Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Myanmar talks during an interview at his office in Yangon on Jan. 6, 2015. (Photo: AFP)
The Church in Asia has started a process of searching for new ways to work for peace, dialogue and evangelization in the multi-religious continent, where masses suffer violence and poverty, says a top Asian cardinal.
“We are planning a future. We shall be taking a route, or different routes, especially in the areas of peace, dialogue and reconciliation, as a new path of a new evangelization,” said Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon, president of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC).
The FABC leader was speaking to the media on Oct. 24 in Bangkok, mid-way through the two-week gathering of Asian bishops, who were discussing emerging realities of Asia in their attempt to revise pastoral plans and priorities for the Church in Asia.
When listening to the delegates from all the countries of Asia, “we see the diversity, the suffering masses that challenges,” said Cardinal Bo, also head of the Church in Myanmar, where violence continues as the junta government continues to suppress people’s clamor for democracy.
The general conference, the first such in FABC that began on Oct 12 has some 226 delegates, which included 20 cardinals, 120 bishops, 37 priests, and 49 lay people including eight nuns.
The Magis came to baby Jesus 2000 years ago, “indeed from the east, from Asia and they took different routes” while going back, Cardinal Bo said conferring to the conference theme, "Journeying together as peoples of Asia … and they went a different way.”
Cardinal Bo said that new and sometimes even “different routes” are needed for Asian bishops to address the varied and widespread issues that communities face in different parts of Asia.
During the discussions, the bishops were like Moses before the burning bush, he said referring to the biblical event which speaks about Moses seeing the bush on fire, consumed by the flames while on Mount Horeb.
“During the days of the meeting, we saw the burning bushes of exploitation, nuclear war, bribery, economy, holocaust, migration, war, human-made disasters. And like Moses, we ask: ‘How can this be?’” he said.
He said the Church in Asia is not one built by the emperors, not by the philosophers, nor great people. “But built by shepherds like Moses and fishermen like Saint Peter and Saint Paul,” said the Salesian cardinal, an ethnic Burmese.
He said the tiny Catholic population in Asia does “not discourage” the bishops because “though that we are a minority our presence in the whole of Asia is very, very effective and we are going through this journey with triple dialogue with the poor, their culture, and religions.”
Asian Church looks to South America
Except for the Philippines and Timor-Leste, Catholics are less than five percent of the population in most Asian nations with some of them having even less than one percent population, often dominated by religions such as Buddhism, Islam and Hinduism.
Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai, who heads the organizing of the conference, said the first such conference was inspired by CELAM, the South American equivalent of FABC that began in 1955, 15 years before the FABC began in 1970.
While the CELAM developed documented pastoral plans for their continent in their decennial conferences, based on the numerous country-level and diocesan-level discussions, the FABC so for had 11 plenary assemblies which discussed a particular theme with bishops and their delegates.
“We felt that we would benefit a great deal by having a similar (CELAM-like conferences), not a plenary assembly, which takes one topic. A general conference, bigger number of bishops, greater ownership and therefore looking at the whole perspective,” Cardinal Gracias said during the press meet.
The CELAM “really was a very inspiring, powerful force in South America. But they have an advantage. It's much more homogeneous than Asia,” Cardinal Gracias said pointing at the cultural and religious diversity in Asia.
Cardinal Gracias said it was “the largest gathering of Asian bishops” in the history of FABC. The Bangkok conference has “even more bishops than when we began the FABC 50 years back,” he said.