Thursday, November 21, 2019

Thailand: Meeting with the Supreme Patriarch of Buddhists

This morning, at 10:00am local time (10:00pm last night EST), the Holy Father, Pope Francis paid a visit to the Supreme Patriarch of Buddhists, Somdet Phra Ariyavongsagatanana IX at the Wat Ratchabophit Sathit Maha Simaram Temple.

Upon his arrival, the Pope was welcomed at the entrance to the complex by the Patriarch's Secretary and they walked together to the Temple.

After a welcome speech, which was offered by the Supreme Patriarch, the Holy Father shared his greetings.  Then, following the exchange of gifts, there was a brief moment of private sharing, during which the value of fraternity between the two religions was reiterated, in order to promote peace. At the end, before the sharing of mutual greetings by the members of the two delegations, the Holy Father and the Supreme Patriarch of the Buddhists exchanged mutual blessings. Finally, after signing the Book of Honor and the official photograph, the Pope took leave of the Supreme Patriarch and before leaving the structure, in the central courtyard, posed for a group photo with 35 Monks from the Wat Pho Monastery. He then drove to Saint Louis Hospital for a meeting with medical staff.

Greetings of the Holy Father, Pope Francis
offered to the Supreme Patriarch of Buddhists

Your Holiness,

I thank you for your gracious words of welcome. At the beginning of my visit to this nation, I am pleased to come to this Royal Temple, a symbol of the values and teachings that characterize this beloved people. The majority of Thais have drunk deeply from the sources of Buddhism, which have imbued their way of venerating life and their ancestors, and leading a sober lifestyle based on contemplation, detachment, hard work and discipline (cf. Ecclesia in Asia, 6). These traits nurture your distinctive characteristic as a “smiling people”.

Our meeting takes place as part of the journey of esteem and mutual recognition initiated by our predecessors. I would like this visit to follow in their footsteps, in order to increase respect but also friendship between our communities. Almost fifty years have passed since the seventeenth Supreme Patriarch, Somdej Phra Wanarat (Pun Punnasiri), together with a group of distinguished Buddhist monks, visited Pope Paul VI in the Vatican. This represented a very significant turning point in the development of the dialogue between our religious traditions, which subsequently enabled Pope John Paul II to visit this Temple and the Supreme Patriarch, His Holiness Somdej Phra Ariyavongsagatanana (Vasana Vasano).

I myself recently had the honour of welcoming a delegation of monks from the Wat Pho temple, who presented me with a translation of an ancient Buddhist manuscript in the Pali language kept in the Vatican Library. These are small steps which help testify that the culture of encounter is possible, not only within our communities but also in our world, so prone to creating and spreading conflict and exclusion. When we have the opportunity to appreciate and esteem one another in spite of our differences (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 250), we offer a word of hope to the world, which can encourage and support those who increasingly suffer the harmful effects of conflict. Occasions like this remind us how important it is for religions to become more and more beacons of hope, as promoters and guarantors of fraternity.

In this regard, I am grateful to the people of this land, because, since the arrival of Christianity in Thailand some four and a half centuries ago, Catholics have enjoyed freedom in religious practice, despite their being in a minority, and for many years have lived in harmony with their Buddhist brothers and sisters.

On this path of mutual trust and fraternity, I wish to reiterate my personal commitment, and that of the whole Church, to furthering an open and respectful dialogue in the service of the peace and well-being of this people. Thanks to scholarly exchanges, which lead to greater mutual understanding, as well as the exercise of contemplation, mercy and discernment – common to both our traditions – we can grow and live together as good “neighbors”. We will likewise be able to promote among the followers of our religions the development of new charitable projects, capable of generating and multiplying practical initiatives on the path of fraternity, especially with regard to the poor and our much-abused common home. In this way, we will contribute to the formation of a culture of compassion, fraternity and encounter, both here and in other parts of the world (cf. ibid.). I am sure, Your Holiness, that this journey will continue to bear fruit in abundance.

Once again, I thank Your Holiness for this meeting. I pray that you may be granted every divine blessing for your own health and well-being, and for your high responsibility of guiding the followers of Buddhism in the ways of peace and concord.

Thank you!
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