By Linda Bordoni
One event of his 32nd Apostolic Visit abroad that took place far from the public eye was Pope Francis’ private meeting with the King of Thailand.
On the morning of his first full day in Bangkok, a Chamberlain to the King received the Pope as he arrived on Thursday at Amphorn Royal Palace which is situated inside Bangkok’s Dusit Palace, and serves as the current primary residence of King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
Construction of the sumptuous Palace began in 1890 by the order of King Chulalongkon (Rama V) who wanted a grand residential hall inside the Dusit Gardens. It was initially named the 'Ivory Garden' and subsequently changed to the ‘Amphorn Sathan Residential Hall’ which translated from Thai, means “The royal seat in the sky”.
During the Pope’s private visit with King Vajiralongkorn and his Royal consort, Queen Suthida, a conversation took place, gifts were exchanged, but the press was excluded.
King Maha Vajiralongkorn was the crown prince when he greeted Pope St. John Paul II on the only previous papal visit to Thailand in 1984.
He was officially crowned earlier this year and is the official protector of Buddhism in Thailand.
Although King Vajiralongkorn inherited the throne in 2016 when his long-reigning father Bhumibol Adulyadej died, he asked for time to mourn before taking the throne.
Thailand has a constitutional monarchy, but the royal family is highly revered by Thais and wields considerable power. During a three-day Coronation Ceremony the 66-year-old king was handed the 7.3kg ‘Great Crown of Victory’, which he placed on his head.
As the tenth monarch of the Chakri dynasty, he is also known as Rama X. Aged 64 at the time of his coronation, Vajiralongkorn became the oldest Thai monarch to ascend to the throne.
Thailand as we know it today did not exist as a nation until the early 1900s. Prior to the 1900s, various kingdoms vied for power across the land, creating a rich and fascinating historical saga.
Thailand was referred to as the Kingdom of Siam up until 1939, when its name was officially changed to Thailand.