Looking up to the ‘land of interreligious dialogue’
The recent apostolic journey of Pope Francis to Thailand and Japan certainly gives boost to the upcoming Year of the Ecumenism, Interreligious Dialogue and Indigenous Peoples, which will be ushered by Filipino Catholics on the First Sunday of Advent. In fact, it its pastoral statement issued for the event, the Philippine bishops acknowledge that they “draw inspiration from the recent Apostolic visit of Pope Francis to the Middle East, Thailand, and Japan, which promoted a culture of encounter and solidarity.”
Thailand was hailed by the Holy Father as a country that “has long known the importance of building harmony and peaceful coexistence between its numerous ethnic groups, while showing respect and appreciation for different culture, religious groups, thoughts and ideas.” Its peaceful coexistence amidst ethnic plurality and religious diversity are the distinguishing features that shape the “beauty and soul” of its people.
In a time when religious intolerance and violent persecution is sadly becoming the trademark of the present generation, the Thailand prototype is worth emulating. According to the Religious Freedom Report 2018 of the Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), there are about 300 million persecuted Christians around the world today. This has triggered ACN to initiate the Red Wednesday crusade that aims to raise awareness on the gravity of the problem even to global bystanders.
In a meeting with authorities, civil society and the diplomatic corps in Bangkok on November 21, 2019, Pope Francis has committed the local Catholic community “to maintain and promote the distinctive characteristics of the Thai people, as evoked in your national anthem: peaceful and loving, but not cowardly.”
The secretary general of the Thailand bishops’ conference, Msgr. Andrew Vissanu, aptly puts it: “His visit means a lot to the Thai people, who in general, have a heart of hospitality and tolerance, because it confirms to the world that we enjoy full religious freedom in this land where 95% of the population is Buddhist.” He calls Thailand as the “land of interreligious dialogue.”