for general Thai Catholics and another for Thai Catholic youth.
His Holiness will also lead religious ceremonies and visit Catholic communities during his time here, before heading to Japan from November 23 – 26, where he is scheduled to visit Tokyo, Nagasaki and Hiroshima. It has been nearly four decades since a pontiff visited Thailand and Japan, both Buddhist-majority countries. More details of the Pope’s visit to Thailand will be provided at a later date.
In Bangkok, Pope Francis will “preside at religious ceremonies and pastoral visits to Catholic communities,” said a press statement from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Thailand. He would hold “two masses,”added Monsignor Vissanu Thanya-anan of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Thailand.
The four-day papal visit will mark the 350th anniversary of the founding of the “Mission de Siam,” which was first established by Pope Clement 9th in 1669. Today, the 388,000-strong Christian community makes up an estimated 1 percent of the population in Thailand, with the majority residing in the north and many within ethnic minority groups like the Jarai and the Akha.
Embattled ethnic groups, like the Montagnards, who fled religious persecution in neighbouring communist Vietnam, also reside in Thailand seeking asylum. Sister Ana Rosa Sivori, the Pope’s second cousin, who runs a Catholic girls’ school in northeast Thailand, said his visit to a Buddhist-majority Thailand is meant as an outreach to other religions.
“This visit shows his desire… to bring a message of peace,” she told Agence France-Presse, adding that she would be with her cousin during the Bangkok visit and hopes for some “private” time.
The Vatican also provided more details of a visit to Japan, which was announced in January. The Pope had wanted to work in the country as a missionary in his youth but the plan was abandoned following a lung operation. Japan is home to some 450,000 Catholics and 510,000 Protestants.