Hundreds of faithful awaited the pontiff outside the airport and at the nunciature. The Buddhist population shows timid signs of interest in the apostolic visit. A Young Catholic: “For most, Catholicism is synonymous with education and schools. But the Pope will also bring to light the great social commitment of the community". From our correspondent on the ground.
Bangkok (AsiaNews) - Pope Francis arrived this morning in Bangkok for a three-day visit (November 20-23). Thailand is the first stage of an apostolic journey, the 32nd of the Argentine pontiff, which will end in Japan (November 23-26). The papal plane touched down a few minutes after 12, in the Don Muang airport military terminal. Sister Ana Rosa Sivori, Pope Francis’ cousin, also welcomed the pope. The 77-year-old missionary of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians has been in Thailand for 54 years and will be an interpreter in some of the official meetings.
The small Thai Catholic community is in tumult: hundreds of celebrating people awaited the arrival of the Pope outside the airport (photo); a crowd greeted him outside the apostolic nunciature (photo-video), where the pontiff will stay.
This morning, the rest of the population [around 95% Buddhist] showed the first tentative signs of interest in an event that in recent weeks had found little resonance in the national media. The authorities have imposed strict safety and traffic controls, which have put a strain on the already congested traffic in the center of the capital. There are 6,500 policemen deployed in Bangkok and Nakhon Pathom, where the eight official visits of the visit will take place.
Since the early hours of the morning, the authorities have banned access to the parish of St. Louis, between the nunciature the hospital of the same name, where tomorrow the pontiff will visit the sick and disabled. Over 10 thousand people will be welcomed in the church gardens. Priests, parishioners and volunteers were engaged in the final preparations for their reception. Among the most active were Saowalak Jeangchareon and Jordan Delos Santos (photo). These are two teachers from the St. Louis school, where there are only 20-30 Catholic children out of 600 students.
"These are really important and demanding days, but we are so happy we don’t feel our fatigue” they say. “The Pope's visit pushes all of us Catholics to be better. Now so many people are asking us to explain to them what our faith consists of. In Thailand, not everyone knows who the Holy Father is. The children we have here at the kindergarten have asked me many questions. They asked me, "But is this Pope coming to scold us?" "Of course not!", I replied, explaining that the pontiff comes here to bring peace and love".
Jordan Delos Santos moved from the Philippines to Bangkok just over two years ago. Now, he teaches English at the St. Louis school. "It is the first time that I have the chance to see the Pope” he says. “It's a blessing. The Pope visits Thailand and comes to the school where I, a Filipino immigrant, have been working alone for a year! For the Christians of Asia, have the privilege of welcoming the Holy Father. Some happen once in a lifetime. I feel lucky and honored. "
"Thai Catholics - continues Delos Santos - are enthusiastic, but the rest of the country is not very aware of what is happening. Buddhists accept and respect every religion, but if you look around you can guess that life in Bangkok continues as if nothing out of the ordinary is happening. The arrival of the Pope has not aroused general euphoria as in other nations. But this is a bit the spirit of the Thais, who recognize the importance of such events, but do not let themselves get too carried away. Thailand is a unique country. Buddhism is more than a religion, it is a way of life. For this reason, most of the population looks to the Pope's journey as "lucky" and not particularly festive days ".
Meanwhile, a couple of kilometers from the parish of St. Louis, the interior of the Assumption Cathedral (photo) was packed with pilgrims and visitors. On the other side of the square, the Missionary Center (photo) was assaulted by the faithful who had come to collect tickets to attend Mass tomorrow night in the National Stadium.
Here too, the contribution of volunteer girls and boys has been remarkable. One of these is Francisco Phongthep Kijbamroong (photo), 32-year-old coordinator of young Catholics for the archdiocese of Bangkok. "We are all happy and working hard so that everything goes smoothly," he says. "I have worked for this visit 12 hours a day, even on weekdays - he continues -. There have been times when I slept only 3-4 hours a night. On several occasions I felt powerless; in those moments I said to myself: "I am doing my best, but I just can't do it. But then I went to church, I confessed and collected in prayer I said: "Lord, let everything go smoothly". For most of the Thai population, Catholicism is synonymous with education and schools, since Catholic institutes are the best in terms of quality. But the Pope's visit will also bring to light the great social commitment of the community, seen through many organizations".