On Saturday, June 3 at Baan Phu Waan Pastoral Center, the Archdiocese of Bangkok celebrated the 50th anniversary of the episcopate of 94-year-old Cardinal Michael Michai Kitbunchu, Archbishop Emeritus of Bangkok. The latter was ordained bishop on June 3, 1973 by Saint Paul VI, then he was created cardinal in 1983 by Saint John Paul II. He remains the oldest Asian cardinal in the College of Cardinals. He retired in 2009 after serving as head of the Archdiocese of Bangkok for 36 years.
The Catholic Church in Thailand celebrated the 50e anniversary of the episcopate of 94-year-old Cardinal Michael Michai Kitbunchu, Archbishop Emeritus of Bangkok, during a solemn celebration held at Baan Phu Waan – a sprawling pastoral center built by the archdiocese in the capital, where the Bishop still lives Kitbunchu. The latter was ordained bishop on June 3, 1973, when Saint Paul VI appointed him to succeed Bishop Joseph Kiamsun Nittayo as Archbishop of Bangkok. Ten years later, on February 2, 1983, Pope John Paul II created him as the first Thai cardinal.
He remains the oldest Asian cardinal in the College of Cardinals. He led the Archdiocese of Bangkok for 36 years, supporting the growth of the local Church as well as that of the Thai capital. Mgr Francis Xavier Kriengsak Kovithavanij succeeded him in 2009. This Thai priest, close to the archbishop emeritus, had been ordained by him as bishop of Nakhon Sawan before being appointed to Bangkok. Bishop Francis Xavier also became a cardinal in 2015.
Despite his advanced age, Cardinal Kitbunchu remains a vital presence loved by the local Catholic community, as witnessed by the celebration on Saturday June 3. His vivacity was visible during a long interview given to a local website, on the occasion of his golden jubilee. The cardinal evokes above all his origins, in a Chinese family. “I was baptized as Michai, but I also had a Chinese name, Hua Xiang. My grandfather came from China a hundred years ago and settled in Samphran, where he married a Thai woman. They were farmers he said.
“It was a shock, I would never have imagined this”
In his interview, he also talks about his vocation, his entry into the minor seminary at the age of 11, his theological studies in Rome under Popes Pius XII and John XXIII, his priestly ordination in Rome in 1959 and the first years of his ministry as a priest, during which he visited the very small Christian communities living among a few villages outside the city.
In describing his long episcopal ministry, he explains that he simply wanted to be an instrument in the hands of God, in order to preach the Good News of the Gospel to all. He talks about his commitment to building schools and medical services open to all, regardless of religion. He also cites his surprise when he was created as a cardinal in 1983. “It was a shock, I would never have imagined that. I asked the nuncio for time to think about it, but he replied: ‘It is an order from the pope, you must accept it.’ »
During a private meeting with Saint John Paul II, when the latter asked him to tell him about Thailand, Cardinal Kitbunchu replied almost instinctively: “Why don’t you come and visit my country? » And in May 1984, the pope made his first trip to Thailand.
The Archbishop Emeritus also described the significant changes that have taken place in Bangkok over the span of 50 years. “Everything has changed: the roads, the cars, the televisions, the telephones… I wonder, however, if we have not focused too much on material aspects and too little on the moral and spiritual life”, he reacted. Yet, looking to the future, he expressed his two greatest wishes for the country: “That all may practice their faith freely. Although we practice different religions, do we recognize each other as brothers and sisters belonging to the same society. Unity is essential for living together. Because as Christians we say: ‘Where there is love and charity, God is present.’ »