Cardinal Bo to Asian Bishops: Church can learn from Asian spirituality
By Joseph Tulloch
Cardinal Charles Bo gave the homily at the opening Mass of a two-week meeting of bishops from the region, marking fifty years of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conference (FABC). The Burmese Cardinal, who is head of the Conference, discussed the contribution that the spirituality and diversity of Asia can make to the life of the Church.
A key theme of Cardinal Bo’s homily was the richness of Asia’s spiritual traditions. As many traditionally Christian areas become secular, he said, “The East holds a great attraction to the West.”
“The last fifty years saw an explosion of interest in Eastern Spiritual traditions,” he said. The interiority of the Asian religions, the simple mysticism that has led millions to cultivate prayer, and the popularity of mindfulness and mediations, he said, all point to a great thirst for experience. "The East has insisted on experience. Not many explanations!”
Cardinal Bo connected this Eastern emphasis on experience, rather than words, with Pope Francis’ call for a more energetic Church: “That is our great challenge. Moving from words to action. Moving from just structures into experience and interiority. Concepts and words do not impress people.”
A diverse Church
The FABC is responsible for Catholic communities from Mongolia to Indonesia, Uzbekistan to Japan. There is also considerable diversity in liturgy: Catholics in the region are split between the Latin, Syro-Malabar, and Syro-Malankara rites.
Sometimes, said Cardinal Bo, this can be a problem: “One of the great hurdles of Christianity in Asia is ‘Christ divided’ among so many.”
This should not be so, however, he suggested. “[The] Catholic Church needs a universal approach despite our diversity. Our diversity is a great strength, the various rites are great gifts of faith. Unity is not uniformity.”
Pope Francis echoed this sentiment in his message to conference attendees. “Let the singularity of each one be respected,” he said, “because the universal Church is not the uniform Church.”
Looking back, moving forward
Cardinal Bo gave thanks for the many successes of the Church in Asia in the past fifty years, noting its contribution to nation-building in many countries, its survival amidst all challenges, and its emergence as a leading supplier of global vocations
He stressed, however, that the FABC’s fifty year anniversary should be an occasion for renewal as well as gratitude, urging his fellow bishops to “accept the challenge to make this century, the century of Asia, the century of Christ”.
Cardinal Oswald Gracias of India, ex-president of the FABC, also expressed his hope that the conference might “renew and revitalize our pastoral thrust so that the Church could become what the Lord calls her to be … A vibrant Church working for a better Asia.”