On the second day of his visit to the U.S., Pope Francis stopped his motorcade and picked up a five-year-old Mexican American girl who tried to give him a letter and T-shirt. Seeing it in evening news reminded me of another pontiff that visited a refugee camp and picked up a little girl from the ground. It was John Paul II at the Phanat Nikhom Refugee Camp during his papal visit to Thailand in May 1984.
At the time, Phanat Nikhom held thousands of refugees from Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. Among the Vietnamese were “boat people” as well as “land refugees,” that is, they left over land rather than sea. International and media focus on post-1975 Vietnamese refugees was typically on the “boat people.” But there were many that left by other means, including crossing through the land mass of southern Vietnam and Cambodia to reach the borders of Thailand.