By Joseph Tulloch
As the General Conference of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conference (FABC) drew to a close on Sunday, the organizers released a message laying out “new pathways” for pastoral ministry in the region.
They said they had been “challenged” by the voices of the poor, the earth, women, young people, and struggling families.
Their message marked the conclusion of a two-week meeting of bishops from the 17 Episcopal Conferences of Asia and the Synods of the Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara Catholic Churches.
The voice of the marginalized
The message, signed by Cardinals Charles Bo, Oswald Gracias, and Francis Xavier Kriengsak Kovithavanij, as well as Archbishop Tarcisio Isao Kikuchi, Secretary General of FABC, noted that, in the course of the conference, “We were challenged by the different voices of our multifaceted continent that we hear crying out for help and justice.”
The document stressed above all “the sufferings of the poor, deprived, and marginalized”, “the anguish of refugees, migrants, displaced, and indigenous peoples”, “the groaning of nature”, the “dream” of disenfranchised youth, “the voices of women asking for a more inclusive Church”, and “the desire of families looking for better stability.”
In addition, it mentioned the suffering of churches in some parts of the continent, growing extremism, the need for greater respect for life, escalating violence and conflict, and the impact of the digital revolution – which has been both positive and negative – as causes for concern.
The way forward
“Inspired by the Gospel and by the recent teachings of Pope Francis”, the Conference’s closing message set out a number of “new pathways for ministry”, based on “genuine listening and genuine discernment.”
These include a commitment to “reach[ing] out to the peripheries”, a “pastoral and ecological conversion” to respond to “both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor”, “genuine dialogue”, including with those of other religions, “principled engagement” with governments, NGOs, and civic organizations on issues of common concern, and a culture of “reciprocal listening.”
Journeying with Zacchaeus
In his homily at the final Mass of the conference, Cardinal Tagle discussed the Gospel reading for the day, which narrated the story of Jesus’ encounter with the tax collector Zacchaeus. When considered in light of the conference’s theme – “Journeying together as Peoples of Asia” – this tale suggests three lessons for the Church in Asia, he said.
He began by noting that Jesus had initially intended to pass through Zacchaeus’ town, but, after meeting him, tells him that he “must” stay with him. This suggests an important truth about journeying together, the Cardinal said: “it must be intended, chosen and willed. We cannot leave it to chance.”
Secondly, Jesus chose as his travel companion “not the purest, not the most upright, not the blameless, not the one who will make him more acceptable to people, not the one who belonged to his circle. He chose Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector … God wants us to journey with those who might differ from us.”
And, lastly, Cardinal Tagle asked, “What type of journeying together will it be? Where is its destination? With Jesus, it will be a journey of mercy and compassion, not of condemnation; of patience, not of destruction.”