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Ayutthaya (Thailand) (AFP)
Setting foot in a robust Buddhist kingdom greater than three centuries in the past, fearless European missionaries constructed a church on the banks of a river — the birthplace of a Catholic group in Thailand which eagerly awaits the arrival of Pope Francis on Wednesday.
About an hour’s drive from Bangkok, Ayutthaya is now a sleepy city of largely Buddhist ruins and backpackers however up to now it was a vibrant, cosmopolitan metropolis seen as a diplomatic assembly level between east and west.
That made it potential for Rome to ascertain the “Mission de Siam” 350 years in the past at a time when missionary work in Asia was harmful and considered with deep suspicion.
“This church is taken into account the center of Catholicism in Thailand,” stated Father Tweesak Kitcharoen after a current mass at St. Joseph’s.
A Catholic holdout in a sea of Buddhist temples, the mission survived hardship, occasional hostility and battle.
The unique church was constructed round 1666, based on Tweesak, but it surely was deemed too small.
A second mannequin was burned down when armies from Burma sacked town in 1767, and it was rebuilt two extra instances.
The Catholic group there held on even after the capital was moved to Bangkok within the late 18th century.
Singing hymns in Thai and kneeling in prayer, the 100 or so congregants who attend Sunday providers at St. Joseph’s are a part of Thailand’s 380,00Zero-strong Catholic group, roughly Zero.5 % of the inhabitants.
They’re fired up in anticipation of Francis’s first go to, which goals to mark the anniversary whereas highlighting spiritual concord.
“I’ve solely seen him on TV and I am unable to imagine that I’ll lastly have the prospect to fulfill him,” stated Prathuang Boonkong, 62, who plans on attending a stadium mass led by the pope.
– ‘Position mannequin’ –
The church, which is painted yellow and rises up off land by the river, is pleased with its historic position in spreading the religion.
In a surrounding backyard it has even erected a mannequin of the boat that introduced missionaries from Europe.
A statue on the grounds represents Bishop Pierre Lambert de la Motte, who is assumed to have requested the land from King Narai.
The early arrivals encountered some preliminary hostility from native residents, who would additionally later affiliate Catholicism with French colonial efforts in Southeast Asia.
However they didn’t face the identical pushback as they did in Japan — the following cease on Francis’s itinerary after Thailand.
There, missionaries had been expelled and native adherents pressured to surrender the religion.
In a message house from Thailand, de la Motte wrote he had “by no means seen any land” with totally different religions residing in such concord, stated native historian Puttipong Puttansri.
Earlier than his journey Francis despatched a video message to the Thai folks wherein he stated he hoped to “strengthen ties of friendship” with Buddhists.
Whereas right here he’ll meet the nation’s king, prime minister and supreme patriarch of the bulk Buddhist group.
The go to has stirred pleasure among the many devoted, who haven’t had a go to by a pontiff because the late Pope John Paul II in 1984.
Many will attend a minimum of considered one of his two plenty, whereas others will have the ability to watch livestreams of the occasions.
Francis is a “position mannequin” for Kaiwut Patthamasuthian, a 25-year-old who attends St. Joseph’s church.
“Not solely does he educate us, however he additionally reveals us how he lives his life in a humble method,” he stated.
© 2019 AFP