FABC 50 : JOURNEYING TOGETHER AS PEOPLES OF ASIA
“… and they went a different way.” ( Mt. 2:12)
A sharing by Sr. Deanna Maria, r.a.:
The General Conference which the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) has planned over a past number of years finally took place last 12-30 October. Baan Phu Waan ( House of the Sower ) in Samphran –known as the Little Vatican in Thailand – was the perfect setting for this conference that gathered more than 220 participants, majority of whom are Bishops, of course. I was so privileged to be participant as Executive Secretary of the Office of Consecrated Life (FABC-OCL), one of 9 FABC Offices.
The General Conference was to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the beginnings of FABC, but planning was overtaken by the Covid-19 pandemic. The Core Group established by Bishop Alwyn D’Silva worked on consultations using an online platform for meetings, and invited social scientists and theologians to offer comments on the Guide Document.
Guided by Matthew 2:1-12, the overall objective of FABC 50 was to reaffirm, renew and revitalize the whole Church in Asia, to envision new pathways of service and journeying together as peoples of Asia “they returned to their own country by a different way...” Mt. 2:12
Having given this necessary background, let me share more on what was lived during the 3 weeks, on what I have seen and heard.
Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay was Convenor, with Cardinal Charles Bo of Myanmar present President of FABC), and Cardinal Francis Xavier Kriengsak, Archbishop of Bangkok as co-presidents of the Conference.
The delegates were from Member Conferences, Associate members (like Nepal with only one Bishop), Fraternal delegates from Bishops’Conferences of Luxembourg, Lithuania (who knew our Sisters), CELAM, U.S.A. and representatives from the Vatican.
Some Sisters were invited because of their involvement in “Talitha Kum “– name of their group working against human trafficking in Asia. One was a Filipina, Sr. Whelita C. Mendoza, a Salvatorian Sister. There were young leaders from India, Singapore and Malaysia.
The Voice of Women Religious at FABC
The most number of Bishop-participants came from India with 39 of the Latin and Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara rites. Next in number are our own Philippine Bishops led by Bishop Pablo David – who was called “Bishop Da(y)vid” in the beginning and soon after “Bishop Ambo”. He was moderator of the first day and often had significant interventions. He was the one chosen to put together the final statement of the Conference – a formidable feat that went through a lot of comments, additions, revisions. He must have worked all night...2-3 nights? Another Filipino Bishop, this time of Salt Lake City, U.S. A. - Bishop Oscar A. Solis, was the representative of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as a Fraternal delegate. In his message, he mentioned how OFWs of Asian countries make their countries known not only because of “Adobo, phat thai, noodles,” etc. but for their faith and fidelity. They- OFWS- are today’s missionaries.
Cardinal Quevedo and Cardinal Advincula also came but stayed for only 4 days.
Of course, THE Filipino in this Conference is our own Cardinal Chito Tagle, Special Envoy of the Holy Father.
He told the participants that before leaving for his flight, he went to the Holy Father and asked what message he would give when he arrives. Pope Francis said, “my closeness. Tell them how close I feel to each one of them and to the Church of Asia.” He said it in such a touching way.
He had a conference “only with Bishops” so some of those who are not Bishops went to BIG C to shop, others, took a longer nap.
(I was with the other Filipino Bishops when we arrived and when he saw me, he said “ you’re still here in Thailand.!” I didn’t think he would remember.)
I had another special connection with the arrival of Sr. Rekha who has been part of the Theological, Writing and Editing Team. Some bishop-participants noticed and asked why we were wearing the same skirt!
With Archbishop-Emeritus Antonio Ledesma, Archbishop Jose Cabantan of Cagayan de Oro, Sr. Rekha and Archbishop Romeo Lazo of Jaro, Iloilo City
We had Mass at 7 a.m. on weekdays followed by breakfast. Sessions started at 9 a.m. with Prayer for the Synod. Then followed a beautiful Morning, a video presentation by different countries each day. During the first week, we had “Visiting Asia” where each country presented their own realities, their difficulties, challenges, hopes. For me, what stood out was Central Asia because we know so little about it. Their Conference includes Kazakhstan, Kyrgysztan and Mongolia. Each country has a Catholic community of 2,000 or less. Mongolia has 1,500 and the youngest Cardinal named last August by Pope Francis – Cardinal Giorgio Marengo, IMC. He is only 48 years old, a missionary and good-looking.
We had workshops, plenary sessions, open forums. But what was remarkable and which everyone pointed out as important was the pause for 2 minutes of silence after each presentation and plenary session. The hall suddenly becomes silent and almost all close their eyes to pray in silence. Even when lunch was delayed, the Angelus was always led by the Convenor or Presider.
On Mission Sunday, we had TALK SHOW WITH ASIA. In groups, we met different parishes all over Asia. In the Philippines, a parish in Cebu was featured.
The Tech Team from India was commended for all they did to make all the virtual encounters happen and the sessions flow without hitches and assisting workshops in submitting reports which were instantly flashed on the screen. Many elderly Bishops were encouraged to be media-savvy.
I felt the participants were most themselves at mealtimes and tea breaks. At lunch a long queue of cardinals and Archbishops and bishops line up for Thai noodles when word was passed around that it is “aroi” (delicious!). Thailand served delicious dishes, plenty of fruits (gone fast), Thai sweets which delighted everyone. Atmosphere of “fratelli tutti”, one said. A Cardinal added, with “Sorrelli”.
The Opening and Welcome Program was terrific- prepared by 11 schools in different provinces of the Sisters of St. Paul de Chartres, again coordinated by technology. They came together only the day before the actual performance. The theme of the Conference was performed by song and dance and drama.
The Closing Mass at the Cathedral of the Assumption in Bangkok was presided by Cardinal Tagle. Sr. Rekha introduced him before the Mass, mentioning that people consider him “the Pope Francis of Asia”. A banquet was arranged by the “Assumption Brothers” (Brothers of St. Gabriel) at the auditorium of the College de l’Assomption and a Closing program was prepared by the Sacred Heart Sisters of Bangkok. The performance featured the best classical dances of Thailand.
Then it was time for goodbyes and photo ops and thank yous.
By 3 p.m. we were on our way to Thabom. There was no flight schedule that evening to Loei, so Sr. Sol and Sr. Marie Thu met us in Bangkok with a van to take Sr. Rekha with us.
We had taken a “different way” passing not through the usual route but through mountain roads with fewer travelers and a few stars overhead to light our way. By 1 a.m. we were at our doorstep in Thabom. Sr. Marie and the other Sisters were there to welcome us home.
Hereunder is the message of the FABC Conference. You may want to read and reflect and live the new pathways knowing the context in which they were conceived, discovered, articulated.
Message from the FABC General Conference to the Peoples of Asia
Baan Phu Waan, Bangkok, 12-30 October 2022
We, the Pastors of the Catholic Church in Asia, share this message of joy, hope, and solidarity with you, Peoples of Asia. We are grateful for the blessings that God has showered on Asia through our Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) comprising 17 Episcopal Conferences and two Synods of Oriental Churches. “Journeying together as Peoples of Asia” was the theme of our conference in which we sought to reaffirm our journey of the past 50 years, revitalize the Church, and envision new pathways of service.
We are deeply thankful to the Royal Thai Government for the warm welcome and for honouring our general conference with the presence of the Minister of Culture during the opening ceremony. We express our deep appreciation to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Thailand, especially the Archdiocese of Bangkok, for hosting the FABC 50 General Conference. We were happy to have with us representatives of the Holy See and other Continental Conferences. It was a fruitful time of praying, listening, discerning, and encouraging each other. It was also a moment of healing from the pain caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Through our discussions and deliberations at the conference, we touched the soul of Asia. At the same time, we were inspired by the hope, courage, and determination shown by the Churches in Asia to journey together and work with more dedication for a better Asia.
We were challenged by the different voices of our multifaceted continent that we hear crying out for help and justice:
- the sufferings of the poor, deprived, and marginalized longing for a dignified life,
- the anguish of refugees, migrants, displaced and indigenous peoples seeking genuine human dignity and safe places,
- the groaning of nature with wounds of exploitation, climate change, and global warming, pleading for being more adequately cared for,
- the dream of youth seeking for more significant roles in the Church and society,
- the voices of women asking for a more inclusive Church that respects their dignity and recognizes their rightful place,
- the desire of families looking for better stability and more support from all. We are also deeply concerned about:
- the pain and suffering of some churches that need to receive relief through our empathy and solidarity;
- the rising voices of extremism that need to be responded to wisely;
- the urgent need for a greater respect for life to be inculcated in society;
- the escalating violence and conflicts in our continent that call for dialogue and reconciliation;
- a society that is challenged by the digital revolution, which has impacted all both positively and negatively.
In prayer and in a spirit of collaboration, we desire to respond to these challenges by relying on the power of love, compassion, justice, and forgiveness. We believe that peace and reconciliation is the only way forward. We have envisaged new pathways for our ministry based on mutual listening and genuine discernment.
Inspired by the Gospel and by the recent teachings of Pope Francis:
- We commit ourselves to reach out to the peripheries. We are called to serve the most needy joyfully.
- We are called to a pastoral and ecological conversion to positively respond to “both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.”
- We wish to live out the spirit of complementarity and harmony by listening to others in genuine dialogue.
- We seek to promote a culture of peace and harmony in collaboration with our brothers and sisters of neighbouring religions and traditions.
- We commit ourselves to bridge-building not just among religions and traditions but also by principled engagement with governments, NGOs, and civic organizations on issues of human rights, eradication of poverty, human trafficking, care of the earth, and other common concerns.
- We need to transform ourselves by fostering a culture of “reciprocal listening” where we listen to each other and all of us listen to the voice of God.
- We thus intend to improve the way we form ourselves in faith and accompany our families and communities, especially those in difficulty.
By journeying together along these pathways, we will serve the world with greater commitment. We assure our people of this continent that the Catholic Church in Asia will always work for a better Asia and the good of all our people. As we assure you of our prayers, we humbly ask you to remember us in your prayers. Together we journey at the service of the human family and all creation.
Given in Bangkok, Thailand, on 30 October 2022
✠ CHARLES CARDINAL BO S.D.B. President of FABC ✠ OSWALD CARDINAL GRACIAS
Convener of FABC 50 General Conference
✠ FRANCIS XAVIER CARDINAL KRIENGSAK KOVITHAVANIJ
Archbishop of Bangkok (Thailand)
✠ TARCISIO ISAO KIKUCHI S.V.D.
Secretary General of FABC