Pope Francis begins visit to Thailand as faithful jostle for selfies

School children run in the courtyard of Assumption Cathedral, which was decorated with posters of Pope Francis, in Bangkok on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. (AP)
Updated 20 November 2019

Pope Francis begins visit to Thailand as faithful jostle for selfies

  • Catholics are a tiny minority in mostly Buddhist Thailand, accounting for less than 2 percent of the population
  • Among those welcoming him was his cousin and childhood friend from Argentina, 77-year-old nun Sister Ana Rosa Sivori

BANGKOK: Pope Francis arrived in Thailand on Wednesday to meet with its small but devoted Catholic minority on a seven-day Asian trip that will include a family reunion in Bangkok and take his anti-nuclear message to Japan.
Waiting for a glimpse of the pontiff, excited Catholics thronged around the Vatican’s Bangkok embassy and St. Louis Hospital to take selfies.
“Once in a lifetime, I want to see him and be able receive prayer from him,” said 60-year-old Orawan Thongjamroon outside the Vatican embassy, where she had been waiting since early morning for the papal motorcade.
Catholics are a tiny minority in mostly Buddhist Thailand, accounting for less than 2 percent of the population.
The pope’s plane touched down outside Bangkok around midday and he descended to a red-carpet airport welcome from church leaders for a visit that coincides with the 350th anniversary of the first papal mission in Siam, the former name of Thailand.
Among those welcoming him was his cousin and childhood friend from Argentina, 77-year-old nun Sister Ana Rosa Sivori, who has worked in Thai schools for more than 50 years and will be the pope’s personal translator in Thailand.
The pair, whose grandfathers were brothers, beamed as they made their way over the tarmac through crowds of clergy, children and government officials to a waiting motorcade.
“Dear friends in Thailand and Japan, before we meet, let us pray together that these days may be rich in grace and joy,” read a message on the pontiff’s official Twitter account before he left the Vatican.
At Bangkok’s St. Louis Church, a Thai Catholic woman proudly showed photographs of her and Pope Francis from a visit she made to the Vatican with her husband.
“I never thought that I would have another chance to see him again,” said Nuchnaree Praresri, 49.
But when she was invited to be a cleaner at St. Louis Church for the papal visit, she seized the opportunity.
“This might not be an important role for others, but I’m very proud,” she said.
Catholicism first arrived in Thailand in the mid-1500s with Portuguese missionaries and traders, and Catholics have over the years built respected schools and hospitals.
Pope Francis begins his official program on Thursday when he is scheduled to meet King Maha Vajiralongkorn as well as the supreme Buddhist patriarch before offering mass at the National Stadium.
He will hold another mass at Bangkok’s Assumption Cathedral before leaving on Saturday for Japan, where he will visit the nuclear ground zeros of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.


Over 200,000 vote in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy primaries

Updated 12 July 2020

Over 200,000 vote in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy primaries

  • Exercise being held two weeks after Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on the semi-autonomous territory

HONG KONG: Hundreds of thousands of Hong Kongers turned up over the weekend to vote in an unofficial two-day primary election held by the city’s pro-democracy camp as it gears up to field candidates for an upcoming legislative poll.
The exercise is being held two weeks after Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on the semi-autonomous territory in a move widely seen as chipping away at the “one country, two systems” framework under which Britain handed Hong Kong over to China in 1997. It was passed in response to last year’s massive protests calling for greater democracy and more police accountability.
Throngs of people lined up at polling booths in the summer heat to cast their vote despite a warning by Hong Kong’s constitutional affairs minister, Eric Tsang last week that the primaries could be in breach of the new national security law, because it outlaws interference and disruption of duties by the local government.
Organizers have dismissed the comments, saying they just want to hold the government accountable by gaining a majority in the legislature.
The legislation prohibits what Beijing views as secessionist, subversive or terrorist activities or as foreign intervention in Hong Kong affairs. Under the law, police now have sweeping powers to conduct searches without warrants and order Internet service providers and platforms to remove messages deemed to be in violation of the legislation.
On Friday, police raided the office of the Public Opinion Research Institute, a co-organizer of the primary elections. The computer system was suspected of being hacked, causing a data leak, police said in a statement, and an investigation is ongoing.
Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp, which includes multiple parties, is attempting to join forces and use the primaries as a guide to field the best candidates in the official legislative election in September. Its goal is to win a majority in the legislature, which is typically skewed toward the pro-Beijing camp.
To hold the primary elections, pro-democracy activists had raised money via crowd funding. They pledged to veto the government’s budget if they clinch a majority in the legislature. Under the Basic Law, under which Hong Kong is governed, city leader Carrie Lam must resign if an important bill such as the budget is vetoed twice.
On Saturday alone, nearly 230,000 people voted at polling booths set up across the city, exceeding organizers’ estimates of a 170,000 turnout over the weekend.