Pope Francis to reunite with cousin on visit to Thailand

A picture of Pope Francis and Sister Ana Rosa Sivori is seen at the St Mary School in Udon Thani province, Thailand. PHOTO: REUTERS

UDON THANI (REUTERS) - In a remote Catholic school in Thailand, Sister Ana Rosa Sivori, 77, kneels in a chapel to pray at the beginning of the school day.

The Catholic nun is also counting down the days when she will see Pope Francis.

Or, as she calls him, Jorge. Her cousin whom she grew up with in Argentina.

Sister Sivori, who has lived in Thailand for more than 50 years, will travel with Pope Francis when he visits from Nov 20 to 23.

"For me, it's a pleasure that he's coming... I never thought that he will be coming to Thailand," the soft-spoken nun told Reuters in an interview.

"I'm happy for the people. I want the people to see him, to be close to him."

The cousins, whose grandfathers were brothers, grew up in a big Catholic family in Argentina.

Sister Sivori said they were not close as children, since Jorge Mario Bergoglio - as the Pope was known then - is six years older than her.

She joined the Catholic ministry young, and her calling as a missionary brought her to Thailand, where she has lived since 1966 and worked in schools across the country.

Now, she is a vice-principal at St Mary's School in the north-eastern province of Udon Thani, about 600km from Bangkok, the capital.

The cousins have grown closer since Bergoglio became Pope in 2013.

On every journey home to her family in Argentina, Sister Sivori first stops by the Vatican in Italy to see him for a few days.

The last time they saw each other was in 2018, when they bonded over their love of books.

"He took me up to the big room with plenty of books. He told me to choose, he would ask 'Do you want this one?'," she said.

"When we talk, we feel like brother and sister. For me, of course I know that he's the Pope... but we talk simply."

She will travel to Bangkok ahead of the pontiff's arrival and shadow him during his visit, at his request.

In the Buddhist-majority country, Pope Francis will meet King Maha Vajiralongkorn, the supreme Buddhist patriarch, Catholic leaders and students, before flying on to Japan.

Sister Sivori brings out an envelope of handwritten letters and postcards from the Vatican and reads them fondly.

"When I meet him, I'll call him by his name, Jorge. Pope Francis just came after," she said.

"I'm proud of him."

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