Home Catholic Church & Asia Vatican honors Thai samaritan with highest merit for civilian on Pope’s Day

Vatican honors Thai samaritan with highest merit for civilian on Pope’s Day

The Holy See has honored a Thai philanthropist with the “Knights Grand Cross” of the Pontifical Order of St. Gregory the Great, one of the most prestigious awards the Catholic Church can bestow upon the laity.

Somsak Leeswadtrakul, an industrialist and a prominent philanthropist, received the honor of Knights Grand Cross on the observance of Pope’s Day, June 30. 

Held at the Arnoma Grand Hotel, the ceremony coincided with the Feast Day of Saints Peter and Paul and the celebration of the 10th anniversary of Pope Francis’ Pontificate. 

The Knights Grand Cross, the highest rank within the Order, was accorded to Leeswadtrakul for his outstanding service and unwavering dedication to the Catholic Church, the country, and the wider community.

The Vatican gave him the distinction in recognition of his commitment to working for and building up peaceful and harmonious relationships within the Thai community, as well as in Asia and across the globe.

Leeswadtrakul, a devout Catholic layperson, has been instrumental in various interreligious dialogues with the Buddhist community, and other Christian denominations and religions. For years, he and his family have been responding to the concerns of the poor, vulnerable, and marginalized sectors.

This year, the Vatican also honored Thinakorn Kitcharoen, who received a Knighthood in the Order of St. Gregory the Great, for his exceptional contributions and charitable endeavors, as well as five others from the Archdiocese of Tha Rae in northeastern Thailand. Kitcharoen sells candles and flowers at church fairs and for the last 30 years have donated all proceeds to his local church in the village of Song Khon at the border city of Mukdahan.

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The Order of Saint Gregory the Great was founded by Pope Gregory XVI on 1 September 1831 to reward the individuals who had defended the Holy See in a time when Europe was in great unrest because of the bourgeois revolution in France and the Napoleonic invasions.

Msgr. Daniel Tumiel, Deputy Chief of Mission of the Apostolic Nunciature to Thailand, said the prestigious recognition is reserved for individuals who have demonstrated outstanding service to the Catholic Church and the broader community.

He said it is important to celebrate the contributions of individuals who work tirelessly to improve the community, especially nowadays when the world is engulfed with negativity. He said the Order of St. Gregory the Great serves as a beacon, honoring those who have made significant contributions to society.

In his address, Archbishop Peter Bryan Wells, the Apostolic Nuncio to Thailand, commended the Thai people for exemplifying “kindness and welcome,” – traits, which he said, “have become a distinct aspect of the culture of the Kingdom [of Thailand].

“Indeed, all Thais are representatives of this beautiful country. It is within this culture of kindness that the Holy See and the Kingdom of Thailand have for more than 50 years now continued to strengthen the bonds of cooperation,” the Vatican ambassador said.

The prelate said the cooperation between the two States is evident in the joint contribution of the Catholic Church and the civil leaders in Thailand “to ensure a bright future for the people of this region”.

Archbishop Peter Bryan Wells, the Apostolic Nuncio to Thailand. (Photo by Peter Monthienvichienchai, LiCAS News)

“This mutual cooperation and respect is particularly clearly exemplified in the extraordinary bond between the Buddhist community and the Catholic Church in Thailand,” he said. 

Archbishop Wells assured the public that the Catholic Church in Thailand and its laity “will continue to support” the Kingdom “through the services the Church provides in the sectors of education, social programs, and health care, which have such a positive impact on the life of the Country”. 

“The Catholic community will continue to work toward the fostering of integrity, justice, and peace, standing with those who have no voice, to ensure that all men and women are granted the dignity and respect they so justly deserve,” said the prelate. 

He also stressed that the Vatican will “never cease its efforts to enable the message of peace to be heard” across the globe and that the Apostolic Nunciature in Thailand will always bridge the constant dialogue between the Kingdom and the Apostolic See “for the benefit of the entire community”

The prelate noted that the gathering on Pope’s Day “is the first occasion we have had to come together” since 2019, “the same year that Pope Francis made his historic and memorable visit to the Kingdom”.

Dr. Somsak Leeswadtrakul, Knight Grand Cross of St. Gregory the Great, June 2023. (Photo by LiCAS News & Catholic Social Communication of Thailand)

Only a few individuals have received the highest rank, the Knights Grand Cross of the Order, in the past decades. Among those who received it were Prince Franz Anton von Thun und Hohenstein, Rodrigo Augusto da Silva, Riccardo Muti, Alice von Hildebrand, and Chainarong Monthienvichienchai.

The motto of the Order of St. Gregory the Great is Pro Deo et Principe, or “For God and Ruler”.

Church officials in Thailand said the exceptional leadership, unwavering commitment, and deep compassion of both Leeswadtrukal and Kitcharoen for their fellow human beings have earned them the distinction. 

“It stands as a testament to the profound impact they have made in service to society, the Catholic Church, and humanity as a whole,” the officials said.

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