An earthquake shook Thailand on Thursday morning (Nov. 21), alarming the residents of Bangkok’s numerous skyscrapers, which swayed for about a minute.
It was a memorable start to the second day of Pope Francis’ visit to Thailand, a visit local Catholics hope will make a lasting impression on their small Catholic community.
“Thai Catholics are hoping that the pope will help them to be happy as Christians and be better missionaries,” said the Rev. Brice Testu, a French missionary, in an interview Wednesday with a small group of reporters, including Religion News Service.
Pope Francis is visiting Thailand for an apostolic visit through Saturday, before embarking to Japan for the second leg of his fourth apostolic visit to Asia.
Thai Catholics represent slightly over 0.5 percent of the population of this mostly Buddhist nation, a number that has not much changed in the 350 years Catholicism has been present in the country.
Francis’ idea of evangelization is largely based on a “show, don’t tell” approach where the Catholic faith is compelling because of its charitable work and presence.
“Catholics in Thailand know that they are not going to convert the whole country in the next couple of years. It really (prompts) us to ask how we can be missionaries when you know that the majority will not convert and will not baptize tomorrow or next year,” Testu said.
To bring his message home on his first full day in Thailand on Thursday, Pope Francis chose to visit the St. Louis Hospital in Bangkok, the country’s largest Catholic health care facility and an example of the Catholic community’s positive impact on the society and people in need.
“Buddhist people like the Catholic Church, but they know very, very few things about it,” said Testu, who administers Communion in the hospital.
“Even if the Catholic Church makes up such a small percentage, thanks to their good schools, and hospitals, and the fact that they take care of the ill, and of children in ensuring they are educated, it has a very good reputation among all the Thai people.”
The day before Pope Francis’ visit to the hospital, its workers barely held back their excitement, with some praying, others crying and many more singing to celebrate the arrival of their “Father.”
They expressed their hope that Francis would offer words of encouragement not only for the toil and hardship of everyday hospital work, but also to inspire a sense of mission for the small Catholic community.
“My job is a bit hard. I want for him to support us, to give us something to move forth in life, an embrace,” one nurse said.
This year, St. Louis Hospital celebrates the 120th anniversary of its founding. For Francis’ visit, the hospital workers went all out, covering the building with ribbons and filling the halls with orchids – all in yellow, the papal color.
The sound of people singing “We love the pope” and “Let us show love for the Holy Father” was played over loudspeakers as Francis arrived.
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Source: Religion News Service