Thai Catholics wait in anticipation ahead of visit by Pope Francis

After months of preparation, Thailand is now awaiting the arrival of Pope Francis for his three-day visit to the Southeast Asian kingdom.

The papal trip will be the first since Pope St. John Paul II visited the country 35 years ago.

It also comes during the 350th anniversary of the first official Catholic mission to the then Siam.

“Thai Catholics are full of joy that the pope is coming,” Thai Cardinal Francis-Xavier Kriengsak Kovithavanij said ahead of the Nov. 20-23 visit.

“We have the pastor of the Church coming to visit the faithful, his children,” he said.

Thai Catholics make up less than 1 percent of the population, or about 300,000 people.

A locally modified Nissan pickup truck is the “popemobile” for the Nov. 20-23 papal visit to Thailand. (Photo from Catholic Social Communications of Thailand)

The pope will arrive on Nov. 20 and be officially welcomed at Bangkok’s Don Mueang airport before heading into the Thai capital where he will be staying at the Apostolic Nunciature.

On Nov. 21, Pope Francis will meet Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, and other senior officials and dignitaries before visiting the Supreme Patriarch, Thailand’s top Buddhist monk.

Later that day the pope is due to have an audience with Thailand’s monarch, King Maha Vajiralongkorn before celebrating the first Mass before an expected 40,000-50,000 people at the National Stadium.

The following day the pope will travel to Nakhon Pathom, just west of the capital to meet Thai bishops and seminarians before returning to Bangkok to meet leaders of other Christian denominations and religions in the morning at Chulalongkorn University.

Later in the afternoon he will celebrate a second Mass for youths at the city’s Assumption Cathedral.

In this photo taken on Nov. 13, Sister Ana Rosa, cousin of Pope Francis, prays with the congregation at the Salesian Sisters Convent in Bangkok. Sister Ana will be at his side to act as an interpreter, attending the two Masses he will lead at the Assumption Cathedral and at a stadium in Bangkok. (Photo by Romeo Gacad/AFP)

During his stay, he is also expected to catch up with a cousin who runs a Catholic girls’ school in Thailand.

A handful of Vietnamese Catholic refugees have also been selected to attend a Mass celebrated by Pope Francis.

Around 5,000 policemen will be deployed to ensure security for the pope during his visit, police spokesman Police Lieutenant General Damrongsak Kittiprapat said.  

Thai Catholics and officials say they have been working frantically to get things ready for when Pope Francis arrives.

They included skilled seamstresses at Phraharuthai Convent in central Bangkok who said they had worked tirelessly for two months to ensure Pope Francis and the bishops and clergymen accompanying him will have more than 200 garments made from the finest silk and other materials to wear.

People buy souvenir shirts for Pope Francis’ visit for sale outside Assumption Cathedral in Bangkok on Nov.17. (Photo by Romeo Gacad/AFP)

Father Peter Chetha Chaiyadej, manager of liturgical celebrations in Bangkok Archdiocese thanked those preparing for the pope’s visit.

“Their determination and dedication of course, is a result of their faith toward God,” he said, adding that “they continue to work hard and smile.”

“May God blesses the Sisters and all who are working on this for their dedication and sacrifice for the pope and for God,” he said.

Catholic singers also came together to make an official music video for the visit which was released recently on Facebook and YouTube.

The song “Let Love Be the Bridge,” that saw artists such as Christina Agilar, Tom Room 39, BNK48 and others come together, was written by Chawalwit Yingyotsenee and performed in a traditional style called luk thung to give it a more traditional feel.

One of the artists on the song Sumonthip See, who will also help host events surrounding the National Stadium Mass said she was very excited about the visit.

“I think it’s something very valuable and precious. We don’t know when the next chance for us to have this kind of opportunity will come,” she said.

Preparations being done for the Mass that will be celebrated by the pope at the National Stadium in Bangkok on Nov. 21. (Photo supplied)

While many have almost finished their preparations, another group of Thais are preparing to begin their work.

The Green Angels, a volunteer group, will be taking care of waste management during Pope Francis’ visit.

One of their tasks will be preparing and cleaning up the National Stadium where Pope Francis will celebrate his first Mass on Nov. 21.

They said they are proud to be playing an important role in the pope’s visit and will be following Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment “Laudato Si’” to keep our “common home” clean.

Father Wirach Amonpattana, vice-provincial superior of the Redemptorist Congregation in Thailand, said the visit is not just an important occasion for Catholics to be receiving Pope Francis, but it’s also an important opportunity for Catholics to respond to Laudato Si’ by taking environment conservation to heart.

They can do this by truly understanding the values put forward by Laudato Si’ and take real actions, he said.

The pope leaves for a three-day visit to Japan on Nov. 23 following a farewell ceremony at the airport.

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