Bishops of Asia: We wanted to see how our churches can be agents of change

The FABC closing press conference brought together the 3 Presiding Cardinals and Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, all of whom are optimistic that the General Conference is a way forward for the Church in Asia.

By Sr. Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp – Bangkok

Bishop Mylo Hubert Vergara, Bishop of Pasig, Chairman of the Communication Commission, moderated the second and final press conference of the FABC 50 General Conference which took place on Saturday afternoon at the Michael Hall of the Baan Pastoral Training Center Phu Waan near Bangkok.

After two and a half weeks, he expressed hope that the panelists would share what had happened. One of the reasons why Bishop Vergara made this press conference special is that Cardinal Charles Bo, president of the FABC, is celebrating his birthday. And the second reason is the presence of the special envoy of Pope Francis at the FABC 50 conference, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, of the Dicastery for Evangelization.

Pope eager to listen

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, special envoy of the Holy Father, explained that the Pope sends a special envoy to all conferences such as the FABC General Conference. Cardinal Tagle recounted that when he received the call from the Pope asking him to represent him at the conference, the Pope said:

“Luis, convey my closeness… my closeness to the churches of Asia.”

Cardinal Tagle hopes to bring some of the fruits of the conference back to the Pope who he knows is eager to “listen to the Churches” in Asia.

FABC 50 General Conference Highlights

Cardinal Francis Xavier Kriengsak, Archbishop of Bangkok, thanked everyone who participated in the FABC conference – because the Baan Phu Waan Pastoral Training Center was filled with “communion, collaboration and commitment to achieve the objective of the conference “, did he declare. .

Cardinal Charles Bo, Archbishop of Yangon, then welcomed members of the press attending the press conference and thanked them for their coverage. Then he provided a brief summary of the final message that will be released tomorrow. He concluded by thanking all those who made the General Conference possible, including the Government of Thailand, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Thailand, Cardinal Kriengsak and the Archdiocese of Bangkok, for “making this conference an experience precious for the Church [in] and for the world”.

Final document

Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay, described the final document the conference worked on as a “futuristic” document regarding pastoral possibilities. He explained that conference delegates heard the cry from many facets of society in Asia. For example, he says, “we heard a great desire for greater contemplative spirituality in our pastoral work.” The document, he explained, is a work in progress that has received general approval from FABC delegates. It will be discussed further with other bishops, as well as with lay members.

“We hope this document will remain with us as a guiding document for future pastoral activities throughout Asia.”

“We wanted to see how our Churches can be agents of change,” Cardinal Gracias continued, highlighting the desire that emerged for the Church to be at the forefront of peace building and dialogue constructive in Asia.

The change has taken place

One of the issues raised by the press concerned the dialogue and the range of delegates to the dialogue conference being cast. Gracias said dialogue has always been a priority. But now it has come across as a “necessity and not an option”, he continued. “The Church in Asia can make a contribution to the whole Church in terms of how effective dialogue can be conducted,” he said. He gave an example of a change in language that took place at the Conference from the use of “other religions” to “neighbor” religions, which shows a change in mentality in the way FABC delegates perceive the dialogue.

Minority seeking to influence the majority

Cardinal Tagle responded to a question regarding the reality that Catholics are a tiny minority in Asia and yet there is a desire to influence both the region and the world at large. The use of the word minority can apply to Christians in Asia in terms of quantity, he explained. This also applies within the institutional Church, he said, giving the example that of the 300,000 students in Catholic schools in Thailand, only a small percentage are Catholic. He then made the distinction of “qualitative” understanding of a minority, when placed in the context of biblical tradition. “Parables of the kingdom always focus on how God works through the little ones or what we would consider the minority. So being a numerical minority does not prevent the Church in Asia from believing that [however] however small in number, that is how the kingdom is promoted”. In the Philippines and East Timor, he reminded those present, Catholics are in the majority. But that does not exempt these two countries from following the “path of the minority – humility, counting, compassion, solidarity with the little ones of society”. Accepting this vocation as a minority can lead to the discovery of “potentials for being bearers of the Kingdom of God”.

Use of social media by the Church

Regarding the use of social media in the ecclesial context, Cardinal Tagle explained that the life of the Church is based on the sacraments and on physical signs that “speak of a deeper reality”. Therefore, this sacramental structure of the Church takes the Church back to a pre-pandemic experience as the crisis that led the Church to move its worship online is over. However, the cardinal said, the church can learn from other ways that church members have begun to use social media to reach out to others — through catechism and counseling sessions, for example. It provides that the Church may provide training for those who can offer certain types of ministry online.

Calls to end conflict

Responding to another question regarding the reality of the war in Ukraine, Cardinal Tagle acknowledged a constant call for a concerted effort to resolve this conflict and others. “The Church, even the Holy Father, cannot force people to speak,” he said. “It depends on who is supposed to speak, if they are going to listen.” Cardinal Gracias then expressed concern about the rise in violence and extremism. This requires people in the Church to work for peace and reconciliation, a point, he said, that came up repeatedly during the conference. “We must assume a greater role in society to work for a successful peace,” Cardinal Gracias said. Cardinal Bo also contributed to this question. “What is impossible for man”, he said, makes us rely on the “power above us” so that “when the time comes, peace and dialogue will be possible in the country”. Cardinal Kriengsak reminded those present of the action of Pope Francis who bent down on the ground and kissed the feet of leaders who had already been involved in a conflict in South Sudan during their visit to the Vatican in April 2019. .

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