NAKHON PATHOM — Thousands of Chinese waited under the scorching sun outside St. Peter’s Parish on Friday in hopes to get a glimpse of Pope Francis.
With little hope that the Pope would be visiting China anytime soon – thanks to the infamously strained relationship between Beijing and the Vatican City – many Chinese Catholics flew to Thailand in large tour groups just for the occasion. Many were middle-aged or older.
“Actually we want Papa to come to China as well, but it’s hard to invite him to China,” a Chinese expat named Anna, from Sichuan province, said. “We really want Papa to have a chance to come to China. That’s all of our Chinese Christians’ wish.”
Although she said she could give “many examples” when describing specific hardships of Christians in China, she said she did not want to blame the government.
“Please pray for China. I think God loves China, that’s why we have this special experience in China,” Anna, who works as a Chinese teacher in Thailand, said. “Please pray for us.”
Catholics in China are estimated to range between 10 million and 12 million. Catholicism is one of the “state-sanctioned” religions, though the authorities reserve the right to name bishops and key priests to head the church there – a point of contention between China and the Holy See, who do not maintain any formal diplomatic ties.
About 2,000 of those Chinese Catholics came to the parish. Scores of them were initially stranded outside as security officials refused their entry. Many of them did not make it on time, while some did not have a pass to get in.
After repeatedly demanding entry and waving their Chinese flags, police eventually allowed Chinese nationals and other foreign Catholics to pass through the security gate so they can get up close to Pope Francis when he passes by in his car.
Some groups sang Chinese hymns.
Inside the church, Pope Francis met with clergymen and nuns. He urged them to communicate the faith with Thais in the overwhelmingly Buddhist country, after having read “with some pain” that Christianity is “a religion for foreigners.”
“This should spur us to find ways to talk about the faith in dialect, like a mother who sing lullabies to her child,” he said. “With the same intimacy, let us give faith a Thai face and flesh, which involves much more than making translations.”
The church is at the center of a relatively large Catholic community outside Bangkok. The site is dedicated to Catholic priest Boonkerd Kitbamrung, Thai martyr who was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2000.
Boonkerd was accused of espionage for France during Thailand’s invasion of French-held Indochina in 1940. He was sent to prison, where he died of tuberculosis in 1944.