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Pope Francis concludes Thailand visit with tributes to Catholic minority

By Cristina Cabrejas / Bangkok /  Pope Francis on Friday concluded his Thailand visit that was to encourage the small Catholic community in the country with a mass attended by hundreds of young people in the Assumption Cathedral and thousands more gathered to see the popemobile pass.

“You are heirs to a beautiful history of evangelization that was transmitted to you as a sacred treasure. This beautiful cathedral is witness to the faith in Jesus Christ that your ancestors had,” Francis told some 700 youth in the cathedral, built in 1821 and where John Paul II also led a mass during his visit to the country in 1984.

Francis reiterated the importance of grandparents and history and lamented that young people are being guided to build a future without roots “as if the world was beginning now”.

“It’s impossible for someone to grow if they don’t have strong roots that help them to be well-supported and held to the ground,” he said.

“Do not be afraid of the future or let yourself be intimidated. On the contrary, know that the Lord is waiting for you there to prepare and celebrate the feast of his kingdom.”

The second day of the Pope’s visit was devoted to the 388,000-member Catholic community – which makes up about 0.58 percent of the country’s population – whose representatives were present at all the events the pontiff took part in.

In the morning, he traveled to Sam Phran district in Nakhon Pathom province, about 35 km (22 miles) west of Bangkok and where Thailand’s second-largest Catholic community comprising of 18,000 people, is located.

The Pope was received by tens of thousands of people at what is considered an almost “Catholic village” owing to the high concentration of the community.

The neighborhood also houses St. Peter’s Church, a school by the same name and a shrine of Thai Roman Catholic priest Blessed Nicholas Bunkerd Kitbamrung.

The event was also attended by a large number of Chinese Catholics and workers of that nationality living in Thailand.

The first part of the Pope’s visit involved meeting with the religious figures from the small St. Peter’s Church, built with bamboo in 1840 by missionaries and which, although rebuilt several times, retains its original shape of a wooden boat in memory of the fisherman-apostle.

Francis recalled Benedict XVI’s words that “the Church grows not by proselytism but by attraction” and therefore urged them not to be “afraid” of more inculturation of the Gospel.

“It is necessary to seek these new ways to transmit the word, capable of moving and awakening the desire to know the Lord,” he said, so that it does not seem that “the Christian faith is a foreign faith, a religion of foreigners.”

He also appreciated the Catholic Church in the country for seeing “beauty where others only see contempt, abandonment or a sexual object to be used.”

The pontiff then crossed the street, surrounded by the thousands of faithful, to enter the shrine of Blessed Nicholas Bunkerd Kitbamrung, the first Thai martyr, who was beatified on March 5, 2000 by John Paul II. Kitbamrung died in 1944 of tuberculosis after being imprisoned during persecution of Catholics.

The Pope told the gathering that they were living “in the midst of a multicultural and multi-religious continent, endowed with great beauty and prosperity, but at the same time tested by poverty and exploitation spread to various levels.”

“You carry on your shoulders the concerns of your people, seeing the scourge of drugs and human trafficking, the need to care for a large number of migrants and refugees, poor working conditions, the exploitation of labor experienced by many, as well as the economic and social inequality that exists between the rich and the poor.”

On the other hand, in his speech at the Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok in front of 1,500 people including academicians, Christian leaders and leaders of other religions in the country such as Buddhism, Islam, Brahmin-Hinduism and Sikkhism, the Pope urged people of different faiths to cooperate in the face of challenges such as economic and financial globalization and their serious consequences for the development of local societies.

On this occasion, as he does when he meets with representatives of other religions, the Pope called for collaboration to combat the evils society faces including “the tragic persistence of civil conflicts resulting in movements of migration, refugees, famine and war.

Pope Francis will travel to Japan on Saturday, where he will also remain for three days. (November 22, 2019, EFE/Practica Español)

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