Cousins, choirs and customs: Key moments in Pope's Thailand trip

Bangkok (AFP) –


A cheerful reunion, an interfaith choir and a dazzling dance -- here are some of the most striking moments from Pope Francis' four-day trip to Thailand, which ends Saturday when he jets to Japan.

- Shoeless in Bangkok -

It was a sight to behold: The head of Thailand's Buddhists, sitting with the head of the world's Catholic church -- neither wearing shoes.

Pope Francis readily adhered to local custom Thursday when he met Somdej Phra Maha Muneewong, leaving his shoes behind for their face-to-face.

The Pope's black-socked feet poked out from under his white robe, while the Buddhist patriarch's bare feet were visible beneath his rich orange robes.

Social media users praised the pontiff's gesture of respect at the glittering gold Ratchabophit temple in Bangkok's historic old quarter.

After the meeting Francis found his black shoes where he left them -- beneath a chair at the ornate temple.

- Family reunion -

When Francis stepped off the plane in Bangkok he was met by top officials, cheering faithful and one very special visitor: his cousin, Sister Ana Rosa.

The 77-year-old nun has worked as a missionary in the country since 1966, runs a Catholic girls' school, and is fluent in Thai.

That made her the perfect interpreter for her cousin, who she still calls "Jorge" in reference to his birth name.

"I am happy to see you and that you are able to be my translator," Francis told her when he landed.

Donning a white habit and long skirt -- and often a warm smile -- she barely left Francis' side during his whirlwind four-day trip.

- Peace songs -

Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs joined Catholics on Friday for an inter-religious meeting that included a performance of a mixed-faith choir.

Muslims singers from Thailand's so-called deep south joined Christian ethnic minorities -- many in colourful embroidered head gear and smocks -- to sing for the guest of honour.

The ballads "Peace Prayer" and "Songs of Freedom" -- composed specially for the ceremony -- appeared to please the smiling pontiff, who applauded the young singers.

It was a highly symbolic performance aimed at religious harmony, and drew more than 1,500 people, including scholars and students, to the university venue

- A sea of silk -

Pope Francis swapped his usual white robe for glittering gold and ruby-red silk versions -- both woven just for him by local tailors -- at the two masses he held.

His bishops also donned matching outfits, pattered with an intricate "kanok" pattern -- a ubiquitous Thai motif seen on clothing, furniture and artwork.

The dazzling robes were handmade by tailors at a local convent, some who said it was the honour of a lifetime to sew for the holy entourage.

"I am very glad and proud that my convent could make a robe for the Pope," said Sister Sukanya, who oversaw the tailoring.

- Dancing for the star -

The Pope's sombre Thursday night mass was capped with a series of colourful performances by 800 students.

They split into four groups, each representing Thailand's distinct cultures and regions.

Parasol-twirling dancers, jubilant masked performers and straw-hatted figures all hit the stage for a spirited performance for the weary-looking Pope.

They were accompanied by Phaya Naga, a mythical serpent-like creature -- bright green and slithering and popular in local folklore.