UDON THANI, Thailand (AP) – Catholics in Thailand are celebrating the official announcement of the first papal visit in 35 years, but one 77-year-old nun in a far-flung corner of the country has a connection that makes the occasion particularly special.
Pope Francis is due to arrive in Thailand on November 20 for a four-day visit, the first leg of an Asia trip that will also take him to Japan, Catholic officials announced on Friday.
The pontiff’s arrival will lead to a reinvigoration of belief among the nearly 400,000 faithful here. But for Sister Ana Rosa Sivori, it also means the pleasure of a family reunion. At St Mary’s girls’ school in Udon Thani, about 570 kilometres northeast of Bangkok, the pupils have only recently realised their unassuming vice principal’s connection to the pope.
Originally from Buenos Aires in Argentina, Sister Ana Rosa came to Thailand in 1966 and has worked as a missionary in several parts of the country. She shares a great-grandfather with Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who, six years ago, became Pope Francis. She and the pontiff are second cousins.
As word of a planned papal visit spread ahead of the official announcement, Sister Ana Rosa went from being an almost invisible presence to being at the centre of increasingly excited attention in her community.
“Many people are asking me every time. Is he coming? When is he coming? Will he be coming?”
Two years ago, Pope Francis paid a historic visit to Myanmar. It came at the height of the Rohingya Muslim crisis. Hundreds of thousands flocked to see the pope on that visit, including many who travelled from neighbouring Thailand – but not Sister Ana Rosa. She said she didn’t want to take up his time.
She insists, however, that the two are close, and stay in touch. He is “old school,” she said, never sending emails and instead writing letters by hand and dispatching them through the Vatican’s embassy in Bangkok.