Bangkok, Thailand, Feb 23, 2015 / 17:12 pm
The main challenge facing the Church today is secularism, according to Cardinal Francis Xavier Kriengsak Kovithavanij of Bangkok, who boldly called the phenomenon the devil's face in the modern world.
"It is not just a challenge for the Asian Churches … all the world is facing the challenge of secularism," Cardinal Kriengsak told CNA Feb. 20.
"Secularism is the new way the devil presents himself in the modern world," adding that the devilish force takes an attractive appearance, rather than a grotesque one: "it seems to people that secularism is a nice devil, not a terrible one."
The new Thai cardinal conceded that "there are good things in modern culture," but on the other hand "people are too easily following the wave of secularism … and this does not take place just in Asia, and secularism does not affect only Catholics."
Cardinal Kriengsak was born in Ban Rak, Thailand, in 1949, and attended St. Joseph's Minor Seminary in Sampran, then the Pontifical Urban University in Rome.
He was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Bangkok in 1976, and served in several parishes. He has also served as rector or vice-rector of several Thai seminaries, as well as a professor.
In 2007 he was consecrated as Bishop of Nakhon Sawan, and in 2009 was appointed as Archbishop of Bangkok.
Cardinal Kriengsak is one of the 20 bishops who were made cardinals at a Feb. 14 consistory held in the Vatican. He was one of 15 who, being under the age of 80, would be able to vote in a papal conclave; also, he is one of the three Asian red birettas created by Pope Francis during that consistory.
"I believe that Pope Francis has seen that Asia is still a continent of God, compared with other continents, and so this is the moment for Asia, as Pope Francis already stressed," the cardinal commented.
The other Asian cardinals created during this months consistory are Archbishop Pierre Nguyen Van Nhon of Hanoi; Archbishop Charles Bo of Yangon.
"We all work together in the Federation of Asians Bishops' Conferences, and we have many pastoral activities together," stressed Cardinal Kriengsak.
He added that "in 2007, I found out that 3 million refugees coming from Burma were living in Thailand … they are not given the status of refugees, since the Thai state cannot provide for their survival, but they were there."
This led to a particular collaboration between himself and now-Cardinal Bo: "I was encouraged to back the convocation of one assembly of the FABC in Burma, and hence we established a team of cooperation between the Thai and Burmese bishops."
Living in Thailand, where Christian's are a very small minority, Cardinal Kriengsak's priorities have included interreligious dialogue, evangelization, and Catholic education.
"The Catholic Church in Thailand tries to build bridges, we try to educate people, to form strengthened Catholics able to go against the waves," he explained.
Some 93 percent of Thais are Buddhist, and five percent are Muslims. Christians, most of whom are Catholic, are less than one percent of Thais.
Cardinal Kriengsak recounted that "since the 2012 Synod on New Evangelization, we have mostly focused on the testimony of life. First we witness to the Christian life with our lives, and it is after this that we can announce the Gospel. Everything will come, but first of all there is the need for a testimony of life in small groups of Christian families."