Thai prelates pray for quick return to democracy

Bangkok Cardinal Michael Michai Kitbunchu says that the Church will pray for democracy to be restored soon while other prominent Thai Catholic leaders have expressed relief over the overthrow of the Thaksin government even if it was not by good means.

Commenting on the coup led by army chief General Sonthi Boonyaratklin, retired Bishop Bunluen Mansap who heads the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, told UCA News that he is "personally glad" for the change of government.

"I think what happened is a good moment also for our Church leaders to reflect on what we lacked in our country," Bishop Mansap added, stressing that these were his personal views.

Many Thais, including Catholics, have been swayed by capitalism, liberalism and consumerism, according to Bishop Mansap, all of which he said the former Prime Minister, Mr Thaksin Shinawatra, promoted.

"We cannot sit idle. We have to educate Thai people," he continued. Here he stressed that lay Catholics "without question" should "actively take part in politics and political life."

On Tuesday, General Sonthi ousted Thaksin's government in a bloodless coup while Mr Thaksin was in New York, claiming that the king, who receives an almost spiritual reverence in Thailand, has endorsed his new military government.

The coup leaders have suspended the constitution, imposed martial law and have banned "political activities", including protests and meetings.

Saying that the Church has "great concern for the situation in the country", Cardinal Michael Michai Kitbunchu of Bangkok, president of Thailand's Catholic Bishops' Conference, told UCA News that the Church "will strongly pray that the situation will become normal as soon as possible and democracy will be back soon."

"Fortunately, there is no sign of violence or resistance," he added, and the coup itself "does not affect the Church."

A prominent lay Catholic, Mr Chainarong Montienvichienchai, Vice Chancellor of lay Catholic-run St John's University in Bangkok, said that the army is carrying out what the people were unable to do.

Admitting that he had been "caught off guard," the Catholic educator, communicator and former TV personality expressed relief that Mr Thaksin had finally been ousted. The former Prime Minister, he said, had "made it almost impossible for the people to get him out of office."

A series of anti-Thaksin protests in the capital over the past months produced rallies of 100,000 people demanding he step down. Mr Thaksin, however, argued that his opponents were using unconstitutional means to oust him.

According to the National Statistics Office, 94.6 per cent of Thailand's 65 million people are Buddhists, 4.6 per cent are Muslims and 0.5 per cent are Christians. General Sonthi is the first Muslim to head the army.

Photo: Ousted Thai Prime Minister, Mr Thaksin Shinawatra

Coup An Occasion For Church To Reflect On Situation Of Society, Bishop Says (UCA News, 21/9/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Archdiocese of Bangkok (Wikipedia)
Cardinal Michael Michai Kitbunchu (Catholic Hierarchy)
Bishop Michael Bunluen Mansap (Catholic Hierarchy)
Thaksin Shinawatra (Wikipedia)

22 Sep 2006