Pope Francis will come to Thailand in November, on the first leg of an Asian trip that will also take him to Japanese cities devastated by atomic bombs in World War II, the Vatican and archbishop of Bangkok announced Friday.
During his four-day visit to Buddhist-majority Thailand – the first by a pontiff in 35 years – Francis will meet members of the Thai Catholic community, said Cardinal Francis-Xavier Kriengsak Kovitvanit, head of the Bishops’ Conference of Thailand (BCT).
“Pope Francis will officially visit Thailand from Nov. 20 to 23, 2019 at the invitation of the Thai government and the Catholic Bishops of Thailand,” the archbishop told a news conference in the Thai capital.
Kriengsak said the Pope’s itinerary “will be announced later,” but Monsignor Vissanu Thanya-anan, BCT deputy secretary-general, told reporters that Francis would visit churches and meet other religious leaders.
“He certainly will have a Mass twice, one for Catholics in Thailand and another one for new generations, the youths, as usual,” Vissanu said.
The last Pope to visit Thailand was John Paul II, who made a whirlwind trip in May 1984.
Dominican priests introduced Christianity to Thais but the Catholicism has never gained a significant foothold. As of 2019, Thailand has about 389,000 Catholics, accounting for less than 1 percent of the Buddhist-majority nation’s population of 69 million, according to official figures from the Catholic Church.
The Thai Foreign Ministry, in a one-paragraph statement posted on its website, confirmed that the Pope was making a visit “at the invitation of the Royal Thai Government and the Bishops of Thailand.”
“The program of the visit will be announced later,” it said.
The Holy See’s Press Office also confirmed the pontiff’s visit.
In Japan, where he will stay until Nov. 26, Pope Francis will visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The United States detonated two nuclear bombs over the two cities on Aug. 6 and 9, 1945, respectively, killing between 129,000 and 226,000 people, according to historians. There are about 450,000 Catholics in Japan, where Shinto and Buddhism are the main religions.
Since being elected by a papal conclave as the 266th Roman Catholic pontiff in 2013, Pope Francis has constantly used his pulpit to draw attention to the powerless and the persecuted.
In a November 2017 speech, Pope Francis “firmly condemned” nuclear weapons.
He has also spoken against the mass killing of Armenians during World War II, risking Turkey’s anger by describing the deaths as a genocide, and he has also condemned “the persecution of our Rohingya brothers” in Myanmar.
During a visit to Bangladesh in December 2017, Francis prayed with Rohingya refugees.
“In the name of everyone, of those who persecute you, of those who’ve done you wrong, above all, the world’s indifference, I ask you for forgiveness,” the pope told them, his voice trembling with emotion.
Pope Francis’ visit to Thailand will mark the 350th anniversary of the founding of the “Mission de Siam,” which was founded by Pope Clement IX in 1669.
Born Jorge Mario Bergoglino on Dec. 17, 1936, Pope Francis has visited Sri Lanka and the Philippines in 2014, before visiting Myanmar and Bangladesh three years later.