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Updated: May 17, 1998 05:00 PM GMT
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Pope John Paul II brought the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for Asia to an end with a Mass in St. Peter´s Basilica and later joined a farewell lunch with synod participants on May 14.

Pope John Paul offered words of praise to the Church in Asia for all its past achievements as well as encouragement to energize their efforts for more fruitful evangelization throughout the continent in the future.

The synod is an act of praise to God, who receives glory through the service that the Church offers human beings and who is the Absolute and Transcendent One that Asian peoples of other traditional faiths have always sought to find "in the depths of their being," the Holy Father said in his homily.

The pope reminded the Asian bishops that they were appointed to "go and bear fruit" and that the "little flock" of Christians amid Asia´s masses have a role of love to fulfill as part of the Church´s mission in the continent.

Echoing his opening Mass homily on April 19, when he called on the Asian synod to "write what the Spirit suggests," the Holy Father also declared that he and all who took part in the synod have "written a fresh page of ecclesial life on the Asian continent in this century. This page is an addition, in a sense, to the story of the Acts of the Apostles."

Noting that "Jesus, born in Asia, sowed the seed of salvation for all peoples in that continent" the pope called the Asian Church to continue its "mission of love and service" and "remain faithful to the love of Christ" so that, like Jesus´ disciples, they go and bear fruit that lasts.

Though lamenting the refusal of Chinese authorities to allow two mainland bishops to exit China to attend the synod, the pope prayed that as the government of China "gradually opens to the rest of the world, the Church in China will also be permitted to have more contact with the universal Church."

While the liturgy was mainly in Latin, Asian song, dance, ritual and the prayers of petition in various Asian languages gave an Asian flavor to the closing Mass, just as they had enhanced the opening Mass.

English was used for the first reading, but the Gospel was distinctively an Indian affair, with the acclamation in Tamil according to the Syro-Malankara rite and the reading itself in Malayalam following the Syro-Malabar rite.

The prayers of the faithful were offered by synod observers in Chinese (Mandarin), Hindi, Japanese, Malay, Tagalog and Thai.

Indian and Indonesian nuns working or studying in Rome performed dance to accompany parts of the Mass, and offertory gifts were presented by Chinese, Filipinos, Indonesians, Indians, Japanese and Koreans.

The booklets for the closing Mass, like those at the opening Mass, featured illustrations of Chinese paintings from Beijing´s former Catholic university.

After Mass, the participants walked from the basilica´s sacristry across to Domus Sanctae Marthae (Saint Martha House), where some Synodal Fathers and auditors stayed during the synod and where. in due course, cardinals of the Church will be housed when the next conclave convenes to elect a new pope.

At the farewell lunch there, Pope John Paul said there are "many places" in which he would like to proclaim his post-synodal apostolic exhortation, including Beijing, Hong Kong, India, Jerusalem, the Philippines and Vietnam.

The synod participants, mindful of the pope´s forthcoming 78th birthday on May 18, then sang "happy birthday" to him in various languages.

Seated at the dozens of round-tables inside the refectory were those who formally took part in the synod, staff of the synod secretariat, officials from the Roman dicasteries and other Vatican personnel.

Among them was a former commander of the Swiss Guards who has been asked to resume work temporarily, following the murder of the newly appointed commander and his wife by another Swiss Guard inside the Vatican during the synod.

After the meal, everyone bid farewell to the Holy Father, and he gave a rosary to each one.

He also offered special gifts to each synod participant. For every synodal bishop, including the two Chinese unable to come to Rome. there was an episcopal ring bearing the image of Jesus as Good Shepherd, while the other participants received a souvenir papal medal.


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