BANGKOK —Thailand’s first Christian missionaries set out feeling the absence of the Thai people from their lives and wanted to share everything they knew about God’s love, Pope Francis told the country’s Catholics during Mass on Thursday.
The missionaries ended up learning more fully the plan of God and found the Thai people to be their unknown family, he reflected.
“By hearing the Lord’s word and responding to its demands, they came to realize that they were part of a family much larger than any based on blood lines, cultures, regions or ethnic groups,” the Pope said Nov. 21.
“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. They set out to seek their faces.”
The Pope’s homily during Mass at the National Stadium in Bangkok reflected on Jesus’ question in the Gospel of Matthew, “Who is my mother, and who are my brethren?” and also Jesus’ answer: “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, sister and mother.”
“The Gospel is an invitation and a freely bestowed right for all those who want to hear it,” the Pope said.
The Pope’s visit falls as Catholics in the country celebrate the 350th anniversary of the creation of the Apostolic Vicariate of Siam, the country now known as Thailand. The country’s small Catholic community makes up less than 0.5% of the population, which is predominantly Buddhist.
Christian missionaries first arrived in what is now Thailand in the mid-16th century. Some priests who served Portuguese soldiers and merchants there baptized several hundred Christians. Missionaries and the native Christian community suffered several harsh persecutions before and after the apostolic vicariate was established, especially in the 1700s.
Pope Francis reflected on the spiritual state of Thailand’s first missionaries.
“Their hearts had to be opened to a new way of thinking capable of overcoming the ‘adjectives’ that create division; this enabled them to discover the many Thai ‘mothers and brethren’ who were still absent from their Sunday table,” he said. “Not only to share with them everything that they themselves could offer, but also to receive what they needed to grow in their own faith and understanding of the Scriptures.”
The meeting of Christian missionaries and the Thai people enriched both, he said.
“Without that encounter, Christianity would have lacked your face. It would have lacked the songs and dances that portray the Thai smile, so typical of your lands,” Pope Francis continued. “The missionaries came to understand more fully the Father’s loving plan, which is not limited to a select few or a specific culture, but is greater than all our human calculations and predictions.”
He rejected misleading views of the missionary as “a mercenary of the faith” or “a producer of proselytes.” Rather, the missionary is “a humble mendicant who feels the absence of brothers, sisters and mothers with whom to share the irrevocable gift of reconciliation that Jesus grants to all.”
Missionary practice is like the Gospel parable of the wedding feast whose host sent servants to the streets to invite “as many as you can find.” Such an invitation is “a source of joy, gratitude and immense happiness,” the Pope said.
He added that the anniversary of the apostolic vicariate is not “a celebration of nostalgia” but “a fire of hope to enable us, here and now, to respond with similar determination, strength and confidence.” It is “a festive and grateful commemoration that 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.”
This missionary life is for every Christian with a living faith, he said.
“All of us become missionary disciples when we choose to be a living part of the Lord’s family,” he continued. “We do this by sharing with others as he did. He ate with sinners, assuring them that they too had a place at the Father’s table and the table of this world; he touched those considered to be unclean; and, by letting himself be touched by them, he helped them to realize the closeness of God and to understand that they were blessed.”
The Pope’s homily especially voiced support for the marginalized, like children and women who are victims of prostitution and human trafficking, “humiliated in their essential human dignity.” He mentioned young people enslaved by drug addiction and a lack of meaning, and remembered migrants who lack their homes and families and can feel orphaned or abandoned, “without the strength, light and consolation borne of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life.”
The Pope’s homily also remembered “exploited fishermen and bypassed beggars.”
“All of them are part of our family. They are our mothers, our brothers and sisters,” he said. “Let us not deprive our communities of seeing their faces, their wounds, their smiles and their lives. Let us not prevent them from experiencing the merciful balm of God’s love that heals their wounds and pains.”
“A missionary disciple knows that evangelization is not about gaining more members or about appearing powerful. Rather, it is about opening doors in order to experience and share the merciful and healing embrace of God the Father, which makes of us one family,” he said.
The Pope praised the apostolic initiatives of Thailand and encouraged the communities to act as missionaries: “Let us continue to go forward in the footsteps of the first missionaries, in order to encounter, discover and recognize with joy the faces of all those mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, whom the Lord wants to give us and who are absent from our Sunday table.”