Bangkok – Pope Francis was officially welcomed by the Thai Government in a ceremony on Thursday at the prime minister’s office in Bangkok where he delivered a speech that touched on a range of humanitarian issues.
An honour guard of marching Thai soldiers came to a halt as they stood for the Vatican City national anthem.
In his opening remarks to a room of Thai government officials and priests, Francis said he welcomed Thailand’s transition from a military government to a civilian one.
The comment was met with a bright smile from Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who led the former military government after overthrowing an elected government in a 2014 coup.
Prayut leads the current civilian coalition government after his junta introduced new election laws to favour his return as prime minister.
Francis’ speech then touched on the global issue of refugees, which he described as an “important ethical issue for our times”.
He said the problem is not about the migration of people but stems from situations that force people to flee their homes.
“Thailand was once a country that had a reputation of accepting refugees,’’ he said.
“I plead that communities in each country to responsibly proceed with addressing the problems that lead to people having to flee their countries.’’
Francis said the issue of refugees reminds him of women and children, who are taken advantage of and face “violence and forced labour in many forms’’.
Later in the evening, Francis is scheduled to meet the Thai king before addressing a stadium in Bangkok for a holy mass, where around 50,000 people are expected to attend.