BANGKOK, Thailand — In his first official speech in Thailand Thursday, Pope Francis encouraged the Thai authorities, civil society, and diplomatic corps to strive after unity, even while preserving the diversity which gives their country “soul.”
“As a multi-ethnic and diverse nation, Thailand has long known the importance of building harmony and peaceful coexistence between its numerous ethnic groups, while showing respect and appreciation for different cultures, religious groups, thoughts and ideas,” he said 21 November.
“Our age,” he noted, “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.”
“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.”
Pope Francis spoke 21 November in the Inner Santi Maitri hall of the Government House on his second day in Bangkok, Thailand, part of a six-day trip which will also include Japan.
The Pope’s visit to Thailand is in commemoration of the 350th anniversary of the Vatican Mission to Siam in 1669.
The small Catholic community in Thailand, less than 0.5% of the mostly Buddhist population, has been celebrating the anniversary throughout 2019.
In his address, Pope Francis said Thailand’s “small but vibrant Catholic community” is committed to maintaining and promoting “the distinctive characteristics of the Thai people, as evoked in your national anthem: peaceful and loving, but not cowardly.”
He also noted the commitment of Thai Catholics to listen to the cry of their brothers and sisters who are suffering from “poverty, violence, and injustice.”
According to the US Department of Justice 2018 human rights report, child sex trafficking, and other kinds of human trafficking, continue to be significant problems in Thailand.
The country is also a huge destination of sex tourism.
“This land bears the name ‘freedom,’” the Pope said. “We know that freedom is possible only if we are capable of feeling co-responsible for one another and of eliminating every form of inequality.”
“I think, too, of all those women and children of our time, especially those who are wounded, violated and exposed to every form of exploitation, enslavement, violence and abuse,” he said, noting his gratitude to the Thai government, private individuals, and organisations which are working “to uproot this evil.”
Francis also invited the Thai government to think about the crisis of immigration and to “devise effective means for protecting the dignity and rights of migrants and refugees, who face dangers, uncertainty and exploitation in their quest for freedom and a decent life for their families.”
“Today, more than ever, our societies need ‘artisans of hospitality,’” he said, “men and women committed to the integral development of all peoples within a human family committed to dwelling in justice, solidarity and fraternal harmony.”
Pope Francis also met 21 November with the prime minister of Thailand. He will later meet with the Supreme Buddhist Patriarch at a temple and with King Maha Vajiralongkorn at the Amphorn Royal Palace.
He will also visit the St Louis Catholic hospital, where he will afterward privately greet sick and disabled people.
In the evening, 50,000 people are expected to attend the Pope’s Mass at the Thailand National Stadium.
Saturday, 23 November Francis will fly to Tokyo, Japan, to begin a three-day visit to that country.