“Moving from words to action,” said Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Myanmar, is the “great challenge” of the Catholic Church in Asia.
Addressing fellow Church leaders in the region this week, the president of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) stressed the need for a “missionary Church that proclaims through witnessing.”
“There is a new star on the horizon, a new call, a new challenge,” the cardinal said in his homily at the start of the general conference of FABC in Thailand on Wednesday, October 12.
“The epiphany of the third millennium calls for us to ‘take a different route’ accepting the challenge to make this century, the century of Asia, the century of Christ, and the century of Evangelization,” said Cardinal Bo.
He said “blazing challenges” to the Church in Asia “remind us of the great scene of Moses in front of the burning bush.”
The cardinal said the Asian Church “stands in front of the burning bush of existential problems of Asia.”
He cited “exploitation, nuclear winter, big power rivalry, despotic evil displacing democracy, the commodification of human tears, ecological holocaust, pandemic, millions in distress migration, wars and displacement, natural and man-made disasters,” among the so-called challenges.
“Will the Asian Church rise to the occasion?” he asked.
Cadinal Bo noted that vast parts of the traditionally Christian areas in the West are becoming secular while “the East holds a great attraction to the West.”
“The last fifty years saw an explosion of interest in Eastern Spiritual traditions,” he said.
“The interiority of the Asian religions, the simple mysticism, making millions take to cultivate prayer methods, and the popularity of mindfulness and mediations — all point to a great thirst for experience,” said the cardinal.
“The East has insisted on experience. Not many explanations! That is our great challenge. Moving from words to action,” said Cardinal Bo.
To respond to the challenge, he enumerated the need in “moving from just structures into experience and interiority.”
“Concepts and words do not impress people,” said the cardinal, but a Church “that shares because of an intense and personal encounter with Jesus. A missionary Church that proclaims through witnessing.”
Another challenge to the Catholic Church in Asia mentioned by Cardinal Bo in his homily is how “to engage with the Eastern spiritual and indigenous cultures of Asia.”
“We need to discern in the Spirit. Every call demands an answer in Spirit,” he told the gathering of the region’s Church leaders.
The cardinal said the FABC jubilee “demands from us that we reset our relationships.”
He cited Pope Francis’ statement that “faith is not only a set of dogmas but a relationship: with God, with nature and with one another.”
“We are in urgent need of not only a personal witness to the message of Christ but a collective witness,” said Cardinal Bo.
“The identity and mission of the Asian Church need unity,” he said, adding that, “One of the great hurdles of Christianity in Asia is ‘Christ divided’ among so many.”
He said the Catholic Church “needs a universal approach despite our diversity,” but said that Asian diversity “is a great strength” and the various rites “are great gifts of faith.”
Marking the 50th anniversary of the founding of the FABC, more than 150 bishops from two dozen nations across the region are meeting in Thailand from October 12–30.
The FABC was established in 1970 on the occasion of Pope Paul VI’s visit to Manila, where he encountered 180 Catholic bishops from across Asia.