BANGKOK (CNS): When Pope Francis celebrates Mass in a Bangkok sports stadium on November 21, tens of thousands of Catholics from across Thailand will be there to celebrate with him. Several devout Catholics may not be among them, however much they might love to join.
They are Pakistani Christian asylum-seekers who fled their homeland in fear for their lives in recent years. UCANews reported that by venturing outdoors to attend the Mass in person, they would run the risk of being detained by authorities.
They were driven away by the increasingly militant form of Islam that has come to dominate the public sphere in Pakistan, putting further restraints on the rights and freedoms of religious minorities.
These Christians, many of whom are Catholic, live in Bangkok, waiting for a chance to relocate to a welcoming third country.
Because they are not recognised as bona fide refugees in Thailand, they are regarded as illegal migrants who are subject to arrest and deportation.
“Any time we go outside, we could be arrested,” said a man identified only as James, an asylum-seeker from Lahore, Pakistan, who works part-time, illegally, as an interpreter for a Bangkok-based Catholic organisation.
“We are suffering. It’s very difficult. I’ve been in Bangkok for nearly seven years. It might take another year and a half before I can leave (for a third country),” he said.
But James plans to attend the Mass to see the pope, saying, “I’ll be there. I think every Catholic should be there.”