BANGKOK — Young Thai Catholics said Friday they saw no conflict between their national identity and their adopted “foreign” faith, as Pope Francis wrapped up his visit to Thailand with a youth mass.
Three Catholic schools in downtown Bangkok were closed for the Pope’s mass with the young at the Assumption Cathedral. The site was crammed with thousands of young Catholics, who cheered “Viva il Papa” while plucking out their phones in a hope to have a selfie with him.
“I was not that excited at first, but when the Pope passed by, I got goosebumps because I was so excited,” Sitthisan Janphasuk, 13, an eighth grader from an all-boys Catholic school Saint Gabriel’s College said.
Interfaith harmony was one of Pope Francis’ key messages to the minority Catholics in Thailand. In his homily at St. Peter’s Parish in Nakhon Pathom, he said he had learned “with some pain, that for many people, Christianity is a foreign faith.”
But for students like Sitthisan, he said he does not feel any problems growing up as a Catholic despite the fact that only 20 of his 400 classmates share the same faith as him.
“It was a bit strange for me during my childhood, but once I grew up, no one ever treated me differently for being a Christian,” Sitthisan said.
At his Catholic school, as with other Catholic schools, only Catholic students are offered catechism lessons, whereas Buddhism is taught in regular classes as part of the national curriculum.
Ravinun Seeda, 16, a Catholic tenth grader at Mater Dei School who attended Friday’s mass as part of a Catholic youth program, said her Buddhist peers do not see her as an outsider.
“My friends asked me why the Pope’s visit is such a big deal,” Ravinun said. “I believe more non-Christians will pay greater attention to the Chirstian community and our celebrations other than Christmas after his visit.”
Inside the cathedral, Pope Francis led his second mass of his trip in a service aimed at about 7,000 Thai Catholic children. He made his appeal for the youngsters to hold on the cultures inherited by their ancestors.
“You need to be deeply rooted in the faith of your ancestors,” he said. “They had to endure many trials and much suffering in their lives. Yet along the way, they discovered that the secret to a happy heart is the security we find when we are anchored, rooted in Jesus.”
Pope Francis departed on Saturday morning for Japan.
He is not the first pontiff to visit the Assumption Cathedral, one of the country’s oldest churches which serves as the principal church of the Archdiocese of Bangkok. Pope John Paul II also held a mass there during his apostolic journey to Thailand in 1984.