Speaking at the Vatican with a special Buddhist delegation from Thailand on 17 June, Pope Francis expressed his profound respect for the teachings of the Buddha and emphasized the urgent need for continued interfaith cooperation toward a global movement based on compassion—particularly for poor and vulnerable communities who are most at risk from the many crises facing the world.
The Thai delegation to the Vatican was composed of 33 prominent Buddhist monks and 60 lay Buddhists, along with representatives of the Thai Catholic Church. The party were in Rome to attend a conference titled “Friendship between Buddhists and Christians for a Culture of Encounter” at the Pontifical Urban University. The delegation’s visit also commemorated the 50th anniversary of the meeting between Pope Paul VI and Thailand’s 17th Supreme Patriarch, Somdej Phra Wannarat in Thailand on 5 June 1972.
“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 said during the meeting. He extended an invitation to the assembled Buddhists to continue working with the Catholic Church “to cultivate compassion and hospitality for all human beings, especially the poor and marginalized.” (Vatican News)
“The Buddha and Jesus understood the need to overcome the egoism that gives rise to conflict and violence,” said the pontiff. “The Dhammapada sums up the Buddha’s teachings thus: ‘To avoid evil, to cultivate good, and to cleanse one’s mind—this is the teaching of the Buddha.’ (Dph 183) Jesus told his disciples: ‘I give you a new Commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.’” (Jn 13:34) (Vatican News)
Thanking the delegation for their visit, Pope Francis lauded the 50 years of dialogue and cooperation between Thai Buddhists and Catholics since the momentous meeting in 1972. He referenced the words of Pope Paul VI then, saying: “We have a profound regard for the spiritual, moral, and socio-cultural treasures that have been bestowed on you through your precious traditions. We recognize the values of which you are the custodians, and we share the desire that they should be preserved and fostered. We hope there will be increasing friendly dialogue and close collaboration between the traditions that you represent and the Catholic Church.” (CNA)
The Pope also touched upon his own visit to Thailand in November 2019, recalling “the wonderful welcome and hospitality I received.”* (CNA) He observed that open dialogue and collaboration between religious communities were now more urgent and precious that ever before during this period of multiple global crises.
“Sadly, on all sides we hear the cry of a wounded humanity and a broken Earth,” said the Pope. “Our task today is to guide our respective followers to a more vivid sense of the truth: that we are all brothers and sisters.” (CatholicPhilly.com)
Thailand is a predominantly Theravada Buddhist country, with 93.5 per cent of the nation’s population of 69 million identifying as Buddhists, according to government census data for 2018. Islam (5.4 per cent) and Christianity (1.1 per cent) make up the bulk of the remainder. Vatican estimates put the number of Catholics in Thailand at 325,000, or 0.59 per cent of the population—80 per cent of whom are Thai, with immigration accounting for a growing proportion.
Pope to Buddhists: Let’s work together to cultivate compassion and hospitality (Vatican News)
Pope Francis: Jesus and the Buddha understood need to overcome egoism (CNA)
Pope urges Buddhists, Christians to tackle threats to planet (CatholicPhilly.com)
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