Asian Bishops seek to respond to emerging challenges with compassion
By Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp – Bangkok
Bishop Mylo Vergara, Diocese of Pasig, moderated a press conference on Monday evening, summing up the last 12 days of the General Conference of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conference (FABC), being held in Bangkok.
He opened the conference with a prayer of thanksgiving for the foundation of the FABC 50 years ago, before greeting journalists present both in St Michael’s Hall of the Baan Phu Waan Pastoral Center in Bangkok and others participating online.
Christ is present in Asia
Cardinal Charles Bo, Archbishop of Yangon and President of the FABC, characterized the General Conference as a celebration of the presence of the Holy Spirit during its 50 years. He said that during the Conference sessions, the diversity of the suffering masses and their challenges have been presented alongside the great graces that have been received.
He compared the challenges the Bishops of Asia have had to face in the last few days as they examined Emerging Realities in the region to Moses before the burning bush asking God how he could fulfil what God was asking. The answer, the Cardinal said, is the same, “I am with you”. Christianity exists due to shepherds like Moses, and fishermen like Peter, who continue to hear the call of the Lord.
“Even though we are a minority, our presence is effective”, Cardinal Bo said, after reminding the audience that Catholics represent only 2% of the population in Asia. Through them, he concluded, the face of Jesus continues to be present in Asia.
Cardinal Francis Xavier Kriengsak Kovitvanit, Archbishop of Bangkok and president of the Episcopal Conference of Thailand, expressed his happiness that the General Conference chose to use the Baan Phu Waan Pastoral Center in Bangkok for its venue. He also extended his gratitude to all those who helped organize it. Special thanks went to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Culture to “facilitate the coming of the Bishops from various countries in Asia”.
Developing a message to the People of Asia
Cardinal Oswald Gracias shared how the proposal for a General Conference went forward. To date, it is the largest gathering of Asian Bishops and first General Conference, he said. Leading up to the Conference, he said, several consultations were held at the regional level to identify the “Concerns, challenges and opportunities” for both the Church and society. These became the basis for forming the General Conference.
The first part would be visiting member countries virtually to understand the social, economic, religious situations, climate change, etc. The first few days were dedicated to this. When they moved on to examining the Emerging Realities, they had concrete situations with which to apply the realities being presented.
In this final week, they are trying to understand how to draw conclusions regarding the way forward which will be presented in “a message to the people of Asia and a final document, a pastoral plan for the Church in Asia”.
Human Rights Issues
In responding to questions from the Press, Cardinal Gracias acknowledged discussions have taken place regarding “the Church’s duty to protect human dignity, justice, reconciliation, the Church needs to be a bridge-builder”.
Specifically regarding human rights issues, the Cardinal said that the bishops are discussing how they can address these issues so as to make Asia a place where Gospel values are reflected. “This is our mission, it’s our task, our calling”, he said.
Sharing with other regions
The Cardinal also explained that the FABC drew inspiration from CELAM in holding a General Conference to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its foundation because “it is an inspiring force in Latin America”. The FABC has been in contact with other regional conferences to create “exchange and synergy because many of the concerns and issues are similar,” he said.
Contributions from the Church in Asia
Regarding the unique contributions the Church in Asia can make to the Church in other countries, Cardinal Bo listed several “Asian values that can be shared are the family, spirituality, respect for elders and parents, peace and meditation and sacredness”, since the vast majority of people have some connection with a religious tradition.
Cardinal Gracias added that the Church in Asia is a younger Church, but the time has come for her to make a contribution to the wider Church. One specific point that other Churches can learn is Asia’s inter-religious dialogue. “We have the experience because it is not an option, but a necessity,” Cardinal Gracias said.
In responding to a question regarding reaching out to younger members of the Church online, Cardinal Gracias reminded the audience that Asia is also a young continent in terms of age, with a large young population.
“We are aware of the young and they are an important component of our planning and vision. We want the youth to be with us, full partners”, he said. The Church appreciates their generosity and their eagerness to participate in creating change. “They are an indispensable partner in all that we do.”
Cardinal Bo added that “we have been discussing that the leaders of the Church will have to learn how to make use of social media. To reach the youth, we have to be where the youth are.” Cardinal Kriengsak highlighted that on Sunday, the FABC took part in virtual parish visits online. Many of the presentations and morning prayers have been delivered virtually, specifically so as to involve many more people in the FABC General Conference.
Bishops from PRC
Fielding a question regarding whether there had been any form of involvement with Bishops of the People’s Republic of China, Cardinal Gracias responded that were involved and that their presence is missed.
Their absence, as well as the postponement two times of the General Conference, he said, is due to the pandemic. The Cardinal added that representatives of the Bishops from the PRC have participated in several other activities with the FABC.
Creation of more Asian Cardinals
Cardinal Gracias responded to a question regarding why Pope Francis has appointed so many Asian Cardinals recently by saying that Asia is making a greater contribution now to the wider Church.
“The Pope wants to make the Church more international and less Euro-centric”, he said. Cardinal Bo then added that “the Holy Father is keen about and gives attention to the people on the peripheries, those who are the poorest”. The people of Asia are often forgotten and some of the world’s poorest people live there, he said.
Bishop Vergara then concluded the conference stating that the FABC desires to respond to the challenges that have emerged with compassion.
This compassion, he said, is expressed especially in the sacraments that the Church offers, and through the faith formation of its members. The Holy Spirit is meeting the Church at the crossroads the Church in Asia is facing.
Perhaps at the crossroads, Bishop Vergara continued, “we will be led by the Spirit to take the road less travelled”. The word “crossroads”, he explained, urges us to journey on the road to the cross trod by Jesus himself. Then we will be like the Three Kings, chose a different way of returning home—the same way Jesus chose—the cross.