Asian Bishops' General Conference: 'Working for a better Asia'
The first week of the General Conference of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conference (FABC) meeting in Bangkok wraps up with a challenge to reflect on how participants can bring hope in our contemporary world.
The FABC opened its General Conference on 12 October with a Eucharistic Celebration at Baan Phu Waan Pastoral Centre in Bangkok.
Two hundred delegates representing 29 Asian countries are meeting until 30 October celebrating the 50 years of the Conference’s history. “Journeying Together as Peoples of Asia” is the Conference theme.
Century of Good News to Asia
Cardinal Charles Bo, FABC President, delivered the inaugural address the next day, calling the Conference a “Pentecostal moment”, and “a glorious moment for the Asian Church”.
He called on his fellow Asian disciples of Christ to continue in the footsteps of “great men like the Apostle Thomas, Francis Xavier and countless men and women who have generously offered their service in the integral evangelization ministry”.
The task ahead of the Asian Church, he said, is to “make this a century of Jesus’ Good News to the whole of Asia”.
Working for a better Asia
Cardinal Oswald Gracias spoke the same day calling the General Conference a “momentous step” and a “landmark for the FABC”.
“We come together”, he continued, “in the spirit of Synodality to conduct our first ever General Conference” after 11 Plenary Assemblies. He explained that the inspiration to hold the Conference comes from the journey of CELAM, their Latin America counterpart.
Pope Francis, Cardinal Gracias said, was enthusiastic when he shared the proposal with him and “gave wholehearted support and encouragement”. The Cardinal introduced the first part of the Conference’s work as a week “discerning and envisioning new pathways for the Church working for a better Asia”.
Each day this week has begun with morning prayer conducted remotely by a group from the host country of the day. Daughters of St Paul from India, Pakistan and the Philippines have been among these groups.
Then various delegations from the countries making up the FABC report to the assembly in order to get to know “emerging realities”, and to identify “commonalities” and “differences”.
Visiting the world
On Friday, Caritas Internationalis’ Secretary General, Aloysius John, provided delegates with an overview of Caritas throughout Asia, the challenges it is facing and the role the network can play in the Church.
Archbishop Grusas, representing their European counterpart CCEE, provided a comparative overview of the Church in Europe, including the tasks it has identified. A representative of the US Bishops’ Conference commended the FABC in his words on Saturday.
FABC participants also heard from Dr. Gabriel Dy-Liacco, President of the Catholic Safeguarding Institute, and from Msgr. Ramon Masculino Junior, a specialist in safeguarding spirituality who highlighted the Institute’s work and urged “representatives to take concrete action in their home countries."
Virtual Talk Show
Newly-created Cardinal William Goh celebrated Sunday Mass and “stressed the importance of prayer, and the clergy and laity journeying onward together” in his homily.
Shedding light on the reality of the flock the FABC serves, 16 panelists from 13 Asian countries, from every walk of life and social condition then connected with FABC delegates for a live Virtual Talk Show. Show host Bishop Allwyn D’Silva invited the panelists to share their realities, and asked those in the audience to consider “who can I be a neighbour to”.
Pastoral reflection on current themes
On Monday, participants heard a theological reflection from Bishop Gerald Matthias and Fr Nguyen Hai Tinh, SJ, regarding the post-pandemic Church.
“The Church is vulnerable to pain, suffering and change”, Fr Tinh explained, “but it is a Church of Paschal mystery and Synodality; moving towards healing and togetherness.”
An update concerning the climate crisis in Asia was delivered by environmental policy expert and lawyer Antonio La Vina, and environmental activist Ms Ridhima Pandey. The former highlighted the need to be stewards and leaders and suggested action items for the Church based on Laudato Si’ and Fratelli tutti. Ms Pandey presented the issue from the perspective of children and introduced The Letter, a film featuring Pope Francis, which was screened later in the evening.
Lastly, Cardinal Lazzaro You, Prefect of the Dicastery for Clergy, presented points for the formation of priests based on the questions, “which Church, what kind of priest, what kind of formation.”
Taking stock of ministering to youth and women
Young people was the topic on the table on Tuesday. Participants heard Fr Akira Takayama, youth ministry chaplain for the Diocese of Takamatsu who stressed the importance of listening to young people.
He expressed the need to consider young people not in terms of a “taskforce”, and the hope that “Church leaders will provide spiritual guidance and be kind to the growth of the youth.
Two young people, Anthony Judy and Ashita Jimmy addressed the assembly noting that five years after the Synod on Youth it is “time to take stock and consider if the Church has progressed”. A third speaker, Gregory Pravin suggested that Church leaders “change the narrative from ‘the young people are absent’ to ‘I am absent from the young people”.
Several women theologians contributed to the discussions as well, providing “context and background to the many issues Asian women face, including discrimination, misogyny, dual roles, disparity of income, and domestic violence”.
Christine Nathan, President of the International Catholic Migration Commission, addressed the topic of migration which she described as “big business”. She suggested various ways the Church could effectively resolve several issues connected with migration.
Talitha Kum Asia regional coordinator, Sr Abby Avelino, presented the network’s approach at the grass root level toward raising awareness, preventing and healing victims of human trafficking.
The President of the English Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, contributed a virtual message, encouraging those gathered for the FABC to “dedicate as much time and effort” as possible to halt trafficking.
Ending on Hope
The day ended with a reflection on Pope Francis’s Encyclical Fratelli tutti, offered by Archbishop Tarcisio Isao Kikuchi, SVD, former president of Caritas Asia.
He focused on the themes of interdependence, harmony and solidarity and threw out a question for his audience to consider – how they could bring hope into the contemporary world.
Sr Bernadette Mary Reis