A Sharing, by Sr. Deanna Maria…
It was early Tuesday, 19 November when our community left Thabom to travel 9-10 hours to Bangkok. We needed to prepare the house to welcome 21 students , 8 teachers, our cook and our janitor. They had asked to meet Pope Francis.
The next day, Fr. Ponsri, OMI tells us the Holy Father was passing by the highway quite near our area, so would we like to go?
Leaving behind brooms and cleaning materials, we boarded the St. John’s van in no time.
Wednesday, 20 November
At this time, last week we were among the crowd of people lining up Viphavadi Rangsit highway to wait for the passage of Pope Francis . His arrival by Alitalia Airlines was scheduled at 12.30 p.m. After the official welcome at the Military Air Terminal 2, he and his entourage would proceed to the Nunciature where he would be staying for the duration of his visit.
Students from nearby schools, people of all ages had already gathered ahead of us. Police officers were stationed, photographers were clicking their cameras. In the 3-hour wait, flaglets were distributed for free..sharing of food and drink – special thanks to our friend, Marcia..and some kind souls gave us seats so we would not be standing the whole time!
Finally, “ Ma laew..! ma laew!” (He’s here..he’s here!) reverberated through the crowds and the Papal Nuncio’s car with plate number SCV 1 was welcomed with screams of delight , VIVA IL PAPA! and excited waving of Papal flaglets and the Thai flag. A smiling Pope Francis waved through his open car window right in front of us and Sr. Junalyn captured these moments in her camera.
What a grace to see our Holy Father and to welcome him in person!
As we lost sight of the Nuncio’s car, we all sighed and smiled and headed back home to continue preparing the house.
Thursday, 21 November
It was a full day for Pope Francis.
He was welcomed at the Government House, met the Prime Minister, the Civil Authorities, and the Diplomatic Corps.
His visit to the Supreme Buddhist Patriarch followed – a very friendly and fraternal encounter.
Before noon, Pope Francis met the Medical Staff of St.Louis Hospital and visited the infirm and disabled persons.
At 5 p.m. the Holy Father had a private visit with His Majesty, Rama X, and the Queen. From what could be seen from available videos, it was like a coming together of father and son… the countenance, the attentiveness, the gestures of King Rama X and the Queen endeared Their Majesty to the hearts of the Thai people.
Pope Francis had a personal interpreter (called “Papal Whisperer” by a Thai newspaper) from the time he arrived – his second cousin, Sr. Ana Rosa, a Salesian Sister who has been a missionary in Thailand for almost 50 years.
The climax of the day was the Eucharistic Celebration at 6.30 p.m. at Supachalasai Stadium and Thephasadin Stadium.
Only those with nametags could be admitted to the area. You can imagine all the preparatory work that went into this! All 11 dioceses had delegations, and there were delegations from Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, China…
Before noon, we were already seated in the area set aside for priests and religious. With umbrellas that passed a screening process, we braved the scorching noon day sun so we would not lose our seats!
Waiting was our common experience with all those who had come. The atmosphere was jovial, light, welcoming.
At 3.30 p.m. the Spiritual Preparation started.
This included among others
- 44 spectacular card stunts welcoming and honoring Pope Francis performed by 1,604 high school students of the Assumption College of The Brothers of Gabriel
- Superb performance of the Salesian Marching Band
- “ Let Love be the Bridge” Concert featuring the best Catholic musicians and singers of Thailand
At 5 p.m. we prayed the Rosary in 5 different languages per decade – Thai, English, Italian, French and Vietnamese.
Master of Ceremonies was no other than A. Chainarong. He also prepared us to welcome Pope Francis with VIVA IL PAPA! as soon as the Pope’s Mobile entered the Stadium grounds.
Special mention has to be made of the Sacred Heart Sisters of Bangkok who prepared 200 vestments for the Holy Father, the Bishops and priests-celebrants. The liturgical vestments were made of the finest Thai silk.
We saw a visibly tired but still beaming Pope Francis . The Eucharistic Celebration was both solemn and serene. The sun had gone down and the stadium lights went on.
His homily was given in Spanish with a Thai translation. We quote a portion here from the news article By Robin Gomes
Pope Francis is encouraging Thai Catholics to be the missionary disciples of Jesus, in the footsteps of the first missionaries to their land. He said it will help them to encounter, discover and recognize with joy the faces of all those mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, whom the Lord wants to invite to His table.
He delivered a homily in his native Spanish, taking cue from the day’s Gospel of Matthew where Jesus, pointing to his disciples, says, “Whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.”
Responding to the Lord’s word, the first missionaries to the Thai lands came to realize that they were part of a family much larger than any based on bloodlines, cultures, regions or ethnic groups.
Impelled by the power of the Spirit, their bags filled with the hope brought by the good news of the Gospel, they set out in search of family members they did not yet know. Without that encounter, Christianity would have lacked the Thai face, their songs, dances and their smile, the Pope told Thailand’s Catholics.
… With a fire of hope, he said, the 350th anniversary (of the establishment of the Siam Mission ) helps us to go forth joyfully to share the new life born of the Gospel with all the members of our family whom we do not yet know.”
Before leaving the Stadium, A. Chainarong invited all of us to put on the flashlight of our cellphones and wave it for everyone to see. The effect was mystical… as we looked around in wonder it was as if we were transported to a sacred space.
That night, we slept only 3 hours as we left the house the next day at 4 a.m. to beat the traffic to our next rendezvous with the Holy Father: St. Peter’s Church in Samphran.
Friday, 22 November
Meeting with Priests, Religious, Seminarians, Aspirants, Catechists at St.Peter’s Parish Church, Samphran
We arrived early but many others had arrived before us. Typical of Thai hospitality, breakfast was served to ALL who came. Mobile Toilets provided by the government and other associations were on standby.
Four of us (Sol, Rosa, Lucia, Deanna) had nametags / passes to be seated inside the Church. Sr. Sol was in the front row with Superiors of Religious Congregations while the 3 of us were seated among other Sisters.
Swiss guards, newspaper agents were circulating inside the Church while waiting for Pope Francis to arrive.
Nicolas Seneze, a French correspondent of ‘La Croix’ saw PURPLE in the midst of Sisters in white. He stopped beside our bench and asked: Assumption Sisters?? We had a pleasant exchange of ideas.
He tweets: “Pres de Bangkok, jolie encontre avec les religieuses @ RAssomption de Thailande..”
Indeed, it was a delightful encounter with someone who knows Assomption-Paris! He came back a few minutes later to show us his blue cap with “ Marie Eugenie.”!
Srs. Catalina, Junalyn and Faustina were with the crowd outside the Church, together with some of our teachers who came with us. They were close to the barrier when the Pope mobile passed by. Some of our teachers (Buddhists) described their experience as “being in the presence of someone who is holy “and they had goose bumps..They prayed in the silence of their hearts.
After the Holy Father left, lunch was served to ALL…for free…even with extra packs for “baon” for those returning to the provinces that evening.
Pope Francis also met the Bishops of Thailand and Asia, reminding them that Catholic Church leaders, especially bishops “are part of this people, we were chosen to be servants, not masters or managers,” said the pope in what could be his strongest reminder yet to Asia’s church leaders.
“We are to accompany those whom we serve with patience and kindness, listening to them, respecting their dignity, always promoting and valuing their apostolic initiatives,” he added.
Pope Francis went on to remind the bishops that many of their lands were evangelized by the lay faithful who spoke “the dialect of their people” that are “neither theoretical nor ideological.”
The pope told the bishops, to be “unafraid to take to the streets and come face to face with the lives of the people entrusted” to their care.
This meeting with the Asian Bishops took place at the Blessed Nicolas Bunkerd Kitbamrung Shrine, next to St.Peter’s Parish Church. Blessed Nicolas was a Thai Roman Catholic priest who was thrown into prison in 1941 and he died in 1944 from tuberculosis after prolonged periods of mistreatment.
Not to be missed was the Holy Father’s private meeting with the members of the Society of Jesus in a hall next to the Shrine.
At 3.20 p.m. Pope Francis met with the leaders of different Christian denominations and other Religions at Chulalongkorn University. Here a mixed choir of students, children of tribal minorities from Chiang Rai and Muslim youth sang a song for Peace. Hope for a divided world!
Meanwhile, our 21 students and 2 teachers who accompanied them went to Assumption Cathedral before noon for the 5 pm. Mass of the Holy Father with the Youth. Our students spoke of their unexplainable joy of being so close to Pope Francis, some of them shed tears …
Pope Francis addressed the young in his homily:
Dear friends, in order that the fire of the Spirit will keep burning, so that you can keep your eyes bright and your hearts aflame, you need to be deeply rooted in the faith of your ancestors: your parents, grandparents and teachers. Not to be stuck in the past, but to learn to find the courage that can help us respond to ever-new situations. They had to endure many trials and much suffering in their lives. Yet along the way, they discovered that the secret to a happy heart is the security we find when we are anchored, rooted in Jesus: in the life of Jesus, in his words, in his death and resurrection.
Dear young people, you are a new generation, with new hopes, new dreams and new questions, and surely some doubts as well, yet firmly rooted in Christ. I urge you to maintain your joy and to look to the future with confidence. Rooted in Christ, view all things with the joy and confidence born of knowing that the Lord has sought us out, found us and loved us infinitely. Friendship cultivated with Jesus is the oil needed to light up your path in life and the path of all those around you: your friends andneighbors, your companions at school and work, including those who think completely unlike yourselves.
Let us go out to meet Christ the Lord, for he is coming! Do not be afraid of the future or allow yourselves to be intimidated. Rather, know that the Lord is waiting for you there, in that future, in order to prepare and celebrate the banquet of his kingdom.
As we traveled another 9 hours back to Thabom, we had all the time to recall our personal graces and thank God for this place and time, for what we have touched and heard and seen.