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New Asian Cardinals Present Faces Of The Church In Asia

Updated: February 22, 2006 05:00 PM GMT
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COTABATO CITY, Philippines (UCAN) - For the secretary general of the Federation of Asian Bishops´ Conferences (FABC), the three new Asian cardinals appointed by the pope reflect facets of Asian Church reality.

On Feb. 22, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Archbishop Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk of Seoul, Archbishop Gaudencio Rosales of Manila and Bishop Joseph Zen Ze-kiun of Hong Kong among the 15 new members he plans to induct into the College of Cardinals in Rome on March 24 during his first consistory.

Each of the Asians named cardinal has a "significant role" because of the context of their local Church, says Archbishop Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato. The FABC´s highest-ranking official described situations confronting the new cardinals´ dioceses and shared his hopes about what the Asian leaders could contribute in their new capacity.

Currently, prior to the induction of the new cardinals, the College of Cardinals comprises 17 Asians, 16 Africans, 18 North Americans, 31 Latin Americans, 92 Europeans, and four cardinals from Oceania. Of the 178 members, 110 are cardinal-electors, under the age of 80 and hence eligible to elect a pope in a conclave, but two electors will turn 80 by March 24.

Of the 17 Asians, 10 are cardinal-electors, and the three new Asian cardinals are all below 80. With their induction, the geographical distribution would be five cardinals from India; three from the Philippines, two each from Japan, Korea and Vietnam, and one each from Hong Kong, Indonesia, Lebanon, Syria, Taiwan and Thailand. India would have three electors, Japan and the Philippines two each, and Hong Kong, Indonesia, Korea, Syria, Thailand and Vietnam one each. The total number of electors in the college would be 120, the number Pope Paul VI set as a limit.

In his commentary sent to UCA News Feb. 22 from Cotabato City, 885 kilometers southeast of Manila, Archbishop Quevedo reflected on qualities of the two new Asian cardinals he knows personally and how these, their interests and pastoral experiences could influence the College of Cardinals.

The FABC is a voluntary association of bishops´ conferences in 14 Asian countries established in the 1970s to foster among its members solidarity and co-responsibility for the welfare of Church and society in Asia. It also has as associate members the local Churches in five Central Asian countries and Siberia, East Timor, Mongolia, Nepal and the Chinese special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau.

Archbishop Quevedo´s commentary follows:

The three new Asian cardinals have been expected. After all, they had been appointed to dioceses whose previous bishops were cardinals. It was a matter of time.

Thus, Archbishop Gaudencio Rosales for (the late) Cardinal Jaime Sin of Manila; Archbishop Nicolas Cheong Jin-suk for (retired) Cardinal Stephen Kim of Seoul; and Bishop Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, a Salesian, for (the late) Cardinal John Baptist Wu of Hong Kong. But each one has a significant role to play because of the dioceses they lead.

Archbishop Rosales is quite aware of the central place that the Archdiocese of Manila occupies in the Church in the Philippines. He is also aware that the vision of the Philippine Church since the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines in 1991 is to be a "Church of the Poor." Hence, his concern for the poor in Manila and his project for the poor are most significant. They give a signal that indeed Manila, with its starkly contrasting image of rich and poor, has seriously to become a Church of the poor.

Archbishop Cheong of Seoul and Bishop Zen of Hong Kong are in situations where the Church often takes up the cudgels for political freedom. In Seoul, Church leadership is symbolic of the political maturity and dynamism of lay Catholics. In Hong Kong, the political maturity of laypeople is growing and has an interfaith or interreligious quality. The bishop has to balance religious freedom and political freedom very delicately.

Hence one can surmise that the nomination to be cardinal is not only by virtue of the person but also by reason of the strategic situation of the diocese.

As a group the three new Asian cardinals together with the cardinals from India, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam would present to the College of Cardinals, and to the universal Church, four different faces of the Church in Asia: a Church of the poor, a Church struggling in many places for religious freedom, a Church committed to interreligious dialogue, and a Church that is engaged in social transformation as a call of the Gospel and of the Kingdom of God.

Of the three new cardinals I have personal knowledge only of Bishop Zen and of Archbishop Rosales. Bishop Zen is a learned prelate, wise and quite pastoral. What impresses me is his courage in speaking out for the political rights of the people and for the freedom of the Church. His experience of teaching in China serves him well, since he has to be a bridge between various Catholic groups in China.

Archbishop Rosales is a very humble, quiet, solidly spiritual person. He is close to the poor. His experience as a bishop in Bukidnon (in the southern Philippines) with Basic Ecclesial Communities and their engagement with society, particularly with ecological issues, explains his strong advocacy of the poor and of social change through the values of the Gospel.

The qualities they both exhibit flow, I believe, from their closeness to Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Their interests, their pastoral experiences and their priestly qualities would surely contribute towards a "catholicity" of leadership qualities in the College of Cardinals.

END

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