By Panu Wongcha-um
BANGKOK (Reuters) – The final time Vararunee Khonchanath was within the presence of a pope was earlier than she was born simply over 35 years in the past, however when Pope Francis visits Bangkok later this week to bless Thailand’s tiny Catholic minority she will likely be singing within the choir.
A sixth-generation Catholic of Portuguese-Thai ancestry, Vararunee lives in a 250-year-old neighborhood that’s as outdated because the Thai capital itself. In the course of the earlier papal go to, again in 1984, Vararunee’s pregnant mom was among the many congregation.
“I used to be in my mum’s tummy as she attended the mass when His Holiness John Paul II visited Thailand the final time,” Vararunee stated, including how honored she felt to be within the choir this time, when Pope Francis affords mass on the Nationwide Stadium.
Throughout his go to from Nov. 20-23, Pope Francis will even have fun mass at Assumption Cathedral in central Bangkok.
In overwhelmingly Buddhist Thailand, Catholics quantity just a bit greater than 380,000 in a rustic of greater than 65 million.
Historians say greater than 70 % of Catholics in Thailand, like Vararunee, have international ancestry.
Catholicism first arrived in Siam, the outdated title for Thailand, within the mid 1500s with Portuguese missionaries and merchants.
The Vatican formally established its “Mission de Siam” 350 years in the past through the reign of King Narai, an anniversary that coincides with the go to of Pope Francis that begins on Wednesday.
Whereas missionaries failed to realize mass conversions, they had been largely tolerated by the Buddhist majority and significantly the royal court docket.
“Prior to now, many Catholics from locations like Japan and Vietnam, migrated to this land to flee spiritual persecution,” stated Puttipong Puttansri, a historian on the Archdiocese of Bangkok Historic Archive.
Catholics have over time constructed colleges and hospitals, a few of that are nonetheless well-known and revered right this moment.
“For a lot of Thais, Catholicism is synonymous with colleges,” Puttipong stated.
There have been additionally spells of non secular persecutions. Within the late 1600s, Catholic monks had been arrested and a few killed out of suspicion they had been working with France to colonize the nation.
Comparable hostility stirred within the 1940s when a nationalistic Thai authorities was at conflict with France in Indochina.
The strain resulted within the closing down of faculties, confiscation of properties and the arrest of some clergy.
In 1940, seven Catholics, together with three teenage ladies, had been killed by Thai police within the northeastern province of Nakhon Phanom. Pope John Paul II later declared them martyrs.
PEACE AND PASTRIES
Within the trendy period, Thailand stays largely tolerant to Catholics.
Catholics in Bangkok’s historic Kudi Chin neighborhood alongside the Chao Praya River have principally lived peacefully whereas sustaining their distinctive traditions and beliefs.
The district is thought domestically not just for Santa Cruz Church, that’s the focus for its Catholic neighborhood, however for the standard Portuguese-influenced cupcake that’s nonetheless baked there.
For the trustworthy equivalent to Vararunee, the papal go to casts a lightweight on their neighborhood and religion.
“I’m very proud that we handle to carry on to our roots,” Vararunee stated.
(Extra report by Juarawee Kittisilpa; Modifying by Kay Johnson & Simon Cameron-Moore)