Filipino Catholic missionaries stationed in Thailand have welcomed the pope’s message as a challenge “to immerse further” into the lives of the people.
Oblates of Mary Immaculate Father Franklin Mirasol said the presence of Pope Francis “is a booster” for the men and women of the cloth, “especially for the foreign missionaries.”
“The Holy Father’s message, more than encouragement, is a guide for every missionary in this region. It will help us in our mission to evangelize,” he said.
Father Mirasol, who’s been in Thailand for 26 years, said the Catholic mission in the country “is strong in terms of service, social charities, and education.”
“However, in terms of the power of spirituality, it seems that we are not that visible. We are hardly felt,” he said.
The oblate priest stressed that the Church has “to be more immersed.” “We need to focus on the young people, and translate the Good News into their own language,” he said.
In his meeting with the priests, religious, seminarians, and catechists at the St. Peter’s Parish just outside of Bangkok, the pontiff urged them to find new ways in delivering the message.
“Let us not be afraid to continue inculturating the Gospel,” he said. “We need to seek new ways to transmit the Word that is capable of mobilizing and awakening the desire to know the Lord.”
Pope Francis also urged them to “give faith a Thai face and flesh, which involves much more than making translations.”
“We need to let the Gospel sing with the native music of this land … and inspire the hearts of our brothers and sisters with the same beauty that set our own hearts on fire,” the pontiff added.
Dominican Sister Gina Nogales, who teaches English to Thai students, said faith with a Thai face and flesh could also be achieved “if Blessed Nicholas Boonkerd Kitbamrung will become a saint.”
Sister Nogales was referring to Blessed Nicholas who was jailed for “anti-patriotic” acts during World War II. He continued his missionary work in jail, baptizing 68 of his fellow prisoners. He died of tuberculosis in the prison hospital in 1944 at the age of 49.
“A Thai saint, a saint of their own, will help grow the Catholic faith in the country. Blessed Kitbamrung’s martyrdom is an inspiration that is told in the native dialect,” Sister Nogales said.
Sister Angel, an Augustinian missionary in the northeastern region of the country, said she relates to the pope’s message on what it is to be a Christian.
“As missionaries, it is inherent in us to treat the people whom we encounter every single day as part of our life, members of our family, or our own brothers and sisters,” she said.
Sister Angel, who’s been working and living in the country for 15 years, said the pontiff’s words have encouraged and fulfilled her as a missionary.
“It is my first time to see Pope Francis and it was like a renewal of my commitment as a Catholic religious sister to the mission of the Church,” she said.
In Manila, Bishop Pablo Virligio David said the pope came to Thailand as “a supreme bridge-builder,” who comes “only to build bridges of goodwill and dialogue.”
The bishop of Caloocan said the “not-so-noble episodes of the past” or the time when Catholic missionaries are used “as a tool for colonialism” has long ended.
Bishop David said the pope “frowns when he hears of fellow Christians who still go for proselytism and coercive mass baptisms and call it evangelization.
“He is saddened when we boldly advocate for religious freedom in countries where we are a minority but routinely disregard it where we are the majority,” the prelate added.
Accepting an invitation from the Thai government and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Thailand, the pope is visiting the kingdom from Nov. 20-23 as a “pilgrim of peace and to promote inter-religious dialogue.”
The Catholic Church leader’s visit comes also occurs during the 350th anniversary of the establishment of the Apostolic Vicariate of Thailand, formerly known as Siam.
Pope Francis arrived in Thailand on Nov. 20 for the first leg of his Asian tour that will later bring him to Japan. This is the pope’s third trip to Asia — and his 32nd abroad — taking him to two Buddhist-majority countries with minority Catholic populations.