Archbishop Francis Xavier Kriengsak Kovithavanij of Bangkok with the relics of St John Paul II and St John XXIII during a May 10 ceremony. (Photo by Stephen Steele)
Father Komsan Yancharoen's prevailing memory from his ordination 30 years ago was wilting in the day's intense heat. The other lasting memory from that day was that the man who conferred his priesthood was a future saint – Pope John Paul II.
The late pope was on the final leg of a pastoral visit to Asia in 1984 when he ordained 23 Thai priests. Fr Yancharoen said that since his English at the time was poor he remembered little of what the pope said. But he recalled that John Paul II presented a "softer side of the Church" that helped advance the Church's role in Thai society.
"In Thailand, many people were confused about the Catholic Church and its objective, but the pope helped reduce this confusion," he told ucanews.com, during a May 10 Mass and procession in in Nakhon Pathom province that welcomed relics of the Church's newest saints, John Paul II and John XXIII. The two men were canonized at the Vatican on April 24.
The relics, a vial of blood from St John Paul II and a small piece of skin from St John XXIII, will remain in Thailand and rotate among parishes throughout the country.
Fr Yancharoen gathered at St John Paul II Hall with nearly 5,000 other Thai Catholics to welcome the relics to Thailand.
The next day, the relics were presented to King Bhumibol Adulyadej by members of the Thai bishops' conference at Klai Kangwon Palace in Hua Hin, where the bishops also offered prayers for the world's longest reigning monarch's health.
Monsignor Andrew Vissanu Thanya Anan, deputy secretary-general for the Thai bishops' conference and former Vatican undersecretary for the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue, said both popes had a special relationship with Thailand's king.
King Bhumibol visited St John XXIII at the Vatican in 1960 where the king invited the pontiff to visit Thailand. The visit of St John Paul II in 1984 was in large part a fulfillment of that invitation.
During his visit, St John Paul II met with refugees at the Phanat Nikhom camp in Thailand.
Msgr Vissanu said that when "the Thai people saw the pope’s humility, it broke down barriers".
"Thailand has always carried the burden of the refugees. When they saw the leader of the Church meet the refugees, the Thai people came to know the Church better," he said.