In Thailand pope reaches out to young people and urges help for the downtrodden

Young people cheer as they wait for Pope Francis’ arrival to celebrate Mass with young people at Assumption Cathedral in Bangkok, Thailand, Nov. 22, 2019. Photo: CNS

BANGKOK (Agencies): “Dear young people, you are a new generation, with new hopes, dreams and questions, and surely some doubts as well, yet firmly rooted in Christ. I urge you to maintain your joy and to look to the future with confidence, Pope Francis said on November 22, as he celebrated Mass at Assumption Cathedral, Bangkok, his final public engagement in Thailand before flying to Japan.

Pope Francis urged young Thais to keep their faith alive and strong, being on guard so that disappointments and suffering do not cause their faith to weaken or grow cold, UCANews reported.

“You need to be deeply rooted in the faith of your ancestors—your parents, grandparents and teachers,” he said.

“Without this firm sense of rootedness, we can be swayed by the ‘voices’ of this world that compete for our attention. Many are attractive and nicely packaged; at first they seem appealing and exciting, but in the long run they will leave you only empty, weary, alone and disenchanted and slowly extinguish that spark of life that the Lord once ignited in the heart of each of us,” the pope said. 

“Rooted in Christ, view all things with the joy and confidence born of knowing that the Lord has sought us out, found us and loved us infinitely. Friendship cultivated with Jesus is the oil needed to light up your path in life and the path of all those around you: your friends and neighbours, your companions at school and work, including those who think completely unlike yourselves,” he said.

Pope Francis was in Thailand to celebrate the 350th anniversary of the establishment of the Apostolic Vicariate of Siam in 1669. The motto chosen for the papal visit was Christ’s Disciples, Missionary Disciples. 

A day earlier, Pope Francis used his first public Mass in Thailand to call for compassion and help for migrants, beggars, exploited fishermen and victims of sex trafficking and drug addiction. About 30,000 people turned out at the National Stadium on November 21, while many more watched it on big screens set up outside, UCANews reported.

“I think of children and women who are victims of prostitution and human trafficking, humiliated in their essential human dignity. I think of young people enslaved by drug addiction and a lack of meaning that makes them depressed and destroys their dreams,” the pope told his audience.

“I think of migrants, deprived of their homes and families, and so many others who like them can feel orphaned, abandoned, without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life. I think also of exploited fishermen and bypassed beggars.

“All of them are part of our family. They are our mothers, our brothers and sisters. Let us not deprive our communities of seeing their faces, their wounds, their smiles and their lives,” the pope said.

He urged Thailand’s Catholics to follow the “footsteps of the first missionaries in order to encounter, discover and recognise with joy the faces of all those mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, whom the Lord wants to give us and who are absent from our Sunday table.”

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The pope said that “evangelisation is not about gaining more members or about appearing powerful” but about sharing “God’s merciful and healing embrace” which in turn “makes us one family.”

Pope Francis recalled the missionaries who first came to Thailand centuries ago. “By hearing the Lord’s word and responding to its demands, they came to realise that they were part of a family much larger than any based on blood lines, cultures, regions or ethnic groups,” he said.

“Without that encounter, Christianity would have lacked your face. It would have lacked the songs and dances that portray the Thai smile, so typical of your lands. The missionaries came to understand more fully the Father’s loving plan, which is not limited to a select few or a specific culture but is greater than all our human calculations and predictions, he said.

“A missionary disciple is not a mercenary of the faith or a producer of proselytes, but rather a humble mendicant who feels the absence of brothers, sisters and mothers with whom to share the irrevocable gift of reconciliation that Jesus grants to all,” the pope said.

Earlier that day, Pope Francis set the tone at a welcoming ceremony at Bangkok’s Government House, addressing government officials—including Thai prime minister, Prayut Chan-ocha—civic leaders and members of the diplomatic corps. 

He said, “Our age is marked by a globalisation that is all too often viewed in narrowly economic terms, tending to erase the distinguishing features that shape the beauty and soul of our peoples,” adding, “Yet the experience of a unity that respects and makes room for diversity serves as an inspiration and incentive for all those concerned about the kind of world we wish to leave to our children.”

The pope called migration movements around the globe “one of the defining signs of our time,” according to a report on CNS.

“The crisis of migration cannot be ignored,” the pope was quoted as saying. 

“Thailand itself, known for the welcome it has given to migrants and refugees, has experienced this crisis as a result of the tragic flight of refugees from nearby countries,” he said.

Pope Francis urged the international community to “act with responsibility and foresight” to help people live dignified lives in their own homelands and to “promote safe, orderly and regulated migration” for those who see emigrating as the only option for themselves and their families, CNS reported.

“It is not just about migrants; it is also about the face we want to give to our societies,” Pope Francis insisted.

Later, accompanied by his second-cousin, Salesian Sister Ana Rosa Sivori, a missionary in Thailand who acted as his translator, the pope went from Government House to the Wat Ratchabophit temple, where he met the supreme patriarch of Thailand’s Buddhist community, Somdej Phra Maha Muneewong.

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CNS reported that the two spoke of the need for mutual respect and cooperation in promoting tolerance and peace.

“The culture of encounter is possible, not only within our communities but also in our world, so prone to creating and spreading conflict and exclusion,” the pope told the patriarch. 

“When we have the opportunity to appreciate and esteem one another in spite of our differences, we offer a word of hope to the world, which can encourage and support those who increasingly suffer the harmful effects of conflict,” the pope said.

Religions worthy of the name, he continued, must be “beacons of hope” and promoters of brotherhood.

The pope called for Catholics and Buddhists to work together on common projects to help the poor and to protect the environment, “our much-abused common home.”

Addressing the pope, CNS reported that the 92-year-old Somdej Phra Maha Muneewong recalled the meeting between St. John Paul II and the patriarch at the time, Somdet Phra Sangharaja Chao Kromma Luang Jinavajiralongkorn, in Bangkok in 1984.

“The meeting on that day remains impressed upon my memory as I was also in attendance,” he said. 

“The two leaders conversed and expressed well wishes toward one another on the basis of the genuine compassion both possessed as honorable saints of the two religions with the shared ideology of spreading sincere and endless goodwill to all lives,” the patriarch said.

Pope Francis thanked the people of Thailand for ensuring that the country’s Catholic minority—less than one per cent of the population— enjoys religious freedom.

The pope arrived in Bangkok at around noon on November 20 and was met by senior members of Thailand’s Catholic community and Sister Sivori.

He visited the medical staff and a group of patients at St. Louis Hospital which was founded by Catholics in 1898. Then later that afternoon, he paid a private visit to King Vajiralongkorn at the Royal Palace. 

The pope flew on to Japan for his November 23 to 26 visit where he stopped at Nagasaki and Hiroshima, and celebrated Mass at Tokyo Dome. He is the first pope to visit the country since Pope St. John Paul II in 1981 (see page  4 and 6).

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