Vatican City, Oct 14, 2016 / 10:21 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Friday Pope Francis expressed his sorrow to learn of the death of the King of Thailand Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died Thursday at a hospital in Bangkok.
“I was deeply saddened to learn of the death of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, and I extend my heartfelt condolences to the Members of the Royal Family and to all the people of the Kingdom at this sorrowful time,” the Pope’s letter to the Prime Minister of Thailand Prayut Chan-o-cha read.
King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 88, reigned over the Kingdom of Thailand since 1946 and was the longest-reigning living monarch in the world at the time of his death. He is also the longest-reigning monarch in Thai history.
“I pray that, as a fitting tribute to the late King’s legacy of wisdom, strength and fidelity, all Thais may work together to further the path of peace, and I willingly invoke upon all who mourn his passing the consolation of divine blessings,” the Pope’s letter stated.
King Adulyadej died just before 4 p.m. local time on Oct. 13 in the capital city of Bangkok. He had been in poor health for some time, and had spent most of the past six years in Bangkok’s Siriraj hospital.
There is no official state religion in Thailand, guaranteeing religious freedom in the country, although the king is required by law to be Buddhist. The population of Thailand is a majority Buddhist at 93.2 percent with Muslims making up the next largest religious demographic.
As of 2014, there were only about 400,000 Catholics in Thailand, out of a population of 65 million.
King Adulyadej was highly respected and beloved throughout Thailand. A police spokesman told CNN that it was estimated over 100,000 people were at the Grand Palace to witness the King’s funeral ceremony Oct. 14.
The monarch of Thailand had a positive relationship with the Vatican. In 1960 the he, along with the Queen of Thailand, visited St. Pope John XXIII while on a trip to Europe. During the visit, the King invited the Pope to visit Thailand.
St. Pope John Paul II’s visit to Thailand in 1984 was, in part, a fulfillment of that invitation. While there, St. John Paul II met with the King and with refugees at the Phanat Nikhom camp in Thailand. He also visited a Buddhist temple, making him the first pope to ever do so.
On May 11, 2014, the bishops of the 10 dioceses of Thailand were received by King Adulyadej at the royal palace where he was presented with relics of both St. John XXIII and St John Paul II, one month after they were both canonized together by Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square.
The relics, a vial of blood from St. John Paul II and a small piece of skin from St. John XXIII, remain in Thailand and rotate among parishes throughout the country.