BANGKOK (Reuters) - Pope Francis warned on Friday that technology and globalization were homogenizing young people around the world to the point where their uniqueness and cultural individuality were becoming endangered species.
The 82-year-old pope made his appeal for young people to hold on to the cultures handed down by their ancestors and cherish their roots at a meeting of leaders of other religions as he wrapped up the last full day of his visit to Thailand.
He decried a “growing tendency to discredit local values and cultures by imposing a unitary model” for values on young people, referring apparently to Western influence from films, advertising and social media.
“This produces a cultural devastation that is just as serious as the disappearance of species of animals and plants,” he said.
The preservation of local culture was also a theme of a visit on Friday to the predominantly Catholic village of Wat Roman on the outskirts of Bangkok where he urged today’s Thais not to consider Christianity a “foreign” religion.
The dominant culture in Thailand is closely tied to Buddhism, although the Catholic minority of fewer than 1% were generally treated well in modern times.
In a talk to priests and nuns gathered in the village church, Francis paid tribute to those killed to those killed for their faith in the past.
Among them were seven Catholics, including three teenage girls, who were killed by Thai police in 1940 in the northeastern province of Nakhon Phanom.
The World War Two period and other spells of persecution are considered aberrations and today relations between Buddhists and Catholics are generally very good.
During the reign of Thailand’s King Narai 350 years ago, the Vatican formally established its “Mission de Siam”.
Although missionaries failed to achieve mass conversions, they were largely tolerated by the Buddhist majority and particularly the royal court.
Since the start of his pontificate in 2013, Francis has preached that the Church should grow by attraction and not by proselytizing, or conversion campaigns.
This has provoked criticism from some conservatives who favor an aggressive approach and largely oppose what is known as “inculturation,” or adapting Church teachings to local culture.
Francis urged priests and nuns to find more ways to talk about their religion in local terms, saying he had learned “with some pain, that for many people, Christianity is a foreign faith, a religion for foreigners”.
He added, “Let us give faith a Thai face and flesh, which involves much more than making translations.”
Meeting Thai bishops in the same shrine complex later, Francis once again talked about issues such as human trafficking and exploitation.
On Thursday he condemned the exploitation of women and children for prostitution in Thailand, which is notorious for its sex tourism, saying the violence, abuse and enslavement they suffer are evils to be uprooted.
Francis leaves on Friday for Japan, where the main purpose of his trip is to appeal for the global abolition of nuclear weapons when he visits the World War Two atomic bomb sites of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Giles Elgood