Pilgrim of Peace
2019 is a year of great significance for Thai Catholics, with many auspicious anniversaries.
It marks the 350th anniversary of the first Apostolic Vicariate of Siam during the papacy of Pope Clement IX in 1669. Through this establishment, Roman Catholicism was permanently established in Thailand. Furthermore, this same year sees the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Kingdom of Thailand and the Holy See in 1969, as well as the 35th anniversary of the last papal visit to Thailand, which was made by Saint Pope John Paul II in 1984.
Roman Catholicism was first introduced to Siam (the former name of Thailand) by Dominican missionaries in 1567 during the time when Ayutthaya was still the capital. A mission was officially established during Pope Clement IX’s papacy on 4 June 1669. From then, missionaries together with lay Catholics brought western technology and know-how that supported national development, while also being involved in numerous charitable activities for Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
With regard to diplomatic relations between the Kingdom of Thailand and the Holy See, although there is ample historical evidence of cordial contacts between the kings of Siam and the Pope dating from the Ayutthaya period, but it was only in 1969 that diplomatic relations were formally established during Pope Paul VI’s papacy. Since then, relations have grown closer and more cordial between the two states.
This increasing closeness is reflected in the official visits of the heads of the two states. The first visit was made by King Chulalongkorn the Great (Rama V), who met Pope Leo XIII during his European visit on 4 June 1897. His successor, King Prajadhipok (Rama VII) and Queen Rambai Barni met Pope Pius XI on 21 March 1934. Finally, Their Majesties King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit visited Vatican City and met Saint Pope John XXIII on 3 October 1963.
On the side of the Holy See, the first and only official visit thus far, was made by Saint Pope John Paul II between 10-11 May 1984. At that time, His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn, then the Crown Prince, personally welcomed the pontiff at the Don Mueang Royal Thai Air Force Base and escorted him to a solemn audience with Their Majesties King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Queen Sirikit, and Her Royal Highness Princess Srinagarindra, the Princess Mother, at the Dusit Mahaprasat Throne Hall of the Grand Palace.
Later, Saint Pope John Paul II paid a courtesy call to His Holiness Ariyavangsagatayana VIII (Vasana Vasano), the 18th Supreme Patriarch of Thailand, at Wat Ratchabophit before celebrating an open air Mass at Supachalasai National Stadium.
During this visit, the pontiff also made visits to refugee camps at Amphoe Phanatnikhom in Chonburi Province, Assumption Cathedral, Saint Joseph’s Seminary at Sampran, a formal reception at Government House, as well as Saint Louis Hospital in Bangkok.
In 2019, His Holiness Pope Francis will be visiting Thailand having reformed the Church in the eyes of Catholics and non-Catholics alike. His effort to foster inter-religious dialogue is globally recognised and is becoming of his journey to the south-east Asian country as a pilgrim of peace.