Vatican City (AsiaNews) Card Michael Michai Kitbunchu, Archbishop of Bangkok, is the first member of the College of Cardinals from Thailand.
He was born on January 25, 1929, in Samphran. He earned earning a licentiate in philosophy and sacred theology at Propaganda Fide's Pontifical Urban College. He was ordained priest on December 20, 1959.
Back in his country he served as assistant pastor and then pastor at Bangham, and a few years later was given the important parish of Calvary in the capital city.
He was ordained bishop on 3 June 1973.
He was created and proclaimed Cardinal by John Paul II in the consistory of 2 February 1983 and given the titular church of St Laurence in Panisperna.
since May 2000 he has been the president of the Bishops' Conference of Thailand,
He is fluent in several languages; in addition to Thai and Latin he speaks English, Italian, French and Chinese,
He is a tireless pastor and administrator, having established major new institutions in the local Church such as the St Louise Hospital for the poor which is run by the archdiocese of Bangkok and the Baan Phu Waa Pastoral Centre which hosts national and international events (for example, the 2000 the General Assembly of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences).
He has also successfully inspired vocations in his archdiocese as demonstrated by the increase in the number of seminarians in the major and minor seminariesfrom 1973 to 1998 he has ordained 137 priests in the whole of Thailand.
From a pastoral point of view his main objective is to defend the family. He has steadfastly opposed abortion despite efforts by the Thai government to legalise it.
"Abortion is a great crime," he said, "because the one who should protect the child in her womb becomes the one who destroys the child".
During the 1997 Thai economic meltdown, the Cardinal showed great concern for the effects of rapidly rising unemployment and urged Church organisations to refrain from laying off their own personnel.
He also urged Catholic schools to help families find ways to pay their children's tuition fees.
Most Catholics who know Cardinal Kitbunchu describe him as a very humane and modest person and full of energy.
Many non Catholics like Thai Prince Baromorasathiraj and Princess Sirinthorn concur.
In the Curia he is a member of the congregations of Divine Worship and Sacraments and of the Evangelization of Peoples
Thailand's population is just under 65 million, 95 per cent of whom are Buddhist. Muslims represent 3.8 per cent, whilst Catholics are 0.5 per cent. (WK)