Pope Francis will travel to Thailand and Japan in November in a visit expected to pay homage to the small Catholic communities in each country.
In the first visit by a pontiff in more than three decades, Pope Francis will spend four days in Buddhist-majority Thailand, before travelling onto Japan, statements from senior church leaders said.
Accepting an invitation from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Thailand, Pope Francis will visit the country from Nov. 20-23 as a “pilgrim of peace and to promote inter-religious dialogue.”
He will be received by the nation’s new king, His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn, and will preside at religious ceremonies and make pastoral visits to Catholic communities.
He will be the second pope to visit Thailand after Pope St. John Paul II travelled to the Southeast Asian nation in 1984.
The papal visit will coincide with the 350th anniversary of the founding of the “Mission de Siam” which was first established by Pope Clement IX in 1669.
The statement from the bishops’ conference said evidence showed Catholicism was first introduced to Siam by Dominican missionaries in 1567 when Ayutthaya was still the capital.
Today Thailand’s 380,000-strong Catholic community makes up less than one percent of the population. The Church has 12 dioceses and 662 priests in the country.
After leaving Thailand, Pope Francis will travel to Japan, where he is expected to call for complete nuclear disarmament. A world without nuclear weapons has been his long-time message.
With the theme of the visit “Protect All Life,” he is expected to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki, cities that were decimated after the US dropped nuclear bombs at the end of World War II.
“I am grateful that he will come to Japan with its small number of Christians compared to other countries,” said Archbishop Mitsuaki Takami of Nagasaki, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan.
Japan’s main religions are Buddhism and Shintoism, and Catholics number some 440,000.
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