Pope Francis begins Thai tour

Pope Francis arrived in Bangkok on Wednesday, greeted by a sea of devout Catholics awaiting the first papal visit in almost four decades.

The 11-hour flight from Rome -- carrying the pope, his entourage and around 70 journalists and media professionals -- arrived in Bangkok just after midday on Wednesday.

At Bangkok's Military Air Terminal 2 in Don Muang, Pope Francis was greeted by privy councillor Gen Surayud Chulanont, along with Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai, and members of the Thai Bishops' Conference.

Throughout his three-day visit, Pope Francis will have a special interpreter, Sister Ana Rosa Sivori -- his second cousin, who has been running a Catholic girls' school in Udon Thani.

The papal visits to Thailand and Japan are part of mission to boost the morale of each countries' small Catholic minorities.

The pope is also expected to use the occasion to raise concerns about human trafficking and peacemaking efforts in Thailand.

Pope Francis is scheduled to give a public speech later, in which he is expected to express his admiration for Buddhist-majority Thailand, for welcoming Catholic missionaries who came to the country many centuries ago.

The trip coincides with the 350th anniversary of the Apostolic Vicariate of Siam. Established back in 1669, its creation marked the first formal steps taken by the Church to introduce Catholicism to the country.

The last pope to visit Thailand was Pope Saint John Paul II, who visited the country over four decades ago in 1984.

At present, the country's 388,000-strong Catholic community makes up less than 1% of the population. Most live in the North and Central regions.

Related search: pope, media professionals, peacemaking efforts

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Writer: Gary Boyle
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