Another generation, another papal visit – Pope Francis was welcomed by Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn and Queen Suthida at Dusit Palace in Bangkok on Thursday during the 82-year-old pope’s week-long Asia tour.
This is his first visit to Thailand since he was elected to the papacy in 2013.
Thirty-five years ago, the King’s father, the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, and his consort, now Queen Mother Sirikit, had an audience with Pope John Paul II, the first pope to ever visit a Buddhist temple when he visited Thailand in 1984.
Thailand is a predominantly Buddhist country, with 95 per cent of the entire population of 69 million registered as Buddhists, just over 1 per cent Christian, and only 0.58 per cent Catholic.
Thai Catholics are overjoyed by the Pope’s visit, the country’s second ever papal visit.
Tens of thousands have joined mass ceremonies led by the Pope and welcomed him with thunderous cheers of “Viva il Papa”, or “Long live the Pope”.
By tradition, the 67-year-old King is the patron of all religions. The King and the 41-year-old Queen shook hands, exchanged gifts and conversed privately with Pope Francis at the palace before the Pope headed to the National Stadium to lead an open-air mass.
Also present at the royal meeting was the Pope’s cousin, Sister Ana Rosa Sivori, a 77-year-old Argentinian nun who came to Thailand in 1977 for missionary work and has stayed in the South-east Asian country since then.
Fluent in Thai, Sister Ana served as her cousin’s interpreter during the three-day visit.
Pope Francis is best known for his advocacy for the poor and minority groups. Upon his meeting with Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on Thursday, he called for governments to protect women and children from exploitation and abuse, as well as for better protection of migrants and poor Thais from human trafficking.
On Friday, when he met religious leaders in Thailand, he called for inter-religious cooperation in tackling complex global issues, such as the refugee crisis, hunger and wars.