BANGKOK — At his first public mass in Thailand, Pope Francis called upon communities to embrace and aid the exploited people, such as victims of sex trafficking, drug addiction, and refugees.

At a public mass attended by approximately 60,000 people in the National Stadium, Pope Francis preached that subaltern of society should be a part of God’s family.

“I think of children and women who are victims of prostitution and human trafficking, humiliated in their essential human dignity. I think of young people enslaved by drug addiction and a lack of meaning that makes them depressed and destroys their dreams,” he said.

“I think of migrants, deprived of their homes and families, and so many others, who like them can feel orphaned, abandoned…I think also of exploited fishermen and bypassed beggars,” His Holiness continued. “All of them are part of our family.”

The Pope compared this to the Biblical account of Jesus’ true relatives in Matthew 12:48, where Jesus said that whoever does the will of His Father in heaven was his family, while connecting it to the inauguration of the Catholic Church in Thailand by the “missionaries who first set foot in these lands.”

“By hearing the Lord’s word and responding to its demands, they came to realize they were part of a family much larger than any based on blood lines, cultures, regions, or ethnic groups. …they set out in search of a family they did not yet know,” Pope Francis said. “This enabled them to discover the many Thai ‘mothers and brethren’ who were still absent from their Sunday table.”

The Pope’s visit marks the 350th anniversary of the Mission de Siam in 1669, when two first missionaries arrived in the Kingdom of Ayutthaya.

“Without that encounter, Christianity would have lacked your face. It would have lacked the songs and dances that portray the Thai smile, so typical of your lands,” he said.

In a message addressed to the citizens of the Buddhist-majority nation – where only about 0.5 percent of Thais, or approximately 350,000 people, are Catholic – he said that “evangelization is not about gaining more members or about appearing powerful” but about sharing “God’s merciful and healing embrace” which in turn “makes us one family.”

The Hail Mary used in today’s mass was recited in five languages: Thai, English, Italian, French, and Vietnamese. One prayer in the mass was in pakagno, the language of an ethnic group.

Among the crowd was Thanin Santhanavanich, a Saint Louis Hospital doctor who volunteered as a First Aid responder. A devout Catholic, he brought his rosary and attended the mass with rapt attention.

“I feel delighted that he paid a visit to this unlikely destination as Thailand is a Catholic minority country,” he said. “A couple of years ago I had to go to Myanmar just to see him because I didn’t believe he’s gonna come to us.”

Comparing to Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1984, which he also got a chance to attend, Thanin said this occasion is more spectacular and well-organized.

The public mass concluded with a spectacular dance involving 800 students from seven Catholic convent schools, featuring naga and Phi Ta Khon to represent the cultures of Thailand’s four regions.

Additional reporting Tappanai Boonbandit

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