Pope Francis arrived in Bangkok with the mission of reconciliation, Asia Nikkei reports. The pontiff met with Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn on Thursday, sending a message of religious reconciliation and peace. Thai Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak and Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai welcomed pontiff upon his arrival at the airport.
Pope Francis was welcomed by the Thai king at the Royal Palace. Both religious leaders went to Wat Ratchabophit Sathit Maha Simaram, an important Buddhist temple in central Bangkok, for talks with Patriarch Somdej Phra Maha Muneewong.
The pontiff has kicked-off his seven-day Asian tour, and the first stop was made in Thailand where Francis will spend three days. Since the era of John Paul II, the most recent pontiff’s visit to Asia was in 1984.
Prior to visiting Thailand, Pope shared a video, in which he expressed hope for good relations between the Vatican and Thailand.
«I hope to strengthen the bonds of friendship that we share with many Buddhist brothers and sisters, who bear eloquent witness to the values of tolerance and harmony that are so characteristic of your people,» the pope said.
Pope Francis: friendliness and faith should predominate
Pope Francis strongly believes his visit will reconcile the countries. In 1940, seven Catholic villagers in Mukdahan Province were killed by police after they defied orders to renounce their faith and embrace Buddhism. In 1989, the seven martyrs became the first Thais to be beatified by the Vatican.
Under such a history of relationships, pontiff’s long-awaited visit Asia and, in particular, Thailand was «a sign of the importance and urgency of promoting friendship and interreligious dialogue». Visit of the Roman Catholic Church’s head aimed at social harmony.
In a speech on Thursday at Government House, Pope Francis underlined the power of friendship between the countries and praised Thailand that «worked hard to promote harmony and peaceful coexistence, not only among its own people but also throughout the region of Southeast Asia.»
Thailand’s roughly 70 million people are overwhelmingly Buddhist, accounting for 94.5% of the population, according to the 2015 census. Muslims make up the next largest group, at 4.3%. Catholics and other Christians comprise just over 1% of the total.