The first leg of Pope Francis’ 32nd apostolic visit abroad takes him to Thailand. He goes in the footsteps of Pope Saint John Paul II who visited the country in 1984.
Ninety five percent of the Thai population is Buddhist. But Thailand is also a land of interreligious dialogue and respect for diversity. Christians in Thailand have enjoyed freedom of worship ever since the Portuguese arrived in the nation in 1511, planting the first seeds of the Gospel.
Monsignor Andrew Vissanu Thanya-anan, general coordinator of the papal visit and Deputy Secretary General of the Thailand Bishops’ Conference spoke to Vatican Radio about the expectations of the people preparing to welcome him.
Msgr Vissanu Thanya-anan said it has made him very happy to see that so many Thai Buddhists are excited to welcome Pope Francis to their country.
He says that in the run-up to the visit, the media has been talking about the reason the Pope has chosen to visit Thailand that counts so few Catholics.
“The Pope visits as a pilgrim for peace. That is why we like to underline that he comes to build bridges for peace and understanding,” he says.
So, Msgr Vissanu Thanya-anan continues, people are looking forward to him coming to create an atmosphere of peace, of respect for other people and to build bridges.
Although this is a Buddhist country, he notes, Thailand is a land of freedom where people respect each other and live together, including the Muslims in the south of the nation.
“We also have a town – a village – in which four different religions have lived together peacefully for centuries, providing a model,” he says.
Finally, Msgr Vissanu Thanya-anan points out that all Thais, who have watched the Pope on TV or who have seen photographs of him, appear to be very impressed by his capacity to communicate with young people and for his love for the poor and other vulnerable people.
They also, he says, appreciate his encyclical Laudato Sì on the care for Our Common Home: “and so everyone is happy that he is coming!”
With thanks to Vatican News and Linda Bordoni, where this article originally appeared.