Pope Francis to visit Thailand and Japan

Pope Francis to visit Thailand and Japan

Pope Francis’s visit to Thailand and Japan will happen respectively from Nov. 20 to 23, and from Nov. 23 to Nov. 26, announced the Apolistic Nuncio of the Holy See Friday afternoon.

Archbishop and Apolistic Nuncio Paul Tschang In-Nam announced the visit to Thailand, in English, at 2pm sharp, while Cardinal Francis Xavier Kriengsak Kovitvanit of Bangkok did so in Thai.

“It is my great honor and pleasure to make the following announcement. At the invitation of the Royal Thai Government and the Bishops of Thailand, His Holiness Pope Francis will make the Apolistic Visit to Thailand on November 20 to 23, 2019,” Paul Tschang In-Nam and Kriengsak said.

The official announcement came after months of anticipation.

The motto of the Apostolic Journey to Thailand is “Disciples of Christ, Missionary Disciples”, and is a reference to an important anniversary. 2019 marks the 350th anniversary of the establishment of the Apostolic Vicariate of Siam, erected in 1669.

“This announcement of the papal visit needed to wait for the official, formal announcement,” Chainarong Tontianwichianchai, a spokesman for the Holy See said. “Before, I had to just smile when people asked me.”

A press release says that the Pope will preside over two public masses during his visit, one for Thai Catholics and another for Thai Catholic youth. His specific schedule will be announced at a later time. The last pontiff visit to Thailand was in 1984 by Pope John Paul II.

At St. Mary’s girls’ school in Udon Thani, about 570 kilometers (355 miles) northeast of Bangkok, the pupils have only recently realized their unassuming vice principal’s connection to the pope.

Sister Ana Rosa, originally from Buenos Aires in Argentina, came to Thailand in 1966 and has worked as a missionary in several parts of the country. She shares a great-grandfather with Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who, six years ago, became Pope Francis. So, she and the pontiff are second cousins.

As word of a planned papal visit spread ahead of the official announcement, Sister Ana Rosa went from being an almost invisible presence to being at the center of increasingly excited attention in her community.

“Many people who are not Catholics, they are asking me every time. Is he coming? When is he coming? He, will he be coming? Because, it means that they are interested. They want to see him. They want to meet him,” she said.

“Then, of course, for the Catholics, it would be a push to be a good Catholics, to be good Christians.”

The theme of the Apostolic Journey to Japan focuses on the protection of life and Creation, and  is quoted from a phase in “A prayer for our earth” at the end of the Pope’s Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’, on caring for our common home. In that document, the Pope encourages us to respect both the dignity of each person, but also the environment.

This is particularly poignant in a country like Japan where the nuclear threat, as we read in the description of the motto, “remains a persistent problem”. Three flames of three different colors characterize the logo: a red flame recalling the martyrs, the foundation of the Church in Japan, a blue flame representing the Blessed Virgin Mary who embraces all humanity as her children, and a green flame symbolizing both the nature of Japan, and the mission to proclaim the Gospel of hope. A red circle, like a sun, embraces all life, and symbolizes love. 

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