Thai masses held in remembrance of controversial Pope Benedict XVI

Emeritus pope Benedict XVI was the only pope to resign since medieval times.

Thailand’s 300,000 Roman Catholics prayed today for the repose of the soul of former pope Benedict XVI who died at age 95 on new year’s eve at his Vatican monastery retreat. Thailand now has 60 official Catholic churches after Thai culture minister Ittiphol Khunpluem formally recognized a further three earlier this year. Jesuit missionaries first arrived in Thailand in the seventeenth century when diplomatic relations were established with King Narai the Great.

The first pope to land in Thailand was John Paul II in 1984, but then prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra visited the Vatican in 2013 to meet the current pope Francis. He in turn visited Thailand in 2019 as part of his Asian tour. Pope Benedict’s rule as the world’s last absolute monarch by divine grace lasted from 2005 to 2013 when he resigned allegedly for reasons of health. He did not show any particular interest in Thailand, but is known to have admired from a distance the grandiose statue of the Virgin Mary at St Anne’s Catholic Church, Samut Sakhon, the largest such image in the whole of Asia.

Ex pope Benedict, an expert scholar in theology, had a difficult pontificate troubled by an avalanche of accusations worldwide against pedophile priests. He also faced enormous problems in Vatican administration, with multiple claims of financial corruption and mismanagement, becoming the first pope to resign for six hundred years after admitting he was exhausted. Commemoration masses being held today throughout Thailand are emphasizing his piety and academic prowess as well as the high respect in which he is held by the current pontiff. The resignation leaves an open question on whether pope Francis, plagued by mobility problems in his mid 80s, will also retire in what could become a 21st century papal tradition.