Visit by Pope Francis will be the second by a pontiff and the first papal visit since the historic visit of Pope John Paul II in 1984. It will begin on Thursday, November 20th and will see the Pope in Thailand for three days during which he will lead two masses and reach out to the Catholic community in the kingdom and the Thai public in his effort to create harmony between religions.

On Friday last, the Pope’s visit to Thailand was confirmed and it is to be for three days including two masses. A full itinerary will be revealed later. The religious leader is expected to reach out and meet Catholic communities in the kingdom. There will also, no doubt, be an opportunity for the elderly pontiff to meet up with his second cousin from Argentina who has been working as a nun in the kingdom now for 53 years.

The Pope’s visit from November 20th to 23rd was confirmed on Friday by President of the Bishops Conference in Thailand Cardinal Francis-Xavier Kriengsak Kovithavanij. The pope will meet the Catholic Community in Thailand and celebrate two masses while he is expected to make time to meet his second cousin, Sister Ana Rosa Sivori, a 77-year-old Catholic nun who is the Principal of St Mary’s School in Udon Thani.

On Friday, the President of the Bishops Conference in Thailand, His Eminence Cardinal Francis-Xavier Kriengsak Kovithavanij, together with His Excellency Paul Tschang In-Nam the Archbishop of Thailand at a special press conference confirmed the visit of Pope Francis to the kingdom from Thursday, November 20th to Sunday, November 23rd when the pontiff will fly on to Japan.

Two masses, one aimed at young Thai Catholics

The visit is part of the pope’s campaign to bring the world’s religions together and the press conference portrayed the Holy Father as a ‘pilgrim of peace’ who will celebrate a number of masses in the kingdom during his stay and reach out to the Thai Catholic community. One mass will be a for Catholics in Thailand while another will be aimed at young people which is now a theme of nearly all papal visits.

Pope’s second cousin who lives in Udon Thani

One of the people the Pope will also be meeting during the course of his stay after he arrives in Bangkok will be his second cousin, Sister Ana Rosa Sivori, the Principal of St Mary’s School in Udon Thani who has worked in Thailand since she came here as a missionary in 1966. She is originally from Buenos Aires, Argentina.

77-year-old nun from Argentina who shares a grandfather with Pope Francis he first non-European pope

The 77-year nun shares a great grandfather with Jorge Mario Bergoglio the cardinal also from Buenos Aires who became the first Pope Francis six years ago in March 2013. The 82-year pontiff was the ninth oldest pope ever elected to the position and the first non-European pope.

Meanwhile, at St Mary’s Girls School in Udon Thani pupils, staff and locals are growing excited after discovering that their school’s principal is related to the pope.

Second cousins keep contact through old fashioned letter writing sent through diplomatic channels

The second cousins keep in contact with each other and Sister Ana Rosa visited him in Rome 2 years ago. This week, she told reporters that the pontiff likes to write letters in the old fashioned way and she receives them via the Vatican Embassy in Thailand where they are sent by diplomatic pouch. 

Speaking to the Associated Press, the nun explained that excitement is mounting ahead of the pope’s visit: ‘Many people who are not Catholics, they are asking me every time. Is he coming? When is he coming? He, will he be coming? Because it means that they are interested. They want to see him. They want to meet him,’ she said.

Chance to be better Catholics and Christians 

The nun says that for the Catholics in Thailand, the visit is an opportunity to renew their faith and be better Catholics and Christians.

The Catholic church has been active in Thailand for over 350 years and although the country remains overwhelmingly and committedly Buddhist,  the Catholic Church plays an important role in the country. It is very involved in helping the marginalised and in education as Sister Ana Rossa’s vocation and life’s work shows.

Nun exemplifies the work the Catholic church does in Thailand and the successful 350-year-old story

She revealed to AP reporters that the pope had personally made representations at the highest level so that the Catholic nun can stay in Thailand as that is now part of her vocation. ‘He spoke to our mother-general, the superior-general of the congregation, saying that my work is in Thailand, to do the work in Thailand, so you don’t move her anywhere,’ she explained.

That Sister Ana Rosa seems so pleased with this outcome and that she has been working in Thailand for fifty-three years now says a lot about her, the kingdom and its positive, symbiotic relationship with the Catholic church.

Further reading:

Arrangements in place for end of year visit by Pope Francis to Thailand but trip and itinerary yet to be confirmed