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Asian Church voices concern over shrinking democratic spaces

Vang Tau City, June 12, 2023: A weeklong conference of Asian Church leaders has expressed concern over shrinking democratic spaces in several countries in the region.

The June 5-10 conference at Marian Pilgrim Centre Bai Dau in the Vang Tau City of Vietnam regretted that the rulers in those countries have become totalitarian, violating their citizens’ basic rights and instilling fear among civil society groups that take up people’s cause.

“Wider surveillance and threatening national security laws are employed to silence the voice of the voiceless and the media who are standing for the cause of the poor and the marginalized,” the meeting noted.

The conference addressed the FABC 50, a document issued by the Federation of the Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) on its golden jubilee, and its implication for the region.

Another common concern in the region is migration that forces people to leave their counties out of economic compulsions and look for better opportunities in life. “The local Church fails to protect and safeguard the people on the move. The left behind families and abandoned children of the migrants become burning issues to be addressed with utmost urgencies,” the conference said.

The participants also observed a widening rich-poor gap in most Asian countries. The number of the poor and child labor have increased in the post Covid-19 period because of the government’s pro-rich policies. The conference attributed low minimum wages and informalization of the workforce as the reasons for unequal distribution of the wealth among people.

Another burning issue is the rise of religious fanaticism as many countries now witness intolerance among different religious groups, attack against the minorities especially the Christians who are minorities in many Asian countries.

The ‘My religion is better attitude’ limits the space for dialogue, encounter and learning between the religions and the cultures, the conference regretted.

The meeting also addressed ecological concerns and made a call to ‘Save mother Earth.’ “Modern life and its luxuries are built upon the cry of nature. Globalization and urbanization induced heartless development at the expense of the environment. The Digital technology also has caused enough havoc in the lives of families, especially among the youth and the children,” lamented the participants.

The conference ended with a resolution to build bridges between different Asian countries by imparting the consciousness and awareness that ‘we belong to the Asian Church.’

The conference was designed on the Vietnam story of the Church in Asia.

The conference began with a Mass at the chapel of the Martyrs’ Tomb in the diocese of Ba Ria. Bishop Emmanuel Nguyen Hong Son of Ba Ria led the Mass.

The participants were told about 700 local Catholics who were detained in four prisons of Dat Do, Long Dien, Long Tan and Phuoc Le by Nguyen Dynasty. In 1862, when French troops attacked Ba Ria, the king’s soldiers fled and set fire to the prisons, killing 288 men, 102 women and 54 children under 10.

The Tomb of Martyrs Church was built as a memorial of the martyrs on the foundation of Phuoc Le prison in 1865. Between 1630 and 1886, an estimated 300,000 Christians were martyred in Vietnam.

Bishop Emmanuel said the martyrs endured some of the most brutal torture in Christian history.

Bishop Emeritus Allwyn D’Silva of Bombay and the chairperson of the Office of Human Development and Climate Desk of FABC, recollected the birth of FABC in 1970.

As many as 180 Catholic bishops of Asia met in Manila, the Philippines capital that was attended by Saint Pope Paul VI. The meeting decided to establish an episcopal conference for Asia.

‘Our predecessors came together with a passion and aspiration to bring greater collaboration among the different Asian countries to respond to the needs of the changing situation,” Bishop D’Silva said.

The FABC 50 document reflects the collective hope of the Church in Asia. It echoes the same passion and aspiration to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit. The FABC has journeyed together with the people of Asia, the bishop said.

By Jaison Vadassery

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