Pope Francis arrived in the Kingdom of Thailand about noon on Nov. 20, with most Thai people likely wondering about the Catholic Church leader’s intentions for his visit.
Pope Francis’ plane arrived at Bangkok’s Military Air Terminal 2. Representative of the royal family and the Thai government joined Catholic Church leaders in the welcome ceremony.
He was also met by his cousin, Sister Ana Rosa who has lived in Thailand since the 1960s.
In an earlier statement, the pontiff said he is delighted to visiting Thailand, the land of many ethnicities, cultures and traditions.
He expressed hope that his visit will highlight the importance of inter-religious dialogue in Asian societies, helping the poor and those who suffer, and working toward peace.
Thailand, a country of 69 million people, has 389,000 Catholic faithful, 835 priests, 1,461 religious men and women, and 1,901 catechists.
Monsignor Andrew Vissanu Thanya-anan, general coordinator of the papal visit, said the people of Thailand are likely asking why Pope Francis has chosen to visit a country with so few Catholics.
The monsignor, who is also deputy secretary general of the Catholic bishops’ conference of Thailand, said the pope is coming as a “pilgrim for peace.”
Monsignor Vissanu Thanya-anan said the Catholic Church would like “to underline that he comes to build bridges for peace and understanding.”
As early as 1511 when the first Catholics arrived from Portugal, Christians have enjoyed the freedom of worship in the kingdom.
Monsignor Vissanu Thanya-anan said the Thai people are looking forward to seeing Pope Francis whom they perceive as a person close to young people and a man who loves the poor.
“Everyone is happy that he is coming,” said Monsignor Vissanu Thanya-anan. He said the Thais appreciate the pontiff’s encyclical on the environment, ‘Laudato’ si’.
Philippine Bishop Roberto Mallari, head the social communications office of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conference, dubbed Pope Francis’ visit as “timely.”
The bishops’ federation is celebrating next year its 50th anniversary.
“We hope that this visit will inspire us to see better how to celebrate well our anniversary in the spirit of dialogue with people of other religions,” he told LICAS News.
Bishop Mallari, who is in Thailand to welcome the pontiff, said church leaders in Asia are hoping that the visit “will help us enter into a dialogue with [Thailand’s] rich culture.”
“Every papal visit is unique, but it brings with it graces that are specifically useful to a specific place and culture,” said the Filipino prelate.
Pope Francis is the second pontiff to visit the country, which also marks the 350th anniversary of the formation of the Apostolic Vicariate of Siam.
In 1984, Pope St. John Paul II journeyed to the country, which is known for its respect for religious diversity and inter-religious dialogues.