Pope asks bishops to carve out Asian Church's future

Francis wants Asian leaders to learn from early missionaries who acted with determination to spread the Gospel
Pope asks bishops to carve out Asian Church's future

Pope Francis meets with bishops at the Shrine of Blessed Nicholas Bunkerd Kitbamrung in Bangkok on Nov. 22. (Photo: AFP)

Bishops in Asia must develop a future for the Church without engaging in futile discussions and not being overly concerned about structures, Pope Francis told a gathering of top prelates in Thailand.

He was addressing the bishops of Thailand and representatives of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences’ (FABC) on Nov. 22 in Bangkok on the third day of his visit to Thailand.

The bishops should be ready to welcome “a future that you yourselves must help develop and create. In this way, both the Church and society in Asia will benefit from a renewed and shared evangelical outreach,” the pope told the gathering.

The Church’s missionary work has been a common theme of his speeches in Thailand on a visit that marks 350 years since the establishment of a Vatican mission in Siam, the former name of Thailand.

The meeting took place at the Shrine of Blessed Nicholas Bunkerd Kitbamrung, a missionary in Thailand and Vietnam. This year also marks the 75th death anniversary of the preacher, who died aged 48 in 1944.

The “great zeal for evangelization in all the local churches of Asia” should inspire the Church in Asia to spread the Gospel “like a fragrant balm throughout this great and beautiful continent,” the pope said.

The pontiff noted the bishops’ plan to mark the 50th anniversary of the FABC in 2020 and said it would be “a fitting occasion to revisit those “shrines where the missionary roots that left their mark on these lands are preserved.”

The memory of the first missionaries should help the present Church to “take stock of our present situation and mission from a much broader and more transformative perspective,” he said.

That should also help the bishops “to avoid taking refuge in fruitless discussions and ways of thinking that end up making us turn in on ourselves, paralyzing any kind of action,” the pope said.

“I like to observe that the mission, even prior to things to be done or projects to be implemented, demands the cultivation of a gaze and a sense of smell. The mission calls for a paternal and maternal concern,”

Evangelization “does not lie only in the proclamation of the Gospel but also in learning to believe the Gospel and to let ourselves be laid hold of and transformed by it,” the pope said.

“Let us cast aside everything that has stuck to us along the way, and that makes it harder for us to press forward. We know that some ecclesial structures and mentalities can hamper efforts at evangelization.

“Yet even good structures are only helpful when there is a life constantly driving, sustaining and assessing them. Ultimately, without new life and an authentic evangelical spirit … any new structure will soon prove ineffective and detract from our important ministry.” 

The papal words gain particular significance in the context of criticism from retired Japanese Archbishop Takeo Okada of Tokyo about Vatican structures not being helpful in inculturation.

In an open letter in September, Archbishop Okada said Vatican structures have even hampered the Church in Japan, particularly in the areas of inculturation, decentralization, and spiritualization.

The pope is expected to discuss the letter with Japanese bishops while he visits the country from Nov. 23-26.

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