11/22/2019, 17.30
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Pope in Thailand: for youth, the papal visit brings hope to all Thais

by Paolo Fossati

About 7,000 students today flocked to the Cathedral of the Assumption from Catholic schools across the country. A young volunteer discovered that “Our small community is actually bigger than we thought.”

Bangkok (AsiaNews) – The Mass for young people was the last public event in Pope Francis’s apostolic visit to Thailand. The visit “brought hope to all the people of Thailand, not just Catholics,” said Thidarat ‘Ai’ Taneame (pictured) speaking to AsiaNews. The 23-year-old computer graphic student served as a volunteer among young people from the Archdiocese of Bangkok during the pontiff's visit.

Some 7,000 students flocked from Catholic schools across the country, gathering in and around the Cathedral of the Assumption, the beating heart of the local community. Many of the students were Buddhist who also rejoiced when the pontiff arrived (videos).

"Seeing the Pope today so close-up was a miracle for me,” said a thrilled Ai. “Meeting him face-to-face comes only once in a lifetime,” she added.

"In the past few days, we helped pilgrims and the whole community. It was very tiring, but our goal was to forge an even deeper friendship with God and the people around us, become better citizens, and make a decisive contribution to our nation.”

For her, “this is the main change that the Pope's apostolic journey will bring to the Catholic community: his encouragement to young people to do more for others. Thanks to this historic event, we Thai Catholics will be more united.”

"We have now come to realise that we have so many tribal brothers and sisters (videos) whose lives are very far from ours here in Bangkok. Our small community is actually bigger than we thought with friends in many other parts of the country.” But for Ai, change will not stop with Catholics. "The Pope has brought hope to all the Thai people,” she said.

Although small in numbers, young Catholics do meet among themselves as well as with their non-Christian friends. "Here in the capital, we meet mostly on Sundays,” Ai explained. “If we have free time, we usually share it with a spirit of mutual support. This makes us a real family.

“We are not however a closed circle; we have many Buddhist and Muslim friends, who are sometimes curious about our Sunday activities. I am happy to explain to them what we do, even though they don’t realise how many activities we are involved in.”

“The Church, in its social work, has never made any distinctions based on religious affiliation. Catholics have never denied help to anyone. I am sure that the visit of Pope Francis will give our work an even greater impetus.”

For Fr Charles Surasak Ampaporn (pictured), executive secretary of the archdiocesan Youth Commission, “Pope Francis’s visit has given new purpose to many young Thai Catholics. The Holy Father made them understand that the only important thing is to be a good person, not the expectations that grown-ups have for them. The Pope brought us happiness.”

Francisco ‘Ttopp’ Phongthep Kijbamroong, 32, is the youth coordinator for the archdiocese. “I will never forget this day. The Pope’s words went straight to our hearts. His homily, in which he urges us to keep our roots firmly in the faith of our elders, made me think deeply. I am convinced that it will change the perspective of many others.”

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