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Asian Catholic bishops look to ‘renew and revitalize’

The golden jubilee celebrations of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) got underway in Bangkok on Oct. 12

Published: October 14, 2022 11:25 AM GMT

Updated: December 29, 2022 09:29 AM GMT

Catholic bishops from 29 countries in Asia and guests from the Vatican began their two-week general conference in Thailand’s capital Bangkok, to mark the 50th anniversary of the FABC or Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences this Wednesday.

Some 275 participants are attending the jubilee programs that end on October 30. Leading Asian Church leaders including FABC president Cardinal Charles Bo and Indian Cardinal Oswald Gracias called for renewal and renewed evangelization in the multi-religious region.

Cardinal Bo told the gathering that their jubilee “is an occasion for proclaiming that The Savior of the world was born in Asia” and the Asian Church is called upon “to exhibit an evangelical enthusiasm for justice and peace.”

Cardinal Gracias urged Asian bishops to restructure FABC modeled on CELAM – the Latin American bishops’ conferences – and to meet regularly to form policies to make the Church relevant in Asia. In his message, Pope Francis asked the Asian bishops to listen to “what the Holy Spirit is saying to you” and stressed the role of the laity in the Church in Asia and the importance of local Churches.

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

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)

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Catholic Church in India has hailed a government motion seeking the end of the discriminatory denial of state benefits for socially downtrodden Dalits who converted to Christianity or Islam. The federal government announced last Thursday the setting up of a three-member inquiry commission headed by a former Chief Justice of India, to examine possibilities and implications of according Scheduled Caste status to Dalit Christians and Muslims, and submit a report within two years.

The Scheduled Caste status will ensure them a share in the 15 percent reserved quota in parliament and state legislatures, government jobs, and education, which is currently reserved for Dalits belonging to Hindu, Sikh, or Buddhist religions.

Dalit Christians protest against the discrimination they face in Kumbakonam Diocese in southern India in February 2021. (Photo supplied)

But some Dalit Christian leaders said the setting up of a new commission was a tactic to delay them the benefits. Dalits, formerly known as untouchables, were not included in the four-tier Hindu caste system. Many of them converted to other faiths to escape social prejudices and discrimination.

Official data shows 201 million of India’s 1.2 billion people are Dalits. About 60 percent of 25 million Indian Christians trace their origin to Dalit and tribal communities. 

Catholic charity Caritas Philippines has launched a nationwide campaign to plant millions of bamboo saplings to tackle soil erosion and restore declining forests.  The campaign was launched in all of 72 Catholic dioceses in the country on Monday. In the next five years, Caritas aims to plant a total of 5 million bamboo saplings, mostly provided by the government.

Caritas chief Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo joined hundreds of students from Catholic schools in capital Manila for a plantation program at La Mesa Dam Ecopark. The park sustained damages and lost soil when Typhoon Noru hit the country in late September.

Caritas Philippines head Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo plants a bamboo sapling in a Manila park on Oct. 10. (Photo supplied) 

Caritas and government officials say they are investing heavily in bamboo as it can protect the environment from soil erosion and flash floods, and greatly contribute to lessening carbon emissions.

Besides, bamboo can provide livelihood and housing. In 2021, Philippines was ranked 68 out of 118 most polluted countries by the World Health Organization. Global Forest Watch reported the Philippines lost 158,000 hectares of natural tropical forest from 2002 to 2021.

Catholics in Myanmar prayed for peace and for those who lost their lives in conflicts as people across the Buddhist-majority nation marked Thadingyut, or the festival of lights. The festival was celebrated from October 8-10 when thousands of Buddhists visited pagodas to pray and offer flowers, lit candles, and released colorful paper lanterns.

The festival commemorates Buddha’s descent to earth from heaven after three months of educating his mother and other heavenly gods. It also marks the completion of the Buddhist month of fasting. Catholics in Myanmar and abroad organized prayers on the occasion and remembered those who died in the struggle for democracy in Myanmar.

A girl lights candles at Botahtaung Pagoda during the celebrations to mark the Thadingyut festival in Yangon on Oct 9. (Photo: AFP)

Despite the festivities, Myanmar continues to witness violence and bloodshed as the military battles armed resistance with air strikes and shelling in civilian targets, forcing thousands to flee.

Prior to the festival, the military bombed a Buddhist monastery in Karen state and several civilians were killed in air strikes in Sagaing region. More than 2,300 people have been killed and over 15,700 people have been arrested since the military coup last year. 

Following a long drought, devastating floods and extended monsoon hit Cambodia, leaving at least 20 people dead and forcing more than 1,700 families to evacuate. The flooding triggered by torrential rain has impacted 70,000 families in the Southeast Asian nation.

Weather forecasters have predicted this year’s monsoon will extend into December providing a respite for Cambodian farmers who are struggling to recover from the drought. However, rescue efforts were being complicated by the floods.

People ride through a flooded street in Phnom Penh on Sept 26, 2022, following a heavy rain shower. (Photo: AFP)

The disaster forced closure of schools in various provinces while the annual water festival in November has been cancelled. The flooding has destroyed about 30,000 hectares of rice fields.

Media reports say land mines were unearthed, shifted or washed down to rivers. Weather officials said the La Nina weather phenomena, which occurs in every five years, has increased to 65 percent, triggering the prolonged wet season.

Dozens of grief-stricken families in Thailand gathered to mourn and pray in front of a nursery on Friday, two days after an ex-policeman murdered nearly two dozen children in one of the country’s worst mass killings.

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Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha visited survivors of the attack amid somber environment made heavy by weeping family members.

Sittipong Taothawong (left) comforts his wife Kanjana Buakumchan as she holds their child's milk bottle and blanket while standing outside the nursery in Na Klang in Thailand's northeastern Nong Bua Lam Phu province on Oct. 7. (Photo: AFP)

Around the small low-slung building, where only two days ago scores of preschool children played, officials in white uniforms with black armbands laid a red carpet for the king's visit. A line of heartbroken parents placed white roses on the steps of the nursery as the baking sun bore down on them in the morning.

Armed with a 9mm pistol and a knife, sacked police sergeant Panya Khamrab opened fire on the childcare center in the northeastern Nong Bua Lam Phu province, leaving 37 people including 23 children dead. The attacker committed suicide after killing his wife and child. The 34-year-old policeman was dismissed from job for his drug addiction in June.

Macau Catholic Diocese has opened its historic archives of close to one million documents and numerous relics with cultural and heritage values for public viewing for the first time.

Founded in 1576 as the first Catholic Church jurisdiction in Far East, Macau Diocese has preserved the documents and relics for centuries from the Portuguese colonial period from 1557 to 1999. In 2010, UNESCO assigned some ancient books at the St. Joseph’s Seminary and archives of the Diocesan Chancery to its Memory of the World Program for the Asia-Pacific region.

A curator polishes a historic relic at the Diocesan Archives in Macau. (Photo: Jornal-O-Clarim)

Established in 1728, the Saint Joseph’s Seminary, together with St. Paul's College, was the principal base for the missionary work implemented in China, Japan, and other regions. These structures are recognized as heritage sites by the UNESCO. 

Beginning in the 16th century, Macau diocese covered a vast territory in Asia, from Japan to Southeast Asia. Over the centuries, more than 100 dioceses have separated. The diocese has 30,000 Catholics out of the 670,000 population of Macau.

Hundreds of mourners and survivors commemorated the 20th anniversary of the bombings that killed more than 200 people on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, on Wednesday. Family members, survivors and representatives from several embassies attended a memorial in Bali's popular tourist hub of Kuta, where Al-Qaeda-linked militants detonated bombs at a bar and nightclub on October 12, 2002.

The candlelight vigil was held at a monument built close to the site of the blasts by victims' family members to mark the nation’s deadliest terrorist attack that killed mostly foreign tourists from more than 20 countries. Australia suffered the biggest loss with 88 dead. Militant group Jemaah Islamiyah, linked to Al-Qaeda, was blamed for the bombings.

A woman prays after laying a flower at a memorial site for the victims to mark the 20th anniversary of the Bali bombings that killed more than 200 people, in Kuta on the Indonesian resort island of Bali on Oct. 12. (Photo: AFP)

Indonesia, the world's biggest Muslim-majority nation, has long struggled with Islamist militancy. All the leading perpetrators of the Bali attacks were either executed, killed by police or jailed.

However, the planned early release of Umar Patek, who only served half of his 20-year sentence, sparked uproar and forced the Indonesian government to hold the release.

Catholic pilgrims in Vietnam paid tributes to native saint Father Peter Le Tuy who embraced martyrdom for faith in the 19th century. Thousands of Catholics from the Hanoi Archdiocese joined a special Mass at the Pilgrimage Center in Hanoi City on Tuesday to mark the 189th anniversary of the death of the priest. Some 100 priests joined the open-air ceremony with the theme, "Saint Peter Le Tuy - witness of Synodality."

During the two-day celebrations that began the previous day, pilgrims attended Masses, carried a big statue of Martyr Le Tuy and his relics around the village, watched cultural performances and offered incense and flowers in front of the statue. Twenty-five groups including ethnic women played drums, trumpets and gongs.

People in traditional costumes carry a statue of Martyr Peter Le Tuy around Bang So village on Oct. 10. (photo: tonggiaophanhanoi.org)

Born in 1773, Tuy was ordained a priest and served the parishes of Chan Loc, Dong Thanh and Nam Duong. He was arrested on June 25, 1833, by a non-Catholic group after he anointed a dying patient with oil.

The priest was beheaded on Oct. 11, 1833, for “spreading a heresy among the people.” Pope John Paul II canonized him on June 19, 1988.

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