Pope Francis is set to make good on a six-year-old promise to visit Thailand, the church announced Friday afternoon with great fanfare.
In an announcement of the pontiff’s travels to Asia, the Holy See announced that Francis will visit the Thai capital for three days in late November. It comes six years after the Thai government announced that he had accepted an invitation from then-PM Yingluck Shinawatra during her visit to the Vatican.
Francis, 82, will preside over two masses in Bangkok. According to Monsignor Andrew Vissanu Thanya-anan, deputy secretary of The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Thailand, the first mass ritual will be limited only to Christians while the second time it will be open to the public, with an emphasis on drawing the youth.
“Everyone is welcomed to come,” Andrew said. “We want the pope to get close to people; the closer the more impressive. His visit is like a father visiting his children, to put it simply.”
But a full schedule has yet to be finalized as they need to coordinate with the Foreign Affairs Ministry, he added:
“We need to consider the pope’s age too. He’s 82 now. The schedule could be flexible.”
It’s the only stop in Southeast Asia that Francis will make. After Bangkok, the pope will visit Japan to meet Emperor Naruhito and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo from Nov. 23 to Nov. 26. He will also visit Nagasaki and Hiroshima. He’ll be the first pope to visit Japan since John Paul II in 1981.
The announcement did not come as a surprise as it was leaked in July by a Vatican news source.
There are few Catholics in Thailand, and the strategic purpose of the visit is unclear. Popes usually travel to areas with high concentrations of the faithful and areas with pressing social issues they want to address.
The last pope to visit the kingdom was John Paul II in 1984. Though he was only in the kingdom two days, John Paul met with King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit in Bangkok on top of visiting a refugee camp in the Panat Nikhom district of Chonburi province.
Today, a statue of John Paul still stands in front of Bangkok’s Assumption Cathedral to commemorate the historic visit.