François arrived in Thailand on Wednesday, November 20th, for a seven-day journey that will take him to Japan, a first in nearly 40 years.
At Don Mueang Airport, a smiley Frenchman was greeted by Thai Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak and Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai, who were represented by dozens of young people.
The pope's plane landed not far from Bangkok, in an ultra-predominantly Buddhist country, but home to 400,000 Catholic baptized. The visit coincides with the 350th anniversary of the "Siam Mission" by Clement IX.
This is the first time, since John Paul II in 1984, that a pontiff comes to Thailand. By Saturday, François will meet King Maha Vajiralongkorn (Rama X), General Prayut Chan-O-Cha (Prime Minister), students ...
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To stimulate the small Catholic communities of South-East Asia, to bring a message of peace, to promote the dialogue between the religions, this is the objective of this 32nd papal trip, placed under the sign of the protection of life and nature.
In the kingdom of saffron robes worn by monks, a milestone is scheduled on Thursday with the 20th Supreme Patriarch of Buddhists, Somdet Phra Maha Munivong, the highest monastic religious authority in Thailand.
In a message to the Thais, before his departure, François paid tribute to a " multi-ethnic nation ", which " worked a lot to promote harmony and peaceful coexistence " in its territory and throughout the region.
The pope hopes to " strengthen ties of friendship " with Buddhists, whose religion is practiced more than 95% in the kingdom. He will celebrate a first mass in the big stadium of Bangkok, for 50,000 faithful.
Another message from the pope: the elimination of the atomic bomb
Hundreds of Karen minority members from remote provinces near Burma are expected to follow the event. On Friday, the pontiff will celebrate a second Mass at Bangkok Cathedral, for young people.
Friday, Francis will meet priests, religious and bishops. Throughout his visit, he will be accompanied by his cousin Ana Rosa Sivori, a missionary for more than 50 years in Thailand, who shares a great-grandfather with him.
Saturday, the Argentine pope will then join Japan. François has often expressed his fascination for the archipelago. He wanted to go there as a missionary in his youth, but had to give up after an operation to a lung.
In this Buddhist and Shinto country, ultra-secularized and marked by a strong consumerism as well as a particularly high rate of suicide, François will focus his speech on the protection of the human person and the environment.
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The leader of the Catholic Church defends what he calls " our common home ". He will meet the victims of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, a natural disaster amplified by the Fukushima nuclear accident .
The highlight of this trip will occur Sunday in Nagasaki and Hiroshima , where were dropped in 1945 two atomic bombs. From these martyred cities of the Second World War, he will launch a message of peace against the nuclear weapon.
The last visit of a pope in the Japanese archipelago goes back to 1981 - again John Paul II. Like Thailand, Japan was evangelized by Jesuit missionaries in the middle of the 16th century. Catholics are ultra-minority too.