BANGKOK — Pope Francis will be greeted by a mass dance involving 800 local students and a giant mythical serpent, or Naga, after he finished blessing the crowd at an open-air mass in Bangkok later this month.
Eight hundred students from seven all-female Catholic schools in Bangkok were rehearsing their performance on Wednesday at Assumption Commercial College. The dance aims to represent Thailand’s four regions and its Buddhist-based mythology. An organizer believes the Pope wouldn’t mind the sight of the 10-meter-long serpent made of cloth and foam.
“A naga is a symbol of the northeastern region and it’s about faith as well as fertility,” Anchalee Poonkasem, a dance teacher from St. Joseph Convent School, said in an interview.
The segment representing Thailand’s northern region, for example, will feature Chiang Mai’s famous painted umbrellas, and a part about rice farmers will see the students dancing with farming hats and rice baskets.
The Pope is set to conduct an open-air mass at the National Stadium on Nov. 21.
As much as one million baht was spent to tailor dresses for the 800 dancers, with 92 teachers overseeing the performance. Asked if the cost is a little too extravagant for a Pope known to be associated with the poor and marginalized, Papavadee Incharoenphon, a 15-year-old student at the prestigious Assumption Convent Silom School, said no.
“This is a once in a lifetime thing,” Papavadee said on Wednesday during a break from the rehearsal.
Teachers estimated that no more than 20 percent of the students aged between 10 to 17 are Roman Catholics themselves – hardly a surprise for a country where only 0.58 percent of the population follow Rome’s faith.
Papavadee, who is Buddhist, said she was completely willing to and didn’t find it strange that she was doing a dance for the Pope, since she and her peers, also mostly Buddhists, go to Catholic schools.
Out of Thailand’s 69-million population, Catholics number about 388,000, according to the Church’s official count.