Pope Francis in Thailand

Pope Francis in Thailand

Pope Francis arrives for a meeting with priests, religious, seminarians and catechists at St. Peter’s Parish in Tha Kham, Thailand, Nov. 22, 2019. PAUL HARING/CNS

By Bishop Pablo Virgilio David

November 22, 2019

Manila, Philippines

How wonderful it is to see Pope Francis visiting even countries where Roman Catholic Christians are a minority. Unlike in the Philippines where the throngs of millions welcoming the Pope can—albeit unintentionally—amount to a massive show of political capital, Thailand’s relatively sparse but just as warm and welcoming Catholic faithful have the same mood of exhilaration about the coming of the man we regard as our symbol of unity, our symbol of communion. In Latin, we refer to his office as “Pontifex Maximus” because that is precisely what he is for us: a “supreme bridge-builder.” Like the Divine Master he is, as the song goes, “like a bridge over troubled waters” always ready to say, “I will lay me down.”

He does not come to build walls. There are enough of those already—not just walls but chasms that divide us as nations, as communities, as families, or even as individuals. No, he comes only to build bridges of good will and dialogue. This is one Pope who will never treat fellow human beings as less dignified just because they do not share our religion or profess belief in the same doctrines. Because he believes first and foremost that God is Love and that we do not have a monopoly of love, care, mercy and compassion, he does not believe that the godless people in this world are those of other religions or even those without religion but rather those who are without love.

And whenever and wherever he encounters people of other communities of faith who manifest as much selflessness, as much love, care, mercy and compassion for the most disadvantaged in society, as much concern for the earth as our common home, and as much solicitude for the common good, he responds like Moses before a burning bush—ready to take the sandals off his feet.

This Pope is also candid about admitting the Church’s mistakes in the past, much to the consternation of those who are stuck in the not-so-noble episodes of the past. Unfailingly, he expresses remorse when he is reminded of those times in the past when we allowed the Catholic religion to be used as a tool for colonialism. He frowns when he hears of fellow Christians who still go for proselytism and coercive mass baptisms and call it “evangelization”. He is saddened when we boldly advocate for religious freedom in countries where we are a minority but routinely disregard it where we are the majority. He refuses to go back to those times of triumphalism, those times when we labeled as “pagan” anything that seemed culturally alien from what the west regarded as “civilized”.

This man is a true “Francis”—a man of peace, a man of dialogue. He is quick at finding spaces of unity. More than tolerance, he advocates respect for other religions. Beyond dialogue, he opens many doors to collaboration in many endeavors for the homeless poor, for migrants and itinerants, for social justice, intercultural harmony and the integrity of creation.

That anonymous prayer often attributed to his namesake from Assisi sums up well what Pope Francis is visiting Thailand for: “To be an instrument of peace…one who would rather bring love where there is hatred, pardon where there is injury, faith where there’s doubt, hope where there’s despair, joy where there’s sadness, and light where there is darkness.” As a vicar of the Divine Master, he “would rather console than demand consolation, to understand than to ask to be understood, to love than to expect to be loved.” He speaks on behalf of the humble carpenter from Nazareth who insists that “it is in giving that we receive, in pardoning that we are pardoned, and in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

Welcome to Asia, dear Pope Francis!

Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan is also the Vice President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).