More than a dozen Thai monks and many other dignitaries were present for a Dicastery for Interreligious Dialogue at the Augustinianum Patristic Institute in the Vatican on June 15. The delegation of Buddhists had planned to meet Pope Francis during their visit to the Vatican, but poor health prevented him from attending.
The meeting continues the cordial relationship between the pope and Thai Buddhists and marks the 51st year since a first meeting between Pope Paul VI and a Thai Buddhist delegation in 1972, when the pope expressed his hope for "a growing friendly dialogue and close collaboration” between Buddhists and the Catholic Church. (UCA News)
In the absence of the Pope this year, the Buddhists wrote him a letter, signed by the Venerable Somdet Phra Mahathirachan, abbot of the Thai royal temple Wat Phra Cetuphon. Speaking on behalf of the Vatican, Cardinal Miguel Angel Ayuso, President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.
The meeting began with a minute of silent reflection “to really bring everyone here and now”. (Vatican News) Despite the Pope's absence, those present pledged to continue the friendship that has been built between Thai Buddhist leaders and the Catholic Church.
In their letter to the pontiff, Buddhist leaders expressed their sincerest wishes for his health and continued recovery from abdominal surgery. The pope was released a day after the scheduled meeting and was in good health, according to his surgeon.
Buddhist monks also prayed for peace at the tomb of the late Pope Benedict XVI (1927-2022).
In his remarks to those gathered, Cardinal Miguel Angel Ayuso reiterated the prayers of the Buddhist delegation for the welfare of the Pope. He added that everyone present shares, like friends, "the same joys, sorrows, concerns and visions". (Vatican News) Cardinal Ayuso went on to suggest that the meeting of Buddhists and Catholics represents a pilgrimage of friends.
Last year, the pope welcomed a delegation of Thai Buddhists to the Vatican, saying: "At a time when our human family and our planet face multiple threats", the need for interreligious dialogue and collaboration is growing. no longer necessary. Pope Francis called on Buddhists to continue working with the Catholic Church "to cultivate compassion and hospitality for all human beings, especially the poor and marginalized." (UCA News)
Fri. Somdet Phra Mahathirachan was also at this meeting, where he said, “This meeting is considered a beautiful bridge of friendship. He added that Thai Buddhists recognize “a gradual and steady growth of friendly dialogue and close collaboration between the two religious traditions.” (UCA News)
Earlier this month, the pope announced he would visit Mongolia in late August and early September. Despite its small population of Catholics, estimated at around 1 in a country of 300 million, Mongolia remains an important congregation in the Vatican.