Pope Francis meeting the Buddhist Supreme Patriarch of Thailand on Thursday morning. Photo from Vatican News

Pope Francis met the Buddhist Supreme Patriarch of Thailand Thursday morning and confirmed the Church’s commitment to open and respectful dialogue in the service of peace.

After meeting with Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and addressing senior Thai government officials, civic and religious leaders and members of the diplomatic corps at the Government House, the Pontiff had an audience with the Supreme Patriarch at Wat Ratchabophit Sathit Maha Simaram Temple.

Vatican News reported that in his address to the Pope, the Buddhist Supreme Patriarch Ariyavongsagatanana IX recalled the historic visit of Pope Saint John Paul II to his predecessor 35 years ago.

The Patriarch went on to list visits made by the kings of Thailand to the Popes in the Vatican: to Leo XIII in 1897, Pius XI in 1934, and John XIII in 1960. He spoke of a “deep and lasting friendship”, a “coming together within a true spirit of mutual understanding and equal partnership.”

Pope confirmed their meeting was taking place “as part of the journey of esteem and mutual recognition initiated by our predecessors.” Recalling the visit of the seventeenth Supreme Patriarch to Pope Paul VI in the Vatican nearly 50 years ago, Pope Francis said he wanted to “follow in their footsteps in order to increase respect but also friendship between our communities.”

Pope Francis said these steps “help testify that the culture of encounter is possible, not only within our communities but also in our world, so prone to creating and spreading conflict and exclusion.”  Occasions like this “remind us how important it is for religions to become more and more beacons of hope, as promoters and guarantors of fraternity”, he added.

Pope Francis expressed his gratitude for the fact that, “since the arrival of Christianity in Thailand some four and a half centuries ago, Catholics have enjoyed freedom in religious practice, despite their being in a minority, and for many years have lived in harmony with their Buddhist brothers and sisters.”

Later, Pope Francis proceeded to St. Louis Hospital on South Sathorn Road which was founded in 1898 by the Apostolic Victor of Siam, Archbishop Louis Vey.

Addressing around 700 staff in the hospital’s auditorium, Pope Francis said it was a blessing for him “to witness at first hand this valuable service that the Church offers to the Thai people, especially to those most in need.”

“You are missionary disciples in the field of health care”, said the Pontiff.

“Seen in this way”, he added, “you carry out one of the greatest works of mercy, for your commitment to health care goes far beyond the simple and praiseworthy practice of medicine.”

“It is about welcoming and embracing human life as it arrives at the Hospital’s emergency room, needing to be treated with the merciful care born of love and respect for the dignity of each human person”, he said.

“The healing process”, Pope Francis underlined, “should rightly be seen as a powerful anointing capable of restoring human dignity in every situation, a gaze that grants dignity and provides support.”

After the meeting with staff, Pope Francis made a private visit to the sick and disabled at the hospital, as a way, he said, “of accompanying them, however briefly, in their pain.”

The Pope also presented the hospital a with a copy of a fragment of a fresco depicting the Madonna and Child.

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