Bishop: Church Has Mediating Role to Play in Thailand

Says Military Intervention Was Inevitable as Whole Country Was Suffering

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Catholic bishops and other religious leaders of Thailand will play a role in mediating between warring factions and finding a solution to the political crisis in the country, a Thai bishop has said.

Bishop Joseph Chusak Sirisut of Nakhon Ratchasima in Northeastern Thailand who also heads of bishops’ commission on interreligious dialogue and missions, made these remarks after the military seized power in the country, Fides reported May 23.

The bishop explained that after the proclamation of martial law, there was a bloodless military coup. «For more than six months a serious situation of instability and the struggle between the two factions was registered,» he said. «There seemed to be no way out and the whole country was suffering.”

The Thai military, led by army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha, ousted the government of Thailand last Thursday and has imprisoned former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. It has also incarcerated most of the cabinet, politicians, political activists, some academics and journalists, the NY Post reports.

Protesters have criticised the junta’s intentions for staging the coup, the first in eight years. On Saturday, the military dissolved the Senate, the last functioning democratic institution left, absorbing its legislative powers. Troops were deployed in Bangkok’s central shopping district to prevent gatherings. Rights groups have voiced concern over the growing repression.

Bishop Sirisut stressed that, in the coming weeks, a “plausible way” for  the country to put an end to this stalemate must be found.

He said that to restore peace, military intervention is essential, and people are «almost relieved after so much tension.”

“Thai people have a profound desire for peace, justice and transparency,” and since a coup is always considered negatively at an international level, this cannot continue, the bishop said.

During this period, the contribution of religious leaders can be crucial. He noted how, with the Catholic Church having taken the initiative, Church leaders and those of other faiths have shown support. “In recent months, » he said, «we have had big interfaith gatherings, with the presence of leaders of the five main communities, engaged in a solemn and intense prayer for peace. We will continue to do so.»

The bishop reiterated that «the religious leaders want to promote an initiative of arbitration and mediation» but the parties «must sit at a table and urgently find a way out of the crisis.» By doing so, even the military intervention will be temporary and the democratic process will soon be able to resume, he explained. «Once an agreement is signed, the army will leave the scene and new elections will be held.»

Believing this strategy will bring hoped for results, the bishop stated: «Political leaders will have to listen to us, because religious leaders represent the wishes, hopes, desires, values of the entire population of Thailand. Dialogue is the only way possible. We are convinced that this is the time: religions can commit themselves. To Buddhists, who are sometimes skeptical about this type of action, we say: this does not mean to go into politics, but to help a process of dialogue and act on the conscience of our political leaders.” (D.C.L.)

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