Asian bishops' plenary hurriedly rescheduled
New dates to accommodate Pope's consistory have sparked mixed reactions
Xuan Loc diocese pastoral center, venue for the rescheduled meeting
The unexpected announcement of a consistory by Pope Benedict XVI to appoint six new cardinals has led to the hurried rescheduling of a long-planned assembly of Asian bishops in Vietnam. This in turn has led to mixed reactions within the Asian Church. The plenary of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences was due to take place at the Xuan Loc diocese pastoral center, near Ho Chi Minh City, on November 19-25. It would have marked the 40th anniversary of the Conference's foundation. But after Pope Benedict's announcement of the November 24 consistory – where Archbishop Antonio Tagle of Manila and Archbishop Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal of Trivandrum, India, will be made cardinals – the meeting has been hastily rescheduled to December 10-16. The venue for the meeting will remain the same. Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican’s chief spokesman, told ucanews.com that the surprise sparked by the decision is “a sign that it was a very personal decision of the Pope, all decided in a relatively brief span of time.” Another Vatican official cited a notification on October 13, regarding the appointment of Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales, former Archbishop of Manila, as a papal envoy. This also quoted the November dates for the FABC meeting; another indication of the unexpected suddenness of the Pope's announcement. Earlier reports had spoken of discontent at the FABC over the change. One unnamed source described as 'close to the FABC' had gone so far as to call the decision “a blatant example of the carelessness of Vatican officials toward Asian religious leaders.” But Father Raymond O’Toole, Hong Kong-based assistant secretary-general of the FABC, seemed to shrug this off when he said “everything ran very smoothly, it was just a matter of switching the dates.” He added that most of the Asian bishops he has contacted so far have said they would be available on the new dates, despite earlier fears that the closeness to Christmas could lead to diary clashes. Those who could not attend would arrange to send substitutes, said Fr. O’Toole. Monsignor Savio Hon Tai Fai, secretary of the Vatican's Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, which oversees the Church in Asia, emphasized that the decision to postpone the plenary had been made autonomously by the FABC. He added that the Congregation's prefect, Cardinal Fernand Filoni, had declined an invitation to attend the original FABC meeting because of concurrent commitments, but would now be able to re-evaluate it in light of the new dates. Last month, when the date was still set for November, there had been suggestions that some bishops were having difficulty obtaining visas. But Cardinal Jean Baptiste Pham Minh Man of Ho Chi Minh City insisted that the Vietnam Church has had no difficulty from government authorities in this regard. The government requested a list of participants and an invitation letter signed by FABC secretary-general, Cardinal Oswald Gracias, and Peter Nguyen Van Nhon, president of Vietnam’s Catholic bishops’ conference. With those in place, assurances have been given that Vietnamese embassies will grant the required visas.