BANGKOK — Chief advisor to His Majesty the King greeted Pope Francis upon his arrival for his Thailand visit on Wednesday morning on behalf of the monarch, Catholic officials said.
The Pope, who is on an apostolic rather than a state visit, was welcomed at Don Mueang Airport by Gen. Surayud Chulanont, the Privy Council President, as a representative of King Rama X. The government was represented by Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak. Unlike the last papal visit 30 years ago, no royal family member was present at the airport today.
When Pope John Paul II visited the kingdom in 1984, he did so as a state guest of Their Majesties King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit. King Bhumibol sent the then-crown prince Vajiralongkorn to welcome him at the airport. The Pope was also treated to a ride in the monarch’s very own car.
A high-ranking Catholic official said it could be because the current Pope prefers a much simpler treatment.
“I believe that this visit is different. This pope likes things very simple. I believe he was just in a simple Toyota Lexus,” Holy See spokesman Chainarong Monthienvichienchai said at a news conference.
Apichart Intravisit, president of the Catholic Social Communications of Thailand, said that to be received by the President of the Privy Council was already considered a very prestigious honor.
Pope Francis is scheduled to meet King Rama X Thursday at 4:55pm for a private audience – as opposed to Pope John Paul II’s official audience back in 1984. He will then preside over a public mass scheduled for 6pm at the National Stadium.
“In my opinion, he is very happy to be here,” Chainarong said. “The first one he greeted was Sister Ana Rosa, a kind of younger sister whom he has requested personally to be his personal translator.”
Sister Ana Rosa Sivori, 77, is a nun and cousin of Pope Francis, who has been living in Thailand since 1966.