Pope Francis began his visit to Thailand and Japan on Wednesday where he will spread a message of peace and promote denuclearisation.
This will be the 82-year-old pontiff’s 32nd international trip and his fourth trip to Asia having visited South Korea in 2014; Sri Lanka and the Philippines in 2015; and Myanmar and Bangladesh in 2017, Efe news reported.
The pope was welcomed at Don Mueang air force base on the outskirts of the capital city by Thai government officials and members of the Catholic church in Thailand.
In 1984, Choikrua was present when Pope John Paul II made a stop at St Louis Hospital in Bangkok.
The first person to greet Francis as he got off the plane was his second cousin Ana Rosa Sivori, a 77-year-old nun who has lived in Thailand for 53 years and will act as the Pope’s translator during his stay.
Jorge Bergoglio, as he was known before becoming pope, was not scheduled to hold any public events on Wednesday. Dozens of well-wishers and school children gathered at the Apostolic Nunciature of the Holy See to greet Francis as he arrived by car from the airport.
His trip also commemorates the 350th anniversary of the establishment of the Apostolic Vicariate of Siam, which formally marked the beginning of the church in the country.
On Friday, Francis will visit Chulalongkorn University where he will meet leaders of other beliefs and denominations, university rectors, academics and students.
“He arrived in the evening. I was standing five metres away from him. I didn’t get to touch him, but I was excited,” said Choikrua, who worked as a hospital mechanic at the time. “He went in to pray before coming out to give blessings to the children of the hospital staff. All the while, we cheered ‘Viva Papa!’”
Last week, Pope Francis sent a message to the country in a video clip, urging an interfaith dialogue as he seeks to establish bonds with Buddhists in Thailand, the South China Morning Post reported.
“I also hope to strengthen the bonds of friendship that we share with many Buddhist brothers and sisters who bear eloquent witness to the value of tolerance and harmony that are so characteristic of your people,” said the pope”, Pope further said.
On November 25, the pope will meet with ten victims of the so-called “triple catastrophe” of Fukushima that in 2011 killed 18,000 people as a result of an earthquake of magnitude 9 on the Richter scale, a tsunami and an accident at the nuclear power plant.
Pope Francis will also visit Emperor Naruhito at the Imperial Palace and will meet Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and civil and diplomatic authorities.
(With inputs from agency)