Pope Francis arrived in Bangkok on Wednesday on the first leg of his seven-day Apostolic Journey to Asia, but the official welcome ceremony took place on Thursday morning at Government House, where he met with the Thai Prime Minister, civil and religious leaders, and members of the diplomatic corps.
In his discourse, the Pope described Thailand as “the guardian of age-old spiritual and cultural traditions”, a multi-ethic and diverse nation that has “long known the importance of building harmony and peaceful coexistence between its numerous ethnic groups”.
Globalization is often viewed in narrowly economic terms, said Pope Francis, and this tends “to erase the distinguishing features that shape the beauty and soul of our peoples.” The experience of a unity that respects and makes room for diversity, he continued, “serves as an inspiration and incentive for all those concerned about the kind of world we wish to leave to our children.”
The Pope said he was looking forward to his meeting with the Supreme Buddhist Patriarch “as a sign of the importance and urgency of promoting friendship and interreligious dialogue”. He confirmed the commitment of Thailand’s “small but vibrant Catholic community” to confront “all that would lead us to be insensitive to the cry of our many brothers and sisters who yearn to be freed from the yoke of poverty, violence and injustice.”
The name Thailand means, literally, “Land of the Free”. Pope Francis referenced this fact, saying we know freedom is possible “only if we are capable of feeling co-responsible for one another and of eliminating every form of inequality”. Hence the need “to ensure that individuals and communities can have access to education, dignified labour and health care”, in order to attain the “minimal levels of sustainability that can enable an integral human development”, he said.
Pope Francis then turned his attention to the issue of migration, calling it “one of the defining signs of our time”, and “one of the principal moral issues facing our generation.” Acknowledging Thailand for the welcome it has given migrants and refugees, the Pope said he hopes “the international community will act with responsibility and foresight” to resolve the issues that have led to this tragic exodus, “and will promote safe, orderly and regulated migration.”
The Pope went on to speak on behalf of all those women and children “who are wounded, violated and exposed to every form of exploitation, enslavement, violence and abuse.” Again, he expressed his gratitude for the Thai government’s efforts “to extirpate this scourge”, and “for those working to uproot this evil”. Recalling that this year marks the thirtieth anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and Adolescent, Pope Francis said, “The future of our peoples is linked in large measure to the way we will ensure a dignified future to our children.”
The Pope concluded his address to Thai authorities and members of the diplomatic corps, stressing how our societies need what he called “artisans of hospitality”: men and women dedicated to “the integral development of all peoples within a human family committed to dwelling in justice, solidarity and fraternal harmony.” Enabling the service of the common good to reach every corner of this nation, said Pope Francis, “is one of the noblest tasks any person can undertake.”