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Asia is no more on the margins of global Catholicism

Flame of Love, a global Marian movement of Catholics that emerged in Latin America and Hungary, met last week in Singapore to form their constitution
Singapore hosted the International Congress of the Flame of Love March 1-5 with about 60 delegates from all around the world coming to spend five days of retreat and work.

Singapore hosted the International Congress of the Flame of Love March 1-5 with about 60 delegates from all around the world coming to spend five days of retreat and work. (Photo: supplied)

Published: March 07, 2024 03:58 AM GMT
Updated: April 02, 2024 06:36 AM GMT

As the Catholic Church witnesses the constant emergence of new spiritual movements, devotional networks, and religious initiatives, their recognition and institutionalization are complex processes. The Church as a whole needs time to carefully discern their spiritual value, orthodoxy, and contribution to the body of Christ.

But these processes of growth and regulation, renewal and discernment, creativity and obedience keep the Church alive. Initiatives that may come from the Holy Spirit need to be recognized as such by other parts of the Body of Christ — including the head of the Church.

"Yet, this long discernment is not only happening between the Roman center and some local communities. It is rarely limited to some localities only. It takes almost the whole Church — with numerous mediators and encounters — to truly recognize the vitality, renewal, and challenges that the Holy Spirit brings to us.

Singapore hosted the March 1-5 extraordinary International Congress of the Flame of Love. About 60 delegates came from all around the world to spend five days of retreat and work.

Over the past few years, the Flame of Love has rapidly grown across all continents. Taking many members by surprise, the new movement is now present in more than 50 countries — including Singapore, India, the Philippines, etc. With more people involved and national associations established, the Flame of Love needs to adapt its structures to let the Vatican discern an international recognition.

The Flame of Love of the Immaculate Heart of Mary is based on the writings of the Hungarian mystic, Elizabeth Kindelmann (1913-1985) and, more specifically, on her spiritual diary written between 1962 and 1966. Elements of the movement were first approved by Cardinal Echeverria Ruiz (Archdiocese of Guayaquil) in Ecuador in 1989. With echoes to Pentecostal movements, the Flame of Love deploys a variety of prayers and devotions centered on the loving figures of Jesus and Mary. Yet, the Flame of Love is more a mystical movement than a devotional organization.

Renata Biała, a doctoral student in theology from the Pontifical University of John Paul II in Krakow (Poland) who attended the congress explains that “the flame of love is a very deep manifestation of Mary's motherly love. The flame of love is the personal love of Mary, shaped by the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus — whose greatest task and desire is to bring children to God and convince them of His mercy. The flame of love is the miracle of mercy that we have received in Jesus.”

Among the delegates who came to Singapore, Canon Law expert Bishop Arulselvam Rayappan of Salem diocese in India as well as a dozen priests from various countries and religious orders attended the congress. Other delegates were laypeople with responsibilities at different levels of the movement. Together, they represented more than 20 countries like Peru, Argentina, Brazil, Democratic Republic of Congo, and the United Kingdom.

The delegates revamped the statutes of the movement in order to reorganize this loose collection of national movements and prayer cenacles into an international association of the faithful. Their deliberations were held in English, French and Spanish simultaneously and touched upon a wide range of topics — such as specific Marian statues used by the movement or ways to use digital technologies to let members participate in collective decisions.

While this movement emerged in Latin America and Hungary first, it is interesting that its delegates picked Singapore as the place to gather and discern their way forward. Asia is not anymore on the margins of global Catholicism. And local members have been extremely proactive in making such an international gathering possible.

The extraordinary congress of the Flame of Love illustrates how the Church relies on a variety of members, places, and resources to take shape and grow. While all roads lead to Rome, every part of the body of Christ plays a role.

Singapore is also a crossroads of Asia and the world. With its airport, efficient transport system, and affordable food, the city is a convenient place for international organizations. This congress of the Flame of Love demonstrates how the city-state is becoming a hub for Global Catholicism. In 2021, Singapore had its first cardinal in history. And later this year, Pope Francis is expected to visit the city-state.

The congress also illustrates how Catholic ways of approaching Mary always evolve. Mary remains a question. In a religious context where almost every Asian nation has developed its own localized form of Mary, the Flame of Love stands as an alternative path toward the love of Mary and Jesus.

For many Christians, covering Mary with indigenous outfits and traditional symbols is not enough to demonstrate her maternal proximity. Going against a certain nationalization of Mary that one can observe in Asia and beyond, the Flame of Love provides an alternative path to encounter the radicality of Christian salvation.

Without reducing itself to a set of Marian rituals and symbols, the movement is an invitation to dive deep into the mystical experience of a poor Hungarian mother, Elizabeth Kindelmann. Its spirituality, the Flame of Love, provides the radicality and flexibility that many people are longing for today.

Yet, to demonstrate the value of what this mystical journey can bring to 21st-century Catholicism, the movement still has to listen to questions raised by bishops around the world and the Roman curia.

In this process, Singapore stands as a welcoming place to let the movement gather and discern. Doing so, this Asian Church is not simply supporting Christianity in Asia but the universal Church. Today, there is no more continent that can claim to be more equipped than others to facilitate the transversal discernments of the Church.

When the Flame of Love gathers in Singapore to answer questions from Rome, it is a testimony to the universality of the Church.

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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