Last Saturday’s celebrations marked a milestone in the history of the Archdiocese of Bangkok, led for 36 years by Card Michael Kitbunchu, who will celebrate 50 years of priesthood next December.
Born in 1929 the prelate was appointed to the post of cardinal by John Paul II in 1983. In his time in office, he built 24 churches, 32 Catholic schools, a pastoral centre and a retirement home for bishops and priests. In so doing he has become a point of reference for the entire Thai Church.
Two representatives from Bangkok’s 58 churches, the leaders of 30 Christian organisations, all of the country’s bishops and those of Myanmar participated in the ceremony of installation of Mgr Kovithavanij (pictured), who now has to continue the legacy of his predecessor.
In thanking Cardinal Kitbunchu, the capital’s new archbishop said that “it is because of the cardinal that I am able to stand here today.”
“As the director of minor seminary, the cardinal was a model teacher who educated me, supported me when I chose to continue my studies in Rome and trusted me giving me important duties.”
The archbishop also spoke about his meeting with Benedict XVI on 29 June to receive the pallium. On that occasion the Pope asked him “to serve the whole of Thailand.
As the motto of his Episcopate the prelate chose ‘Verbum Crucis Dei virtus Est’. In asking for collaboration and help from all the bishops, priests and faithful in the diocese he reiterated that “together we shall transform the Cross in love, by serving the people of God.”
Born on 27 May 1949, Mgr Kovithavanij received the best wishes of the Bishops’ Conference, Mgr George Yod Phimphisan, who described him as a “capable” person who can “lead the Church.”
Mgr Salvatore Pennacchio, apostolic nuncio to Thailand, urged him “to take good care of the faithful and help his priests, especially during the Year for Priests, who are his closest aides.”
The new archbishop was also congratulated by the leader of Bangkok’s Chinese Buddhist community, who was fascinated by the “Mass celebration”, and the representative of the Russian Orthodox Church who said that he had known Mgr Kovithavanij “for more than 10 years” and who is certain “that he will be a very good shepherd for his flock and a worthy successor to Cardinal Michael Michai Kitbunchu.”