Asian bishops attend the general conference of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) at the Ban Pu Wan Pastoral Training Center of the Archdiocese of Bangkok on Oct. 12. (Photo: UCA News)
Catholic bishops in Asia began a two-week general conference in Bangkok on Oct 12 marking the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences' 50th anniversary, with leaders calling for renewed evangelization in the multi-religious region.
“As the third millennium marches along, history beckons and the Spirit moves: together we say: Onward Asian Church! This is the moment for Asia,” Cardinal Charles Bo of Myanmar, the FABC president said during his opening address to some 275 Church leaders from 29 nations.
Along with Cardinal Bo, Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai, the head of the general conference's Organizing Committee and Cardinal Francis Xavier Kriengsak Kovithavanij of Bangkok, the host of the meeting also stressed the role of the Church’s evangelization in the region, where Christians are a tiny minority.
Cardinal Bo told the gathering that their jubilee “is an occasion for proclaiming that The Savior of the world was born in Asia … Yes. We accept that challenge today. Christ, born in Asia, needs to be proclaimed to the vast multitude in this biggest continent.”
“As the dream of Christ returning to Asia, the Asian Church is called upon to exhibit an evangelical enthusiasm for justice and peace. The future calls for a pilgrimage of confidence,” he said.
“History beckons; the Spirit moves us; let us proclaim the missionary call to the Asian Church, let us make this a century of Jesus' Good News to the whole of Asia,” said the Church leader from Myanmar.
He said the Church’s task is reflected in the theme of the FABC's golden Jubilee — "Journeying together as peoples of Asia and they went a different way.”
It aims to reflect on the “re-emerging and emerging realities and challenges of the Church in Asia,” the cardinal said.
Alluding to the Biblical Magi referred to in the theme, Cardinal Bo said: “Like those men, let the star of hope guide in different ways, but the same destination: the dream of Jesus in establishing humanity liberated from the grip of evil and man-made disasters.
“We thank the Lord for the vibrant diversity of the great continent of Asia, the cradle of great religions, home of great cultures. Welcome to every culture, every language, and every country. Let us join together to make this moment, Asia’s moment in the Church’s history.”
Cardinal Bo said the Church in Asia is grateful to the FABC for its work over the past 50 years — "the Asian theological reflections, the three-fold dialogue with cultures, religions, and the poor, our attention to women and youth concerns, and our collaboration during great challenges."
He also referred to the FABC’s support “to persecuted brothers and sisters, our contribution to health and education in many Asian countries and our ongoing collaboration across cultures.”
Pope asks for regular meetings
In a message to the general conference, Pope Francis stressed the cultural diversity of the Churches in Asia and asked them to meet regularly.
“It is important for the Regional Conferences to meet with some consistency, as in doing so the Church is formed, is strengthened along the way, and the fundamental question is: What is the Spirit saying to the Churches in Asia?
"And that is what you must answer,” Pope Francis said in his message.
Asian theologians such as Father Felix Wilfred say the federation since its inception in 1970 has encouraged the development of Asian theological patterns to carry out the Church’s mission in the religious diversity of Asia, but the Vatican began to look at it with suspicion.
“From the 1990 Plenary Assembly in Bandung, the central administration of the Church turned its close attention to the FABC, whose vision and orientation, especially regarding the theology of religion, mission, and dialogue, began to be viewed with suspicion,” he told UCA News in September.
That led the FABC to go into a “theological quarantine, apparently very intimidated. Unfortunately, it does not seem to have recovered fully from this shock that led to self-isolation and intellectual sclerosis,” Father Wilfred said.
In the decades after that FABC offices rarely had regular meetings and the papal exhortation for regular meetings cones against this background, say senior priests formerly linked with the FABC.
The papal message also stressed the role of the laity in the Church in Asia and stressed the importance of local Churches.
“Go forward, let the laity assume their baptism, their function as laypersons, and let the singularity of each one be respected because the universal Church is not the uniform Church, no: she is universal, with respect for the particularity of every Church,” he said.
Pope Francis noted that when the FABC was founded the bishops noted that the masses were “awakening from fatalism to a life worthy of man; the young people were also awakening, they were idealistic, aware, concerned, impatient and restless; culturally diverse societies were awakening to become a true community of peoples.”
For the Church in Asia, this meant “to be more authentically the Church of the poor, the Church of the young, and a Church in dialogue with fellow Asians of other denominations," the pope said.