Thailand’s Catholic Church leaders met with the country’s Buddhist patriarch on Tuesday, December 21, for the annual “meet and greet” before Christmas to highlight their fraternal relations.
“We have been enjoying a long and warm relationship in the history of our country, and we are now helping each other to keep this relationship last into the future,” said His Holiness Somdet Phra Ariyavongsagatanana, the Buddhist supreme leader.
The meeting was held at the Ratchabophit Temple in Bangkok’s historic old quarter.
Monsignor Andrew Vissanu Thanya-anan, deputy secretary general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Thailand, told LiCAS News that the meeting is an annual tradition.
The Catholic delegation was led by Bishop Joseph Chusak Sirisut, president of the bishops’ conference; Bishop Francis Xavier Vira Arpondratana, secretary general; Sr. Mary Wimolrat Sritharaksa of CBCT and lay leader Khunying Pattama Leesawattrakul.
The Buddhist patriarch recalled that during the early days of Christianity in Bangkok, a Catholic church sat next to the Raja Temple, and “both the Catholic pastor and the Buddhist abbot enjoyed very close friendship.”
He also told his visitors that he enjoyed his meeting with Pope Francis in 2019 when the two religious leaders sat down before a brilliant golden Buddha statute inside a 150-year-old temple, which was built by a former Thai king.
In his speech during the meeting, Pope Francis noted how Catholics have enjoyed “freedom in religious practice, despite their being in a minority,” in Thailand, and how for many years “have lived in harmony with their Buddhist brothers and sisters.”
Msgr. Vissanu said the Buddhist patriarch conveyed his “best regards” to Pope Francis with a New Year gift, consisting of a set of beautiful collection of Buddha coins.
“He requested us to kindly present to the pope the coin set together with commemorative stamp sets on the occasion of the visits of St. Pope John Paul II in 1984 and Pope Francis in 2019,” said the Catholic priest.
There are about 400,000 Catholics in Thailand, a minority in the country’s 66 million population.