More than a dozen Thai monastics and numerous other dignitaries were in attendance for a Dicastery for Interreligious Dialogue at the Augustinianum Patristic Institute in the Vatican on 15 June. The delegation of Buddhists had planned to meet with Pope Francis during their visit to the Vatican, but poor health prevented him from attending.
The meeting continues the cordial relationship between the Pope and Thai Buddhists and marks the 51st year since an initial meeting between Pope Paul VI and a Thai Buddhist delegation in 1972, when the Pope expressed his hope to see “increasing friendly dialogue and close collaboration” between Buddhists and the Catholic Church.” (UCA News)
In the Pope’s absence this year, the Buddhists wrote a letter to him, signed by Venerable Somdet Phra Mahathirachan, abbot of the royal Thai temple Wat Phra Cetuphon. Speaking on behalf of the Vatican was Cardinal Miguel Angel Ayuso, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.
The meeting began with a minute of silent reflection “to really bring everyone here and now.” (Vatican News) Despite the Pope’s absence, those present pledged to continue the friendship that has been built between Thai Buddhist leaders and the Catholic Church.
In their letter to the pontiff, the Buddhist leaders expressed their heartfelt wish for his health and continued recovery after an abdominal surgery. The Pope was discharged a day after the planned meeting and was in good health, according to his surgeon.
The Buddhist monks also prayed for peace at the tomb of the late Pope Benedict XVI (1927–2022).
In his remarks to those gathered, Cardinal Miguel Angel Ayuso reiterated the Buddhist delegation’s prayers for the Pope’s well-being. He added that all those present share, like friends, “the same joys, sorrows, concerns and visions.” (Vatican News) Cardinal Ayuso went on to suggest that the meeting of Buddhists and Catholics represented a pilgrimage of friends.
Last year, the Pope hosted a delegation of Thai Buddhists at the Vatican, saying: “At a time in which our human family and planet are facing manifold threats,” the need for inter-religious dialogue and collaboration are increasingly necessary. Pope Francis invited Buddhists to continue to work together with the Catholic Church “to cultivate compassion and hospitality for all human beings, especially the poor and marginalized.” (UCA News)
Ven. Somdet Phra Mahathirachan was also at that meeting, where he said: “This meeting is seen as a beautiful bridge of friendship.” He added that the Thai Buddhists recognized “a gradual and steady growth of friendly dialogue and close collaboration between the two religious traditions.” (UCA News)
Earlier this month, the Pope announced that he would visit Mongolia in late August and early September. Despite its small population of Catholics, estimated at approximately 1,300 in a country of 3.3 million people, Mongolia remains an important congregation to the Vatican.
Thai Buddhists celebrate 50-year bond with Vatican (UCA News)
Thai Buddhists reaffirm friendship and fraternity with Catholic Church (Vatican News)
Pope to visit Mongolia, home to just 1,300 Catholics (Reuters)
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