Pope Francis praises Buddhist 'brothers and sisters'
Pontiff tells Thailand's Supreme Patriarch that religions can become 'promoters and guarantors of fraternity'.
Pope Francis and his cousin Sister Ana Rosa Sivori, a missionary nun, meet Thailand's Supreme Buddhist Patriarch at Wat Ratchabophit Sathit Maha Simaram in Bangkok on Nov. 21. (Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP)
Pope Francis today praised Thailand for how it had allowed minority Christians to live in harmony with Buddhists for more than four centuries.
He was speaking at a meeting with Buddhist Supreme Patriarch Ariyavongsagatanana IX at Wat Ratchabophit Sathit Maha Simaram on the second day of his seven-day trip to Thailand and Japan.
The Patriarch recalled the historic visit of Pope St. John Paul II to his predecessor 35 years ago, a meeting at which he had been present. He then listed visits made by the kings of Thailand to the Vatican in 1897, 1934 and 1960 and spoke of a “deep and lasting friendship.”
The pope confirmed their meeting was taking place “as part of the journey of esteem and mutual recognition initiated by our predecessors.” Recalling the visit of the 17th Supreme Patriarch to Pope Paul VI in the Vatican nearly 50 years ago, he said he wanted to “follow in their footsteps in order to increase respect but also friendship between our communities.”
The pope said these steps “help testify that the culture of encounter is possible, not only within our communities but also in our world, so prone to creating and spreading conflict and exclusion.” Occasions like this “remind us how important it is for religions to become more and more beacons of hope, as promoters and guarantors of fraternity.”
“Since the arrival of Christianity in Thailand some four and a half centuries ago, Catholics have enjoyed freedom in religious practice, despite their being in a minority, and for many years have lived in harmony with their Buddhist brothers and sisters,” Pope Francis said.
He restated his personal commitment and that of the whole Church “to furthering an open and respectful dialogue in the service of the peace and well-being” of the people of Thailand. He said that through scholarly exchanges, “which lead to greater mutual understanding, as well as the exercise of contemplation, mercy and discernment … we can grow and live together as good neighbors.”
The pope called for the development of new charitable projects by members of both religions. These projects should be capable of “generating and multiplying practical initiatives on the path of fraternity, especially with regard to the poor and our much-abused common home,” he said. “In this way, we will contribute to the formation of a culture of compassion, fraternity and encounter. This journey will continue to bear fruit in abundance.”
Visit to Catholic hospital
The pope then visited Bangkok’s St. Louis Hospital, which was founded in 1898 by Archbishop Louis Vey.
Speaking to 700 staff in the hospital’s auditorium, Pope Francis said it was a blessing for him “to witness at first hand this valuable service that the Church offers to the Thai people, especially to those most in need.”
He added: “It is precisely in the exercise of charity that we Christians are called not only to demonstrate that we are missionary disciples but also to test our own fidelity, and that of our institutions, to that discipleship.
“You are missionary disciples in the field of health care who are capable of finding God in every human being, especially the elderly, the young and those most vulnerable.
“Seen in this way, you carry out one of the greatest works of mercy, for your commitment to health care goes far beyond the simple and praiseworthy practice of medicine.
“It is about welcoming and embracing human life as it arrives at the Hospital’s emergency room, needing to be treated with the merciful care born of love and respect for the dignity of each human person.”
Pope Francis made a private visit to the sick and disabled at the hospital, as a way, he said, “of accompanying them, however briefly, in their pain.”