The oldest cardinal in Asia celebrated yesterday in the pastoral center of Baan Phu Wan the anniversary of his episcopal ordination, on June 3, 1973. At the age of 94, he reviewed his life and his service to the Church in the capital in a long interview thai. He also spoke about his hopes for the future of his country: “Even though we profess different religions, let us recognize each other as brothers and sisters in the same society.”
ngkok () – With a solemn celebration in Baan Phu Waan – the great pastoral center of the Archdiocese of Bangkok, where he still resides – the Church of Thailand celebrated yesterday the 50th episcopal anniversary of Cardinal Michael Michai Kitbunchu, 94, emeritus archbishop of the capital. Paul VI had called him to take over from Bishop Joseph Kiamsun Nittayo and precisely on June 3, 1973 he was ordained bishop. Ten years later, on February 2, 1983, John Paul made him the first cardinal of Thailand. And he remains the oldest cardinal from Asia in the college of cardinals.
The Card. Kitbunchu led the Archdiocese of Bangkok for 36 years, accompanying the growth of the local Church parallel to the explosion of the great metropolis, and since 2009 he has been archbishop emeritus. He was succeeded by Msgr Francis Xavier Kriengsak Kovithavanij, a priest who trained under Msgr Kitbunchu in his archdiocese and had himself ordained bishop of Nakhon Sawan before being called to lead the Church in the Thai capital and also created a cardinal in 2015. Despite his advanced age, the elderly pastor remains a vital presence and much loved by Thai Catholics, as was demonstrated at yesterday’s celebration.
And all his vitality is evident in a lengthy interview about his life published by a Thai site on the occasion of this anniversary. He begins with his origins, in a family of Chinese origin: “Michai is my baptismal name,” she said, “but he also had a Chinese name, Hua Xiang. My grandfather came from China over a hundred years ago and settled in Samphran, where he married a Thai woman. They were farmers”
In the interview he talks about his vocation, his entry into the seminary at the age of 11, his theological studies in the Rome of Pius XII where he was later ordained a priest in 1959 and his first years of ministry visiting very small Christian communities scattered in some villages in the outskirts of the city. Regarding his long episcopal ministry, he tells that he only wanted to be an instrument in the hands of God to preach the Good News of the Gospel to everyone. He recalls the commitment to build quality schools and health services open to all, without religious distinctions.
He also spoke about the great surprise at his appointment as cardinal in 1983: “It was a shock, I never would have imagined it. I asked the nuncio for some time to think about it. He replied: it is an order from the Pope, you must accept it”. And in a private meeting with John Paul II, when he asked him to talk to him about Thailand, Kitbunchu responded almost instinctively: “Why don’t you come to my house?” In May 1984 the first visit of a pontiff to Thailand took place.
About today’s Bangkok, he describes the great changes that have taken place in these 50 years: “Everything has changed: roads, cars, televisions, telephones… However, I wonder if we have not focused too much on material aspects and very little in the spirit and moral life”. But looking to the future, he expresses two great wishes for Thailand: “that everyone can be free to practice his faith and, even if we profess different religions, we recognize each other as brothers and sisters in the same society. Unity is the basis for living together. Because as we Christians say, “Where there is love, there is God.”