On his second and final day in Thailand, Pope Francis spoke with the Bishops of Thailand and members of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conference, spoke with religious men and women and held a final Mass for young people.
Pope in Thailand: What it means to be a Christian
On Friday 22 November, Pope Francis met with priests, religious, consecrated men and women, seminarians and catechists in Bangkok, and shared guidelines on how to achieve apostolic fruitfulness, and on what it means to be a Christian.
The Pope began by expressing his gratitude “for all those consecrated persons who, by the silent martyrdom of fidelity and daily commitment, have borne great fruit.” He also gave thanks “for all those catechists and elderly consecrated men and women who drew us into the love and friendship of Jesus Christ.”
Pope Francis invited those present to “be alert to beauty, to a sense of wonder capable of opening up new horizons and raising new questions.” A consecrated life “incapable of openness to surprises is only a half a life,” he said. The Church does not grow by proselytising but by attraction: these words of Benedict XVI, said Pope Francis, are prophetic for our times. “Let us not be afraid to continue inculturating the Gospel,” he added. “We need to seek new ways to transmit the Word that is capable of mobilising and awakening the desire to know the Lord.”
Pope Francis suggested we find ways “to talk about the faith ‘in dialect’, like a mother who sings lullabies to her child.” With that same intimacy, “let us give faith a Thai face and flesh, which involves much more than making translations,” he said. We need to let the Gospel “sing” with the native music of this land, “and inspire the hearts of our brothers and sisters with the same beauty that set our own hearts on fire.”
Pope Francis then spoke of the importance of prayer: “Apostolic fruitfulness is sustained by fidelity to deep prayer,” he said. “How many of us have received the faith from our grandparents, from seeing them doing their household chores, rosary in hand, sanctifying their entire day.” This is contemplation in action, said the Pope, “making God part of the little things of each day. Without prayer, our life and mission loses all its meaning, strength and fervour.”
Pope to Bishops in Thailand: Holy Spirit is the protagonist of mission
Later on in the day, Pope Francis addressed the Bishops of Thailand and of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) at the Shrine of Blessed Nicholas Bunkerd Kitbamrung in Bangkok.
Pope Francis noted that 2020 will mark the fiftieth anniversary of the foundation of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences. “This is a fitting occasion to revisit those ‘shrines’ where the missionary roots that left their mark on these lands are preserved,” he said, and “to welcome with parrhesia a future that you yourselves must help develop and create.” In this way, the Pope continued, “both the Church and society in Asia will benefit from a renewed and shared evangelical outreach.”
Pope Francis described Asia as a “multicultural and multi-religious continent” where rapid technological advancements can open up immense possibilities, “but can also result in the growth of consumerism and materialism.” He listed specific areas of concern: “the scourge of drugs and human trafficking,” caring for migrants and refugees, the exploitation experienced by many workers, “as well as economic and social inequality between rich and poor.”
The Pope continued his discourse to the Bishops, reminding them it is the Holy Spirit “who arrives in advance of missionaries and remains with them.” The power of the Holy Spirit sustained countless missionaries “not to discount any land, people, culture or situation,” continued Pope Francis. “They were bold and courageous because they knew the Gospel is a gift to be shared with and for everyone.” Mission, he said, means cultivating a sense of smell: “Mission calls for a paternal and maternal concern, because the sheep is only lost when the shepherd gives it up for lost, and not before.”
Pope Francis said we need to let ourselves be “transformed” by the Gospel: purified by the Lord, the Church becomes a “witness by vocation… unafraid to take to the streets and come face to face with the lives of the people entrusted to her care.” The Pope told the Bishops, who are a minority in many of their countries, that we can learn from them: they have not allowed themselves to be “corrupted by an inferiority complex,” he said, “or the complaint that you are not given due recognition.”
We are not the ones in charge of the mission, insisted Pope Francis. The Holy Spirit is the true protagonist. “We have been transformed by the Spirit in order to transform wherever we are placed.” Mission is “a passion for Jesus Christ and a passion for His people,” he said.
“We too are part of this people,” continued the Pope, “we were chosen to be servants, not masters or managers.” This means “we are to accompany those whom we serve with patience and kindness, listening to them, respecting their dignity, always promoting and valuing their apostolic initiatives.” The Pope reminded the Bishops many of their lands were evangelised by lay faithful who spoke “the dialect of their people, a simple and direct exercise of inculturation, neither theoretical nor ideological, but the fruit of their zeal to share Christ.”
Pope to youth in Thailand: rooted in faith through friendship with Jesus
On Friday evening, Pope Francis celebrated Mass for young people in the Cathedral of the Assumption in Bangkok. A strong faith based on a deep friendship with Jesus, he says, will see them through life’s difficulties, as their elders testify.
Pope Francis is asking the young people of Thailand to be deeply rooted and anchored in their faith by cultivating a friendship with Jesus, saying it will provide them with the oil needed to light up the path of their life and those of others around them.
“The Lord knows that through you, young people, the future is coming into this land and the world, and he is counting on you to carry out your mission today,” the Pope told the youth.
The Pope offered his advice to young people how to keep alive the fire that keeps them burning brightly amid darkness and difficulties, how to answer to the Lord’s call and how to obtain the oil that can keep them moving forward, seeking the Lord in every situation.
For this, they need to be deeply rooted in the faith of their ancestors: their parents, grandparents and teachers.
Amidst life’s many trials and much suffering, the Pope said, our elders discovered that the secret to a happy heart is the security we find when we are anchored, rooted in Jesus: in his life, in his words, in his death and resurrection.
The Pope said it is impossible for us to grow unless we have strong roots to support us and to keep us firmly grounded.
Without this firm sense of rootedness, young people can be swayed by the “voices” of this world, leaving them only empty, weary, alone and disenchanted, slowly extinguishing that spark of life that the Lord once lit in the heart of each of us.
The Pope regards Thailand’s young Catholics as a new generation, with new hopes, dreams and questions, and surely some doubts as well, yet firmly rooted in Christ.
“Friendship cultivated with Jesus,” the Pope said, “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.”
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