Pope Francis called for global commitment to the protection of migrants, especially women and children, in his first public address during his apostolic journey to Thailand on Nov. 21.
The pontiff appealed to the international community to protect women and children “who are violated and exposed to every form of exploitation, enslavement, violence and abuse.”
“May every nation devise effective means for protecting the dignity and rights of migrants and refugees,” he said during a high-profile event attended by Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha at Government House in Bangkok.
Even as the pope praised the Thailand government for efforts to fight human trafficking, he pleaded for international action against what he described as a “scourge” that plagues the region.
He noted that displaced people continue to face “dangers, uncertainties and exploitation in their quest for freedom and a decent life for their families.”
The pope described the “movements of migration” around the world as “a phenomenon that represents one of the principal moral issues facing our generation.”
He said the crisis of migration cannot be ignored, adding that Thailand has been witness to the thousands of migrants and refugees from neighboring countries.
“Thailand itself, known for the welcome it has given to migrants and refugees, has experienced this crisis as a result of the tragic flight of refugees from nearby countries,” he said.
“I express my hope that the international community will act with responsibility and foresight, will work to resolve the issues that have led to this tragic exodus,” said Pope Francis.
He called for the promotion of “safe, orderly and regulated migration,” saying that it is “not just about migrants” but “it is also about the face we want to give to our societies.”
In his message, the pontiff praised Thailand for “showing respect and appreciation for different cultures, religious groups, thoughts, and ideas.”
He said respect for diversity “serves as an inspiration” even as the effects of globalization are “all too often viewed in narrowly economic terms.”
The pope commended Thailand for its initiative to create a “social ethics commission” that involves traditional religions in the country.
He assured state leaders of the “full commitment” of Thailand’s minority Catholic community “to maintain and promote the distinctive characteristics of the Thai people.”
He said Catholics should, however, be ready to confront situations that might lead them to be “insensitive” to the needs of those “who yearn to be freed from the yoke of poverty, violence, and injustice.”
He called for “artisans of hospitality” who will commit to the “integral development of all peoples within a human family committed to dwelling in justice, solidarity and fraternal harmony.”
In his response, Prime Minister Prayut expressed his “high admiration” for the pontiff, especially Pope Francis’s “noble undertakings.”
After meeting with Thai government officials, Pope Francis met Thailand’s Supreme Patriarch of Buddhism at a temple in Bangkok followed by a visit to a Catholic hospital.
The pope’s visit coincides with the 350th anniversary of the establishment of the Catholic Mission in Thailand and the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the country and the Holy See.