Pope in Thailand, a "gift that will bear fruit" for Catholics and nation
by Daniele Mazza

35 years after John Paul II's visit, Francis will be the second pontiff to visit the country. On May 16, 2018, the meeting at the Vatican with a delegation of 50 Buddhist monks laid the foundation for the journey. PIME Priest Fr. Daniele Mazza: "The pontiff comes as a father who visits his children".

Bangkok (AsiaNews) - The upcoming apostolic journey of Pope Francis to Thailand (November 20-23, 2019) is "a gift" for the small Catholic community, from which the pontiff "will also be able to receive the gifts that the Thai Church can offer the world,” notes Fr. Daniele Mazza (photo). The priest is from the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) and has been deeply engaged in inter-religious dialogue in Thailand. Pastor of the Church of Mary Mother of Mercy in Nonthaburi, 25km north of Bangkok, he is the first missionary to have obtained a master's degree in Buddhism from the prestigious Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University (Mcu). The Buddhist university is a reference point for the formation of the religious of the Theravada and Mahayana tradition. On 16 May 2018, Fr. Mazza led a delegation of 50 Buddhist monks to the Vatican, including the venerable Phra Rajaratanasunthon, representative of the patriarch, and some scholars from the royal Temple of Chetupon (Wat Pho). During a private audience, they gave Pope Francis the translations into Thai and pali of the Phra Malai, an ancient sacred Buddhist text that King Rama VII gave to Pius XI in 1934. For some, the meeting laid the foundation for the pontiff's journey to Thailand. This was followed by a visit from a delegation from the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue to Bangkok, to take part in the ceremony for the 230th anniversary of the royal temple. Here is what Fr. Mazza shared with AsiaNews regarding the significance of Pope Francis' visit to Thailand.

When I announced in the parish that the visit of Pope Francis to Thailand was confirmed, a young parishioner lit up with joy and with a big smile, with shining eyes, told me: "Wow ... This is news beautiful, what a great blessing that the Pope can come to Thailand ”.

Pope Francis will visit the Kingdom of Siam from November 20-23, 2019 during a journey that will also take him to Japan (23-26 November). I believe that this apostolic journey of the Holy Father, 35 years after his predecessor, Saint John Paul II, will bear much fruit for the Thai Church and for all of Thailand. Yes, it will be a great gift!

First of all, the Pope comes on the occasion of the 350th anniversary of the establishment of the apostolic vicariate of Siam, erected in 1669. This anniversary reminds us of how the first MEP missionaries (Missions Étrangères de Paris) right from the outset insisted on there being Thai priests and a Church that could inculturate the apostolic faith in the local context, living it, so to speak, with a completely Thai flavor. Unfortunately, there is still the stereotype that the Church here in Thailand is "foreign" and this is because some words, symbols or teachings are not understood or are new compared to what the culture, strongly influenced by Buddhism, transmits. This commemoration together with the Holy Father will certainly be given wide media coverage and on social media too and this will be an occasion to explain the meaning of these Christian symbols, words and teachings to many who have a limited knowledge of them. I really hope that the message that reaches them is that these elements, when lived with sincerity, take nothing away from Thai culture, indeed, they enrich it with their novelty and help us to be better Thai men and women.

The Pope also comes as a father who visits his children. He will confirm us in faith and encourage us to continue with perseverance to do all the good works that are being carried out. At the same time, like a good father, he will be able to call our attention tocertain aspects on which we must be vigilant so that the Church does not get carried away by worldly ways of thinking and acting, but is instead ever more faithful to the teaching of Jesus.

Finally, the meeting with the Holy Father will be an opportunity to experience being a single family. All the Pope's meetings will be attended by Christians and catechumens (and also Buddhists) from all parts of Thailand and from neighboring countries (Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, etc.) which will be hosted in the various parishes of Bangkok. This will give us the opportunity to see how faith is able to generate family relationships between very different people belonging to different cultures or nations.

I also believe that the Pope also comes to receive. The universal Church has much to learn from the particular Churches. And every particular Church is the bearer of a special gift that should be shared and transmitted to the other Churches.

What gift can the Thai Church make to the world? There are many, but allow me to share two of them. The first gift comes from a mode of collaboration between state and religions that is being developed here in Thailand. In Europe, unfortunately, and this also due to historical wounds, religions and religious leaders have been excluded from the tables where they try to collaborate for the common good. Religions are no longer considered as "social partners" that can contribute to the common good. On the contrary: they are often considered more a cause of concern than a resource. In Thailand, on the other hand, the government often invites religious leaders to various meetings held at the provincial or city level to give their contribution. In the province of Nonthaburi, in the month of July, Buddhist, Muslim and Christian students went to visit elderly and sick people together with their respective religious leaders and together with public employees and the prefect. An activity that will be scheduled again in the coming months. A sign of how this collaboration is possible and how it can bring so much good to society.

Another gift is the flexibility and the readiness of the Thai Church in welcoming what is different and the importance always given to ethnic minorities trying to help integration while respecting traditional cultural values. There where there is rigidity and obsession in emphasizing boundaries and differences, there where one tries to overwhelm rather than integrate in respect, the Thai Church can bring a different light and experience.