By Robin Gomes
Asia's Catholic bishops regard the visit of Pope Francis to Thailand and Japan, next week, as “a moment of grace for Christians”.
“Pope Francis is a prophet of modern times. He is a world leader who proclaims not only a religious message but a message for humanity,” writes Asian Catholic bishops' president, Myanmar Cardinal Charles Bo, Archbishop of Yangon.
Pope Francis is visiting Thailand and Japan, November 20 to 26. This 32nd foreign Apostolic Journey of his pontificate will be his 4th to Asia, after that of South Korea in 2014, Sri Lanka and the Philippines the following year and Myanmar and Bangladesh in 2017.
Cardinal Bo is scheduled to meet the Pope in Bangkok on November 22 at the shrine of Blessed Nicholas Boonkerd Kitbamrung in the Thai capital, during a meeting with Thai bishops and the FABC.
Reaching out to the peripheries
The FABC president notes that the Pope is reaching out to “all kinds of people” as shown by his desire to visit countries where the Catholic community is a minority, expressing concern for the marginalized and those on the peripheries.
In this regard, the Salesian cardinal regards the papal visit to Myanmar and Bangladesh as a grace and a miracle. The trip was tough but it did not prevent the Pope from visiting these two countries.
The cardinal notes, “He came as a pilgrim of peace and his presence brought immense joy and happiness to every heart of our people.” “The whole of Myanmar was full of hope in those days when the Holy Father was with us.” He encouraged the Catholic Church and the youth to be an “instrument of peace”.
Profound spirituality of eastern traditions
Cardinal Bo also regards the Pope’s visit to Thailand and Japan as a great blessing in terms of an encounter. Both nations, the Archbishop of Yangon observes, have always been “steeped in profound spiritual traditions”, to the point of “attracting thousands of people to their shores”.
The president of the FABC recalls “the Pope's interest in Eastern religions”, as well as “his love for nature and the biosphere” well expressed in his encyclical “Laudato si” and in the recent special assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Amazon, also reading the sign of the Argentine pope’s admiration “for the spiritual tradition of the East, which considers all living beings as part of God's presence”.
Pope – prophet of justice
Finally, Cardinal Bo also speaks about “climate change” and “poverty”, issues that are very dear to the heart of the Holy Father. And since “Thailand and Japan have faced great challenges in climate change”, Cardinal Bo says he is convinced that the pope’s voice “will be heard on these issues”.
In the upcoming visit, the FABC president says Asia will welcome the “prophet of justice: economic and environmental justice.” Stressing that “Asia is the cradle of great religions and civilizations,” he concludes his message wishing that the “spiritual meeting be a source of blessing for everyone in these countries and a new dawn of peace and prosperity” in the great continent.
Pope Francis will be in Thailand from 20 to 23 November, after which he will be in Japan, 23 to 26 November.
This will be the second visit of a Pontiff to Thailand in over 35 years, after that of Pope Saint John Paul II in 1984. The motto of the Journey, "Christ’s Disciples, Missionary Disciples", is to mark the 350th anniversary of the establishment of the Apostolic Vicariate of Siam, created in 1669, that formally marked the beginning of the Church in the country.
Pope John Paul visited Japan 38 years ago in 1981. The theme of Pope Francis’ visit to Japan, “Protect All Life”, focuses on respect for not only each person’s dignity but also the environment, according to the country's Catholic bishops.