By Nontarat Phaicharoen and Wilawan Watcharasakwet
Pope Francis urged Thais on Friday not to consider Christianity a “foreign” religion, as he met religious leaders on his final full day here while winding down his visit to the predominantly Buddhist nation.
The pontiff told hundreds of priests and nuns who waited for him at the St. Peter’s Parish west of Bangkok that he learned – “with some pain” – that for many people in Thailand, “Christianity is a foreign faith, a religion for foreigners.”
That should spur priests and nuns to find ways to talk about their faith in the local dialect, he said.
“Let us give faith a Thai face and flesh, which involves much more than making translations,” the pope said, speaking in his native Spanish.
During a visit to the predominantly Catholic village of Wat Roman outside Bangkok, the 82-year-old pope lamented that technology had devastated cultural individuality, amid globalization that imposed a Western influence among young people through social media.
“This produces a cultural devastation that is just as serious as the disappearance of species of animals and plants,” he said.
The pope also met with the leaders of Christian denominations, as well as Sikhs, senior Buddhist monks, a Hindu priest and Thailand’s chief Islamic leader at a university in Bangkok, where a young Muslim choir from the nation’s insurgency-stricken Deep South joined other students who sang for him.
The gathering was highly symbolic for Pope Francis who has advocated inter-faith harmony during his trip to Thailand, where there arefewer than 400,000 Catholics among 69 million people.
Pope Francis told Christian leaders and leaders of other religions that cooperation and mutual respect were needed in a world filled with complex challenges.
“Now is the time to be bold and envision the logic of encounter and mutual dialogue as the path, common cooperation as the code of conduct, and reciprocal knowledge as a method and standard,” he said, according to a transcript from Vatican News.
He also urged the religious leaders “to pursue the path of dialogue and mutual understanding.”
The day before, the Pope had a private meeting with King Maha Vajiralongkorn and his royal consort, Queen Suthida inside Bangkok’s Dusit Palace.
Pope Francis also met on Thursday with Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha at Government House and Somdej Phra Maha Muneewong, Thailand’s supreme patriarch of Buddhism, at the gilded Wat Rachabophit temple in Bangkok’s historic old quarter.
The head of the Catholic Church was in Thailand to celebrate the 350th anniversary of the creation of the Apostolic Vicariate in the predominantly Buddhist nation, formerly known as Siam.
His four-day visit to Thailand is the first by a pontiff since Pope St. John Paull II came here in 1984.
During his first full day in Bangkok, he delivered an open-air Mass at a packed national sports stadium, where he urged authorities to strengthen efforts to combat prostitution and human trafficking in Thailand, which is notorious for its sex-tourism industry.
Later on Friday, the pope celebrated a Mass with young people at the Cathedral of the Assumption in Bangkok, his last major event in Thailand before he departs on Saturday for Japan.
There, he will visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the two cities where the United States dropped atomic bombs that killed between 129,000 and 226,000 people at the end of World War II in 1945.
Francis has visited Asia twice in recent years. He went to Sri Lanka and the Philippines in 2014 and, three years later, he visited Myanmar and Bangladesh.