Pope Francis on Friday warned that technology and globalisation were homogenising young people around the world to the point where their uniqueness and cultural individuality were becoming endangered species.
The 82-year-old pontiff made his appeal for young people to hold on to the cultures handed down by their ancestors and cherish their roots at a meeting of leaders of other religions as he wrapped up the last full day of his visit to Thailand.
He decried a “growing tendency to discredit local values and cultures by imposing a unitary model” for values on young people, referring apparently to Western influence from films, advertising and social media.
“This produces cultural devastation that is just as serious as the disappearance of species of animals and plants,” he said.
The preservation of local culture was also a theme of a visit on Friday to the predominantly Catholic village of Wat Roman on the outskirts of Bangkok.
The dominant culture in Thailand is closely tied to Buddhism, although the Catholic minority of fewer than one per cent were generally treated well in modern times.
In a talk to priests and nuns gathered in the village church, Francis paid tribute to those killed for their faith in the past.
Among them were seven Catholics, including three teenage girls, who were killed by Thai police in 1940 in the Northeastern province of Nakhon Phanom.
The World War II period and other spells of persecution are considered aberrations and today relations between Buddhists and Catholics are generally very good.
During the reign of Thailand’s King Narai 350 years ago, the Vatican formally established its “Mission de Siam”.
Although missionaries failed to achieve mass conversions, they were largely tolerated by the Buddhist majority and particularly the royal court.