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Thai Buddhists celebrate 50-year bond with Vatican

A delegation met Pope Francis to mark golden jubilee of meeting between Pope Paul VI and the 17th supreme Buddhist patriarch

Pope Francis waves to children as he prepares to board his plane to depart from Bangkok's military airport, leaving Thailand on his way to Japan as part of an Asian week-long tour, on Nov. 2, 2019

Pope Francis waves to children as he prepares to board his plane to depart from Bangkok's military airport, leaving Thailand on his way to Japan as part of an Asian week-long tour, on Nov. 2, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Vatican Media)

Published: June 23, 2022 06:55 AM GMT

Updated: June 23, 2022 08:10 AM GMT

Buddhist leaders who met Pope Francis last week see steady growth in friendship and collaboration between Buddhists and Catholics in Thailand

Pope Francis met a delegation of Thai Buddhists on June 17 to commemorate the golden jubilee of the meeting between Pope Paul VI and the Most Venerable Somdej Phra Wannarat (Pun Punnasiri), the 17th supreme Buddhist patriarch of Thailand.

“This meeting is seen as a beautiful bridge of friendship,” said the Most Venerable Somdet Phra Maha Thirachan, abbot of Wat Phra Chetuphon (Wat Pho), a royal temple.

The abbot, who headed the Thai delegation, recognized “a gradual and steady growth of friendly dialogue and close collaboration between the two religious traditions” for the past 50 years.

The delegation consisted of 40 Buddhist monks from the Theravada and Mahayana traditions and 65 lay Buddhists. The meeting was initially planned for the beginning of the year but was postponed to June due to the Covid pandemic.

The Theravada monks were from Wat Phra Chetuphon, the first royal temple in Bangkok, built in the 18th century and associated with King Rama I.

“This is a significant mutual spiritual walk in fraternity. A sincere friendship. We have walked together for 50 years step by step. We will surely develop in a concrete way to prolong and enlarge our bridge for peace"

The Mahayana monks came from Wat Mangkon Kamalawat, which was built in the 19th century and played a significant role in the spiritual life of the Sino-Thai community in Bangkok.

Apart from the celebration of the 230th anniversary of Wat Phra Chetuphon, the transcription of an ancient sacred Buddhist scripture (Phra Malai) in Pali-Thai characters in 2018 as well as the pope’s visit to Thailand in 2019 have expanded the room for interreligious dialogue and collaboration between the two traditional religions and reinforced the relationship between Catholic and Buddhist communities.

The recent papal visit remains an “unforgettable impression in the hearts of Christians, Buddhists and friends of different religions in Thailand ... This was indeed a moment of grace, bringing immense joy and happiness into the life of every Thai.” noted Somdet Phra Maha Thirachan.

By citing Pope Paul VI’s conversation with the Thai delegation in 1972, the pontiff hopes to see “increasing friendly dialogue and close collaboration” between Buddhists and the Catholic Church.

After the audience, Msgr. Andrew Vissanu Thanya-anan, the representative of the Catholic Church in Thailand, said: “This is a significant mutual spiritual walk in fraternity. A sincere friendship. We have walked together for 50 years step by step. We will surely develop in a concrete way to prolong and enlarge our bridge for peace.”

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