BANGKOK — Arriving in Thailand after an 11-hour flight, Pope Francis was greeted by 11 children — one for each of the country’s dioceses.
Pope Francis caressed the faces of the shy little ones and reciprocated a hug with the bolder, older girls. All of the children were dressed in traditional costumes and held a Thai flag and a Vatican flag.
Because of the length of the overnight flight from Rome, the formal welcoming ceremony with Thai government officials was scheduled for Nov. 21.
Pope Francis went directly from the airport to the Vatican nunciature in Bangkok, where he will be staying. Dozens of young adults — including novices from women’s religious orders and seminarians — gathered outside the nunciature to welcome him. Six of them performed a traditional Thai dance for him.
Flying to Bangkok from Rome, Pope Francis spent about half an hour with the close to 70 journalists accompanying him on the trip. Most of that time was devoted, as is his custom, to going row by row and greeting each person individually, blessing rosaries, asking after family members and making small talk.
In his very brief remarks to the whole group, he thanked the journalists for joining him on the trip to Thailand and on to Japan Nov. 23-26, telling them their work is very important for keeping people informed and, especially for his trip to Asia, for sharing with them cultures they may not know.
Pope Francis’ translator in Thailand will be someone familiar with the nuances and colloquialisms of his Argentine Spanish because she grew up speaking it with him.
Salesian Sister Ana Rosa Sivori, the pope’s second cousin and a missionary in Thailand for more than 50 years, will translate for Pope Francis during his stay Nov. 20-23 in Thailand, said Matteo Bruni, director of the Vatican press office.
Sister Sivori’s grandfather and Pope Francis’ grandfather were brothers. The Salesian told the news agency Reuters that although she has not seen her cousin since a 2018 trip to the Vatican, they regularly exchange letters and postcards.
“When we talk, we feel like brother and sister. For me, of course I know that he’s the pope,” she said, but “we talk simply.”
Sister Sivori, vice principal of St. Mary’s School in the northeastern province of Udon Thani, told Reuters she is proud of her cousin. But “when I meet him, I’ll call him by his name, Jorge. Pope Francis just came after.”
Bruni told reporters that Pope Francis will speak Spanish in Japan Nov. 23-26. And he has an Argentine translator there, too: A Jesuit priest that Pope Francis sent as a missionary to Japan when the pope was the Jesuit provincial of Argentina.
Briefing the press Nov. 15 about what to expect during the trip, Bruni also told reporters that Iwao Hakamada, an 83-year-old man who had spent 48 years on death row, had been invited by the Japanese bishops to attend the Mass Pope Francis will celebrate Nov. 25 in Tokyo.
Hakamada, a former boxer, was convicted in 1968 on multiple counts of murder and was sentenced to be hanged. Numerous times courts declined to hear his appeals, but in 2014 a district court ordered his release while considering new DNA evidence. A new trial has not been held.
“The pope’s position on the death penalty is clear,” Bruni said. Pope Francis in 2018 ordered an updating of the Catechism of the Catholic Church to assert “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.” He also committed the Church to working toward abolition of capital punishment worldwide.