School children walk in Assumption Cathedral courtyard, decorated with posters of Pope Francis in Bangkok, Thailand, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. Pope Francis arrives in Thailand on Wednesday for the first visit here by the head of the Roman Catholic Church since St. John Paul II in 1984. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis is heading to Thailand to encourage members of a minority Catholic community in a Buddhist nation and highlight his admiration for their missionary ancestors who brought the faith centuries ago and endured bouts of persecution more recently.

After an overnight flight, Francis arrives in Bangkok on Wednesday afternoon and will rest for the remainder of the day before his first full day of public appearances Thursday.

Francis’ three-day visit, followed by three days in Japan, will be a welcome break for the 82-year-old pope. He is enduring fresh opposition from Catholic conservatives in the U.S. over his just-concluded meeting on the Amazon as well as a new financial scandal at home.

Leaving those concerns behind, Francis will meet with Thailand’s supreme Buddhist leader, Thai authorities as well as all the Catholic bishops of Asia — a rare chance for him to address some of the major challenges facing the Catholic Church in the region and the men responsible for dealing with them.

On the eve of the trip, the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, said interfaith relations and emphasizing the dignity of every person are likely to be raised — a reference perhaps to Thailand’s role as a key transit point for victims of human trafficking, forced labor and the sex trade. Francis has made the fight against human trafficking a hallmark of his papacy.

Francis is also expected to encourage the Catholic community, which represents just 0.58 percent of its 69 million people, as well as encourage the largely Buddhist country to continue welcoming migrants and showing tolerance to people of other faiths. That message is also intended to reach the small Muslim community amid a persistent insurgency in the south.

Thirty-five years after St. John Paul II became the first pope to visit Thailand, Francis is marking the 350th anniversary of the creation of a stable apostolic vicariate in Thailand, then known as Siam, after Dominican missionaries first brought the faith in 1567, followed by members of Francis’ own Jesuit order.

Francis will pray at the tomb of Nicholas Bunkerd Kitbamrung, known as the Rev. Benedikto Chunkim, who became the first martyred priest of modern Thailand when he was killed in 1944. Francis is also likely to refer to seven other martyrs killed in 1940 as a nationalistic government sought to convert all Thais to Buddhists.

Throughout his visit, he will have a special interpreter by his side: his second cousin, Sister Ana Rosa Sivori, who has been a missionary in Thailand since the 1960s.

Catholic nuns get their photograph taken with the life size cut out of Pope Francis at the Assumption Cathedral in Bangkok, Thailand, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. Pope Francis is heading to Thailand to encourage members of a minority Catholic community in a Buddhist nation and highlight his admiration for their missionary ancestors who brought the faith centuries ago and endured persecution. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)
Pope Francis waves as he boards an airplane to Thailand, at the Rome Leonardo da Vinci airport, Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019. Pope Francis' three-day visit to Thailand, followed by three days in Japan, will be a welcome break for the 82-year-old pope. He is enduring fresh opposition from Catholic conservatives in the U.S. over his just-concluded meeting on the Amazon as well as a new financial scandal at home. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
Pope Francis sits in an airplane at the Rome Leonardo da Vinci airport, Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019. Pope Francis' three-day visit to Thailand, followed by three days in Japan, will be a welcome break for the 82-year-old pope. He is enduring fresh opposition from Catholic conservatives in the U.S. over his just-concluded meeting on the Amazon as well as a new financial scandal at home. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
School children run in the courtyard of Assumption Cathedral, decorated with posters of Pope Francis in Bangkok, Thailand, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. Pope Francis arrives in Thailand on Wednesday for the first visit here by the head of the Roman Catholic Church since St. John Paul II in 1984. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)
Walls of the Assumption convent are decorated with posters of Pope Francis in Bangkok, Thailand, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. Pope Francis arrives in Thailand on Wednesday for the first visit here by the head of the Roman Catholic Church since St. John Paul II in 1984. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)
A poster of Pope Francis is displayed in a street corner in Bangkok, Thailand, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. Pope Francis arrives in Thailand on Wednesday for the first visit here by the head of the Roman Catholic Church since St. John Paul II in 1984. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)
A woman carries a child across Assumption Cathedral courtyard, decorated with posters of Pope Francis in Bangkok, Thailand, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. Pope Francis arrives in Thailand on Wednesday for the first visit here by the head of the Roman Catholic Church since St. John Paul II in 1984. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)
School children greet their teachers at Assumption convent, decorated with posters of Pope Francis in Bangkok, Thailand, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. Pope Francis arrives in Thailand on Wednesday for the first visit here by the head of the Roman Catholic Church since St. John Paul II in 1984. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)
School children pose for a photo as they walk in Assumption Cathedral courtyard, decorated with posters of Pope Francis in Bangkok, Thailand, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. Pope Francis arrives in Thailand on Wednesday for the first visit here by the head of the Roman Catholic Church since St. John Paul II in 1984. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)
School children walk at Assumption convent, decorated with posters of Pope Francis in Bangkok, Thailand, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. Pope Francis arrives in Thailand on Wednesday for the first visit here by the head of the Roman Catholic Church since St. John Paul II in 1984. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)
A workers covers the main stage where Pope Francis is scheduled to conduct holy mass on Thursday, with plastic to save it from dust and water in Bangkok, Thailand Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. Pope Francis is heading to Thailand to encourage members of a minority Catholic community in a Buddhist nation and highlight his admiration for their missionary ancestors who brought the faith centuries ago and endured persecution. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)
School children of a band get ready for the rehearsal for a Thursday's holy Mass by Pope Francis at the national stadium, in Thailand, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. Pope Francis is heading to Thailand to encourage members of a minority Catholic community in a Buddhist nation and highlight his admiration for their missionary ancestors who brought the faith centuries ago and endured persecution. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)
School children bring musical instrument for the rehearsal at the national stadium to be played when Pope Francis will conduct holy mass on Thursday, in Thailand, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. Pope Francis is heading to Thailand to encourage members of a minority Catholic community in a Buddhist nation and highlight his admiration for their missionary ancestors who brought the faith centuries ago and endured persecution. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)
A worker cleans the area inside national stadium where Pope Francis is scheduled to conduct holy mass on Thursday, in Thailand, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. Pope Francis is heading to Thailand to encourage members of a minority Catholic community in a Buddhist nation and highlight his admiration for their missionary ancestors who brought the faith centuries ago and endured persecution. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)