The pontiff will arrive tomorrow in the capital for a three-day apostolic visit. Catholics represent 0.46 per cent of the country's population. The event is generating a lot of curiosity about their faith. For pastor in St Louis parish, the Holy Father is “bringing a message of peace and love.” Young people “are overjoyed.”
Bangkok (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis' apostolic visit to Thailand (20-23 November) "will touch the hearts of the faithful, strengthening the identity of Thai Catholicism,” said Fr John Baptist (picture 2).
Speaking to AsiaNews on the eve of the historic event, the clergyman noted that the latter “will also give new impetus to the Church's commitment to serving the nation, as a builder of peace and harmony between the communities. For Thai Catholics, it will be a time of great growth.”
Fr John is parish priest at St Louis Church, a community of some 2,000 people in Bangkok on Sathon Road, between the nunciature – where Pope Francis will stay – and St Louis Hospital. The pontiff will visit the sick and disabled at the impressive medical facility the day after tomorrow (22 November) (picture 3).
Among Thais, the Pope's visit has aroused great curiosity about the Catholic faith. "The faithful are happy and very proud of this," said the priest. "The Holy Father will announce the Good News to all the people of Thailand, bringing a message of peace and love.”
“Although Catholics are a small minority[*], the local Church is already very socially active, in education and assistance to the marginalised. Plus, there is its commitment to ecumenism and dialogue with other religions. Every day we work in contact with other communities.
“In St Louis parish for example, there is a school. It has 20 to 30 Catholics among the more than 600 students who attend it; the others are mainly Buddhists and a few Muslims. Even St Louis Hospital, not far from here, serves people of all religions.”
For Fr John, the young are the most enthusiastic among Catholics in Thailand. “The boys and girls from the parish, more than 200, are overjoyed. Some 35 years have passed since the visit of Pope John Paul II, a first for a pontiff, and they were not even born then nor was I yet a priest. Having Peter among us and seeing him so close is a source of great joy.”
Members of "The community started preparing for the event two months ago; first of all, from the spiritual point of view with Masses, sacraments and Eucharistic adorations; then, making themselves available to organise the logistical aspects of the apostolic journey.
“The day after tomorrow, when the Holy Father visits the hospital, the parish will be packed with about 10,000 people from all over the country. These will only be a fraction of the approximately 50,000 people expected at Mass in the National Stadium in the evening.”
As final preparations continued this morning with the sprucing up of the buildings around St Louis Catholic Church, some visiting pilgrims were taking souvenir pictures inside and outside the nunciature (picture 4), including a group from Shanghai.
“We came to Thailand from China to see the Pope," they said. “Unfortunately, we were unable to get a ticket for the Mass, but it is still important for us to be here.”
Bishop Paul Tschang In-nam, apostolic nuncio in Thailand, and Fr Dario Pavisa, his secretary, visited the Amphorn Sathan Residential Hall – the royal palace – where Pope Francis is scheduled to meet with King Rama X on Thursday before celebrating Mass. Together with Thai authorities, Bishop Tschang and Fr Pavisa are busy finalising the last minute details of the meeting.
[*] About 0.46 per cent of the population.