Thai Archbishop calls for unity among religions

Thai Archbishop calls for unity among religions
Archbishop Francis Xavier Kriengsak Kovithavanij

Four days after being named a cardinal of the Catholic Church, Archbishop Francis Xavier Kriengsak Kovithavanij yesterday expressed confidence that the leaders of all religions will move the world towards peaceful and constructive societies.

Kriengsak, 66, is the second Thai to be made a cardinal.

"Some secular trends may be good but some others may be bad," he told the media. "Given that there is danger involved, all religions should be united in promoting morality among their followers."

Kriengsak said Christianity promoted universal love so that we treat one another like blood brothers.

"When we embrace religious values, religious power shall allow peace and harmony to thrive," the Archbishop of Bangkok said.

In the current global context, Kriengsak emphasised that it was crucial to deliver people from social disorder and teach them to live in a peaceful manner.

In pursuit of this goal, he said relevant parties should strive to improve social conditions by improving education and living standards.

The Church was working hard in various domains, including education and assisting the poor.

"It is the right of every student, whether rich or poor, to receive quality education," he said.

Kriengsak studied at Assumption College during his junior-secondary years before enrolling at Joseph Upatham School to finish secondary school. He earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy and a bachelor's degree in sacred theology at Pontifical Urbaniana University in Rome.

At the master's degree level, he earned the Licentiate in Spirituality at Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.

He was ordained a priest in 1976, and served as an assistant priest at the Nativity of Mary Church in Ayutthaya that same year.

By 2007, he had become the Bishop of Nakhon Sawan, and in 2009 he was appointed the Archbishop of Bangkok.

The news that he had been made a cardinal reached him on Sunday.

He is among 20 new cardinals named by Pope Francis and three new Southeast Asia cardinals.

The holy conclave is dominated by cardinals from Western countries or countries with a large number of Christians.

But now three ASEAN cardinals, including Archbishop Charles Muang Bo of Myanmar and Archbishop Pierre Nguyen Van Nhon of Hanoi, will advise the Pope and choose his successor.

Their elevation underlines Pope Francis's policy of openness.

Kriengsak said this could be perceived as policy to increase the popularity of the Catholic Church in the region.

He said: "Southeast Asia comprises a large number of populations that have great sensitivity regarding religions and personal beliefs."

The first Thai cardinal was Michael Michai Kitbunchu, 86, who served as Archbishop of Bangkok from 1973 to 2009.

The ceremony for the installation of the new cardinals will be held in Rome between February 12 and 14.

They will assist the Pope in implementing the Vatican's policies in various domains, including education, alleviation of poverty and improving refugee conditions.

Kriensak said he was humbled to be made a cardinal.

"I wasn't informed about this matter beforehand, and I was very surprised to receive the news," he said. "If this is the will of the Lord, I will carry out this duty to my utmost best."

Commenting on the standing of the Catholic Church in Thailand, Kriengsak admitted that it might be difficult to increase its visibility.

Less than 1 per cent of the population was Catholic, he said.

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