Pope urges Thailand's bishops to work with Buddhists

Vatican City - Pope Benedict XVI on Friday urged Thailand's Roman Catholic bishops to continue working with Buddhists in combating secularism and other "disturbing" aspects of globalization. "You have readily expressed to me your great respect for the Buddhist monasteries and the esteem you have for the contribution they make to the social and cultural life of the Thai people," Benedict told the visiting bishops in a meeting at the Vatican.

The pontiff noted how Thailand's "small and scattered" Catholic community coexisted with the Asian nation's Buddhist majority against a backdrop of globalization which forces humanity between "two poles."

"On the one hand there is the growing multitude of economic and cultural bonds which usually enhance a sense of global solidarity and shared responsibility for the well-being of humanity.

"On the other there are disturbing signs of a fragmentation and a certain individualism in which secularism takes a hold, pushing the transcendent and the sense of the sacred to the margins and eclipsing the very source of harmony and unity within the universe," Benedict said.

The pontiff told the bishops that together with Buddhists, they should promote respect for traditions amongst Thailand's youth and teach ethical values linked to spirituality and prayer.

Benedict also highlighted the "remarkable contribution" by Catholic schools and colleges in Thailand and how Buddhist parents also turned to such institutions for their children.

He praised efforts by Thailand's tiny Catholic community - estimated to number 292,000 or 0.46 per cent of the population - to combat prostitution and the trafficking of women and children.

While poverty was at the root of such human exploitation, Benedict also said another factor should be blamed.

"The trivialization of sexuality in the media and entertainment industries which fuels a decline in moral values and leads to the degradation of women, the weakening of fidelity in marriage and even the abuse of children," he said.