Pope Francis returns to Asia on Nov. 19 for a visit to Thailand and Japan, two predominantly Buddhist countries where Christians remain a tiny minority. He goes to encourage the small Catholic community in each country, foster dialogue with the other religions of these lands and promote peace through a call for the elimination of nuclear arms.
It will be his 32nd foreign journey and his fourth to Asia since becoming pope. He went to South Korea in 2014; Sri Lanka and the Philippines in 2015; and Myanmar and Bangladesh in 2017.
It will be his first visit to Thailand, a country of 69 million people. Just under 50 percent of the Thai people live in rural areas and 30 percent are under the age of 25. The nation’s Catholic community includes 389,000 faithful, served by 835 priests, 1,461 women religious and 1,901 catechists.
Francis is the second pope to visit Thailand; St. John Paul II journeyed to Thailand in 1984. He comes to celebrate the 350th anniversary of the establishment of the first Mission of Siam, as Thailand was then known, in 1669. The motto for the visit – “Christ’s disciples, missionary disciples” – conveys that evangelization is at the heart of his purpose in coming to Thailand.
The Catholic presence dates back to 1567 when Dominicans became the first missionaries to arrive, but they were killed two years later. Franciscan missionaries came next, and then Jesuits in 1606 who opened schools and churches. Paris Foreign Mission priests arrived in 1662 and seven years later established the Apostolic Vicariate whose anniversary the pope will celebrate.
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