Asian Bishops Urged to Be ‘Relevant and Responsive’

Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai tells the Asian Bishops’ Conferences they should follow the model of CELAM in Latin America.

By UCA News

The Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) must restructure itself to make the Church “relevant and responsive” to the people of Asia, a top-ranking cardinal said.

Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai, a member of Pope Francis’ kitchen cabinet, stressed there was a great need to restructure the Asian bishops’ federation and model it on CELAM, the Federation of Latin American Episcopal Conferences — the FABC’s Latin American counterpart.

The cardinal was speaking at the opening of FABC golden jubilee programs in Bangkok on Oct 12, where he said suggestions for the restructuring of the FABC have the approval of top Vatican officials, including Pope Francis.

By the end of the two-week meeting on Oct. 30, along with its final document, “plans for a restructured FABC will also have been finalized, or at least a direction for them set,” Cardinal Gracias said.

“I cannot stress how vital our role at this general conference is. We are undertaking to become and remain a prophetic, relevant, and responsive Asian Church at the service of the people of Asia,” he said.

“All participants at recent global ecclesial events will have noticed how bishops in South America have invariably been referring to Puebla, Medellin, and now Aparecida in their reflections,” Cardinal Gracias said referring to CELAM decennial conferences.

Pope Francis, formerly Cardinal Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, was the main architect of the final document of Aparecida, which has influenced the pope as evident in the many references he makes to Aparecida in Evangelii Gaudium, one of the papal documents, the cardinal said.

“The question, therefore, arises: isn’t it time for the FABC to have something similar in Asia? What helped South America can surely help Asia,” said the Indian cardinal, who heads the organizing committee of the jubilee program.

He said a restructured conference would help Churches in Asia “to renew and revitalize our pastoral thrust” and make it “a vibrant Church working for a better Asia.”

The call to restructure the FABC comes amid criticism that the federation has remained practically inactive for almost two decades. It began in the 1990s after the Vatican reportedly expressed doubts over the theological patterns developed by Asian theologians purportedly to help the Church’s mission in Asia’s inter-religious situation.

Leading Asian theologians were investigated by the Vatican to see if they diluted the concept of “the uniqueness of Christ” and considered him as one of the gods in their attempt to develop a theology without rejecting the gods of Asian religions and their teachings.

The CELAM went through a similar crisis in the 1960s when the Vatican condemned the liberation theology it supported. It regained the Vatican’s approval only with some leadership changes but without compromising on its basic mission priority — the preferential option for the poor.

Cardinal Gracias stressed the primary aim of the general conference, which he said was the first such organized by the FABC, is to create a system to help the Asian Church to respond in an effective way to the region’s social-political realities that affect the poor.

He said he had discussions with past presidents of CELAM, and took on board their suggestions on how to organize a general conference such as the decennial ones organized by CELAM.

Since such an international conference needed the Vatican’s approval, he shared the proposal with Pope Francis and the pope “enthusiastically gave wholehearted support and encouragement” for the general conference for Asia.

Cardinal Gracias said the idea was shared with Cardinal Luis Tagle of Manila (currently head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples).

“Ideas got crystallized and it was pointed out that we were going to meet” on the 50th anniversary of FABC, the cardinal said explaining how the general conference became part of the golden jubilee programs.

Pope Francis has appointed Cardinal Tagle, the first Asian to head the Vatican congregation overseeing mission work across the world, as his representative to the general conference. Cardinal Tagle will formally conclude the general conference.

Featured image: (From left) Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay, Cardinal Charles Bo of Myanmar and Cardinal Francis Xavier of Bangkok celebrate the opening Mass of the General Conference of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) on Oct. 12 in Bangkok, Thailand. (UCA News/Thailand) 

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The Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News) is a ministry that provides news, features and multimedia content on social, political and religious developments of interest to the Catholic Church in Asia. www.ucanews.com