Cherish your culture, Pope tells young people in Thailand

Pope Francis arrives to conduct a Holy Mass at the Assumption Cathedral in Bangkok, Thailand, November 22, 2019. REUTERS/Remo Casilli. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

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BANGKOK, Nov 22, 2019, Bangkok Post. Pope Francis warned on Friday that technology and globalisation are homogenising young people around the world to the point where their uniqueness and cultural individuality are becoming endangered species, Bangkok Post reported.

The 82-year-old pope made his appeal for young people to hold on to the cultures handed down by their ancestors and cherish their roots at a meeting of leaders of other religions as he wrapped up the last full day of his visit to Thailand.

He decried a “growing tendency to discredit local values and cultures by imposing a unitary model” for values on young people, referring apparently to Western influence from films, advertising and social media.

“This produces a cultural devastation that is just as serious as the disappearance of species of animals and plants,” he said.

The preservation of local culture was also a theme of a visit on Friday to a Catholic community in Nakhon Pathom where he urged today’s Thais not to consider Christianity a “foreign” religion.

The dominant culture in Thailand is closely tied to Buddhism, although the Catholic minority of fewer than 1% have generally been treated well in modern times.

In a talk to priests and nuns gathered in the local church, Francis paid tribute to those killed for their faith in the past.

Among them were seven Catholics, including three teenage girls, who were killed by Thai police in 1940 in the northeastern province of Nakhon Phanom.

The World War II period and other spells of persecution are considered aberrations and today relations between Buddhists and Catholics are generally very good.

During the reign of King Narai 350 years ago, the Vatican formally established its “Mission de Siam”. Although missionaries failed to achieve mass conversions, they were largely tolerated by the Buddhist majority and particularly the royal court.

Since the start of his pontificate in 2013, Francis has preached that the Church should grow by attraction and not by proselytising, or conversion campaigns.

This has provoked criticism from some conservatives who favour an aggressive approach and largely oppose what is known as “inculturation”, or adapting Church teachings to local culture.

Francis urged priests and nuns to find more ways to talk about their religion in local terms, saying he had learned “with some pain, that for many people, Christianity is a foreign faith, a religion for foreigners”.

He added, “Let us give faith a Thai face and flesh, which involves much more than making translations.”

Meeting Thai bishops in the same shrine complex later, Francis once again talked about issues such as human trafficking and exploitation.

On Thursday he condemned the exploitation of women and children for prostitution in Thailand, saying the violence, abuse and enslavement they suffer are evils to be uprooted.

After celebrating Mass at Assumption Cathedral in Bangkok late Friday, Pope Francis is scheduled to leave for Japan, where the main purpose of his trip is to appeal for the global abolition of nuclear weapons when he visits the World War II atomic bomb sites of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

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