Address of Cardinal Charles Bo of Myanmar at FABC leaders meeting

Address of Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, FABC president, at the start of the Central Committee Meeting of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences on March 8, 2022

Address of Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, FABC president, at the start of the Central Committee Meeting of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences on March 8, 2022.

Dear Eminences, Bishops, Sisters, Brothers and Fathers,

Good morning and good afternoon for some of you.

I welcome all of you to these FABC meetings over the next two or three days. We gather as the Presidents of all of the Conferences, the Central Committee, and the Bishop Chairmen and Secretaries of the Offices.

I especially welcome Bp. Pablo David of the Philippines, the new president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), Archbishop Isao Kikuchi, our FABC Secretary General and also the new president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Japan (CBCJ). Also, to Fr. Singareddy Inna Reddy, the new Executive Secretary – FABC Office of Clergy. Welcome to Archbishop Virgilio do Carmo da Silva, S.D.B., Representative of CET (Timor Leste).

I think those are the new members here at these meetings. I hope I have not missed anyone. I welcome all the new members.

As we begin our meetings, we do so with the war still raging in Ukraine. We join the Holy Father and the world in prayers for peace. Although Myanmar is not much better, the weapons are very different. May this scourge of war be removed from the face of the earth. We pray earnestly for those suffering and dying at this time. The very sad fact is that both sides profess to be Christian. Even among the Christian Orthodox the opinions are different from one another.

Today, March 8, is also International Women’s Day. The theme for the day is gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow. This concern for the place of women in society and the Church is a concern of our Holy Father, Pope Francis. He wrote in Fratelli Tutti, 23: “The organization of societies worldwide is still far from reflecting clearly that women possess the same dignity and identical rights as men. We say one thing with words, but our decisions and reality tell another story. Indeed, ‘doubly poor are those women who endure situations of exclusion, mistreatment and violence, since they are frequently less able to defend their rights.’” And again, he said in Evangelii Gaudium, 103-104: “[W]e need to create still broader opportunities for a more incisive female presence in the Church. Because ‘the feminine genius is needed in all expressions in the life of society, the presence of women must also be guaranteed in the workplace’ and in the various other settings where important decisions are made, both in the Church and in social structures. Demands that the legitimate rights of women be respected, based on the firm conviction that men and women are equal in dignity, present the Church with profound and challenging questions which cannot be lightly evaded.” We too have these as our concerns here in Asia.

This is our customary yearly meeting during the first week of Lent. Each of these yearly meetings is important since, according to the FABC Statutes, it is the Central Committee that is to moderate all of the work of the FABC. The Central Committee elects and appoints all personnel of the FABC. It is the Central Committee that opens and closes Offices and indicates to the Offices what they are to do. That is why it is important to meet together.

I know that all of the Central Committee members are already busy with their own dioceses and their own conferences, now in addition, you are responsible for the FABC!

There is a grace that comes with office! Without that grace how could we do this? This year in particular you, we, are busy overseeing the synodal process in both your own diocese and conference. All of this widens your vision, expands your experience and hopefully enables you and all of us to grow in wisdom. All of this takes your time and efforts. All of this leads to the benefit of the Church in Asia and the FABC.

Pope Francis addresses Asian bishops at the Shrine of Blessed Nicholas Bunkerd Kitbamrung in the city of Nakhon Pathom in Sampran district, west of Bangkok on Nov. 22, 2019. (LiCAS.News)

This year is a blessed time for all of us in the FABC. A kairos time. This is a special time, the right time, when conditions are in place for the accomplishment of crucial actions; we are in an opportune and decisive moment. It is also a demanding time. We need to rise to the occasion to meet this opportunity.

Jesus said in Mark 1:15: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” This is our time too for conversion and anticipating God’s fulfillment. Paul will write in 2 Corinthians 6:2 that the Lord will say: “In an acceptable time, I heard you, and on the day of salvation I helped you.” Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. Let us rise to meet this time we are given.

As we bless the Paschal Candle at the Easter Vigil each year, we proclaim: Christ yesterday and today, the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and the Omega. All time belongs to Him and all the ages. To Him be glory and power through every age and forever, Amen.

All time and all ages belong to Christ. This for us now is a time that is essentially an auspicious time for us. This is the time of a new beginning. As is every year!! We go forward in the confidence and hope that all time and ages belong to Christ.

2022 is the beginning of the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic and hopefully the year that we can move beyond the pandemic. Hopefully. As Pope Francis was mentioning 2022, 2023, 2024 and especially 2025 would be a normal year that the jubilee we could celebrate in a very normal way. We have learned and grown through the pandemic. We have suffered too. But this too is now part of our wealth of resources. 2022 is the year that we can hold the long discussed FABC 50 General Conference in October, God willing. This will be the first ever General Conference of the FABC. This event makes this a kairos event of the FABC, a wonderful opportunity. So, in a sense, it is the year that we especially commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the FABC back in 1970. We had planned to celebrate this in the year 2020 but that was not to be. When the planning for this General Conference was begun, we had called it FABC 2020. But we modified the name to FABC 50 since it could not be held in 2020.

This calendar year 2022 will be the fiftieth year since the first Statutes of the FABC were approved by Rome. 2024 will be the fiftieth year from the first Plenary Assembly. So we are in a time of the occurrence of the fiftieth anniversary of the FABC. We will be holding the FABC 50 General Conference in a way that we would not have planned had we proceeded in 2020. We will now be employing technology to help us to expand participation in the event. That will be taken care of tomorrow by Bp. Allwyn and Cardinal Gracias. What we had not thought of, or even would have planned for, enables us to go in a new way, a different way, of how to do things. This new way of how to do things can be something we carry into the future. We have possibilities to meet and discuss that are possible and profitable for all and is, in some ways, less demanding.

This FABC 50 General Conference will take up a major part of our meetings. Tomorrow March 9, this is the agenda topic for all of us to listen and to discuss. It will also be a major part of the Central Committee Meeting on March 10. This is a time of renewal. Renewal for the Church in Asia. We have to move on this now, time is short.

As was said in the Guide Document: “The underlying premise of the FABC 50 – General Conference (FABC 50) would be to reflect on some key questions:

  • (i) How can the Church in Asia continue to become the good news in the light of the emerging realities?
  • (ii) How could the FABC more effectively serve and support the Bishops and their Conferences in Asia?
  • (iii) How can a renewed appreciation of the blessings and richness of Asia contribute to the Church?
  • (iv) How can the Church in this part of the world contribute to a better Asia?
  • (v) How can the Church in Asia contribute to the Universal Church?”

And “the overall objective of FABC 50 is to reaffirm, renew and revitalize the whole Church in Asia.” It is our hope that through the FABC 50 General Conference, the Church in Asia will give a new light and new directions and from that light and directions from the Church in Asia we can envision a new structure for the FABC, the FABC that the Church in Asia wants to serve that Church. Ultimately, the Church in Asia runs and determines the FABC.

licas news
Cardinal Charles Maung Bo

That is why the meeting today is about reporting from the Offices, not planning. Planning can only take place after the FABC 50 General Conference. After a vision and directions are set by the Church in Asia then we can approach planning. We need to have a unity of direction and vison to move forward. We need to listen to the General Conference before we can approach planning.

In our meetings these days, we ask ourselves how we can best contribute to all of this and move forward the FABC 50 General Conference in a most fruitful manner? We will inaugurate this General Conference in less than 3 months.

As evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit in our midst, we can look to our preparation for the FABC 50 General Conference. How do we prepare for this? We do so by a way not of our own planning, and our own design. If it was our own planning and design, we could take credit for it. But it did not come from us; it came to us. We do so by the gift of the grace of the synodal process. This was given to us and came to us at a time that most fortunately coincides with our own schedule. Again, this was not our intention. This too shows the kairos moment that we are in this year.

The diocesan and conference phrase of the synodal process will end in August this year. This is the introduction and preparation to the October FABC 50 General Conference. All who will participate in the General Conference bring with them the richness and the fruits of the synodal process. All who will participate will come very well prepared and enhanced by their local experiences.

This year, 2022, my brothers and sisters, will also have something new. The Continental Associations of Bishops’ Conferences, like the FABC, will be asked to begin to respond to the first Instrumentum Laboris for the synod. This has not been done before. So, for it to begin this year for us is also a kairos moment. We have been told that the first Instrumentum Laboris is expected in November or December 2022. We were told that is what is expected; however, it is not yet fully guaranteed. The Synod of Bishops wants us to schedule a Continental Synodal Meeting for Asia from January to March 2023. The planning for that will happen this year. The work for this begins in 2022.

When I first wrote to you at Christmas 2018 as the new in-coming president of the FABC, I said: “The Church stands at the crossroads of History. The traditional Catholic countries are fast secularized, and the message of Christ continues to be challenged by ideologies and technologies. The Asian church needs to be worried. Church has moved through various contours in history and emerged with every crisis with renewed energy. The Jewish Christian Church gave way to Greco Roman Church. This led to strong Franco Roman Church. Our South American brothers stirred strong currents of Social Gospel and liberation theology. The Church remains challenged in these traditional areas. The baton of interpreting Christ to the modern man and woman, I think, passes on to Asia. Yes, I strongly believe this is the Asian Millennium. In the Synod Exhortation Ecclesia in Asia St John Paul exhorted us ‘just as in the first millennium the Cross was planted on the soil of Europe, and in the second on that of the Americas and Africa, we can pray that in the Third Christian Millennium a great harvest of faith will be reaped in this vast and vital continent’ (EA, 1). Yes, this is the unmistakable clarion call. The FABC has already grappled with this issue of how to make this mandate operational in a multicultural milieu. The universal Church looks towards Asian Churches in our response. Can FABC rise up to this historical call?”

Pope Francis meets with the Catholic bishops of Myanmar during the papal visit to the country in November 2017. (Vatican News file photo)

This opportunity, in the opening of 2023, to respond to the first Instrumentum Laboris which is a kairos moment for us as the Church in Asia. We will have to prepare to respond in a way that will help us here in Asia and offer a significant contribution to the Universal Church. This preparation needs to begin at the level of each and every conference, once the first Instrumentum Laboris is released later this year. Our response will be built upon our experience with the synodal process and our own General Conference. It will be rooted in our own contexts. Then we will need to come together again for a proper Asian response to the first Instrumentum Laboris. We are asked to read it in our own context and then offer suggestions and observations to the General Secretariat for the Synod of Bishops so they can prepare the second Instrumentum Laboris that will be brought to the Synod proper in 2023.

In the Chinese or lunar calendar, this is the year of the Tiger. The tiger is the symbol of strength, bravery, and wisdom. This we will need to properly address the opportunities before us. We will need strength to face all of these and other challenges. We need bravery to be open to set out in new ways, to leave behind former ways and set out a new. We will need the wisdom that comes from the Holy Spirit to guide us in all that we do and plan.

Finally, our theme for the FABC 50 General Conference is: FABC 50: Journeying together as peoples of Asia – “…and they went a different way.” (Mt 2:12). We need to really think of this double challenge, to journey together and to go in a different way. Are we enthusiastic to really doing things in a different way, a new way? I am reminded of the words of Pope Francis: “Pastoral ministry in a missionary key seeks to abandon the complacent attitude that says: “We have always done it this way.” I invite everyone to be bold and creative in this task of rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods of evangelization in their respective communities (Evangelii Gaudium, 33).”

Are we ready to abandon the attitude that we have we have always done it this way and are we willing to risk going in different and new way? We need to do so without inhibitions or fear. The important thing is to not walk alone, but to journey together. As Pope Francis mentioned during the 52nd anniversary of his priestly ordination, as an African proverb says, if you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go with others. It is important that we work in fraternity. Thank you for your attention.

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