Pope visits a majority Buddhist country

Pope Francis just visited “the land of interreligious dialogue” as “a pilgrim of peace”.

Nov 22, 2019

By Gerard O’Connell
Pope Francis just visited “the land of interreligious dialogue” as “a pilgrim of peace”.

This visit of Pope Francis has meant much to the people of Thailand. Generally, the Thai people have a heart for hospitality and tolerance. The world has seen this spirit of “hospitality” that cherishes full religious freedom in a land where 95 per cent of the population is Buddhist.

The Christians too had enjoyed this freedom “ever since the first seed of the Gospel was sown in the era of Ayutthaya when the Portuguese first arrived here in 1511. Subsequently, the king of Portugal sent priests here in 1567,” said Msgr Andrew Thanya-anan, a former Holy See diplomat.

Pope Francis’ visit coincides with three significant events in the history of the Church in Thailand. 1) the celebration of the 350th anniversary of the establishment of the “Apostolic Vicariate of Siam” (1669-2019), which was the first ecclesiastical jurisdiction in the country; 2) the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the Kingdom of Thailand; 3) and the centenary of Benedict XV’s apostolic letter Maximum Illud (Nov 30, 1919).

This is the letter that redefined the principles and role of Catholic missionary work throughout the world moved away from Eurocentric and colonialist thinking, advocated for the development of local Church resources and an indigenous clergy, and had an impact here and elsewhere in the mission world.

Pope Francis, a missionary pope, is “loved by the Thai people because they see him often on TV, especially showing care for people at all levels of society and, in particular, the poor, children, women and disabled persons. The Buddhists consider him a great religious leader,” the Thai Msgr said.

Moreover, “people remember Pope John Paul II because he was the first pope to visit this land 35 years ago, and his pastoral visit in 1984 is still fresh in the minds of many people in Thailand,” said Msgr Thanya-anan.

When asked what major problems the country faces today, Msgr Thanya-anan said that Thailand has “problems related to globalisation, as do other countries, especially concerning young people and education.”

He emphasised that “Thai culture is rich, and young people need to be aware of this.” He underlined the fact that “Thai” means “freedom,” and “this land according to its geographic position, is a really ‘golden land’ to which people can have easy access.”

But, the danger is that some are taking advantage of this reality and are using this land as a hub for many things, including human trafficking.

“The Thai government is working hard against human trafficking and the use of this land as a hub for such criminality.” At the same time, “Thailand is a land of interreligious dialogue that could become a model for other countries,” Msgr Thanya-anan said. He knows much about the relations with other religions, especially between Christianity and Buddhism, having worked in the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

To engage in interreligious dialogue, he said, “one has to know well the cultural context and background of church history in each country.” He recalled that “Asia is the motherland of the world’s major traditional religions, but each country has its background, culture, social and political situation.” In Thailand, he said, “there is a saying ‘to be Thai means to be a Buddhist,’ yet the Thai people “readily appreciate the goodness of Christians by the way they live and reach out to the poor and needy through charitable works.”

He concluded by affirming that Thai people are “very religious,” they “listen to religious leaders, love to give alms and do meditations,” adding that he is sure “they will listen to Pope Francis, too, and watch what he does.”--America Magazine

Total Comments:0