Transcript of the press conference held by the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences on October 24, 2022, based on recordings done by LiCAS News and CBCP News.
[Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon, FABC president]
Good evening, Good morning, Good afternoon. First of all, I would like to say that at our FABC 50 General Conference, we really celebrate the presence of the Holy Spirit, especially its presence during these past 50 years.
When listening to the visits of all the countries in Asia, we see the diversity, the suffering masses, the challenges, and at the same time, we have great graces received. In this celebration, with gratitude to God and with each other, we affirm the new and revitalized whole of Asia.
They came here 2,000 years ago from the east, from Asia. They took a different route. We are planning that we should be taking different routes, especially in the areas of peace, dialogue, and reconciliation, as a new path of new evangelization.
During all these days of our meetings and exchanges, we are definitely like Moses. In front of us, Moses would say “How can this be? The burning bush.” We too, during days of days of meetings, we see the burning bush as exploitation, rivalry, economic holocaust, migration, war, man-made disasters, human-made disasters, and we say to the Lord, like Moses, “How can this be?” But we have the assurance of the Lord, He will say, “I will be with you. With you in Asia.”
As we have mentioned in the past, our Church is not built by philosophers, but built by shepherds like Moses, and fishermen like Saint Peter and Saint Paul. In fact, we are happy that God took flesh in Asia.
So after 2,000 years of Christianity, Asia is still at two percent Christian, but we are not discouraged because though we are minority, our presence in the whole of Asia is very effective, and we are going through this journey with triple dialogue to the poor and with our culture and religions, and added to that, dialogue with nature.
We have a reason to rejoice and we are grateful that we will be continuing our journey in Asia, especially projecting the face of Jesus in the Asian way. Thank you very much.
[Cardinal Francis Xavier Kriengsak Kovitvanit, Archbishop of Bangkok]
Sawasdee krub. This is a way of greetings from Thailand. On behalf of the Bangkok Archdiocese and Bishops’ Conference of Thailand, and the host of this very important FABC50 General Conference, I really delight in all that we have to do for the service of the members of this conference. At the same time, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the team who prepared this “communion.” For example, the students and all the members of religious congregations, schools, and many others.
And also together, on behalf of the Bishops’ Conference of Thailand and FABC, thanks to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Culture for facilitating the coming of the bishops from countries in Asia. Thank you.
[Cardinal Oswald Gracias, co-convenor of FABC50 General Conference]
Thank you very much and greetings from here. I will share with you a little bit of how we proposed to go ahead in this whole conference. As we know, this is the first general conference of the Asian bishops (since the pandemic – ed). It is the largest gathering of Asian bishops that we’ve ever had, even more than when we began the FABC 50 years back.
We’ve had several consultations before this meeting to prepare for it, to identify what are the concerns, the challenges, the opportunities, and what the Church face, what the priests, bishops, and Church personnel face. Having put all those together, we identified some of the concerns that were given to us, and then we had now the whole conference trying to respond, taking that already as a basis.
We thought that we would have several modules for this conference. We began with a module where we visited Asia to know the context of our place. The FABC has 29 countries and so we, the members here, were exposed to reports from each of these countries so that they would know the situation there — the social situation, the economic situation, the political situation, the religious situation, the exact geographical situation, climate change — and we’re already able to feel and identify what exactly are the problems in that area.
Having spent three days, very rich days for all of us, that’s the unanimous opinion of all the participants, we began going deeper into the priorities identified. The emerging trends are already here with us. The question of the coming out of the pandemic, climate change, the question of the cry of the youth, of women, the questions of migrants, the questions of indigenous peoples, a number of these we went deeper by having specific inputs for four days on these realities, which we are facing, so that we, the participants could understand more what exactly is the reality, what is the objective situation about this.
For two or three days now, we are in the process of identifying and trying to open ourselves to understand these priorities.
Our objective is really reflecting on the richness of Asia. What FABC has done to see how we can go ahead. What priority should we have in the next few years, what should the Churches in Asia do, how should they guide themselves, guide the people. We want to commit ourselves, the bishops of Asia, the FABC, to work for a better Asia, not only for a better Church, but for the better Asia all over. That, I think, is what we are going to discern.
I wanna confess to you that I can personally experience the presence of the Holy Spirit. We hope that at the end of this meeting, at the end of the week, we will present a message to the people of Asia, and also begin the elements of the final document which will be like a guide document, a pastoral plan for the Churches of Asia. Thank you very much. That’s the process.
[Jose Torres Jr., LiCAS News]
I would like to ask a question to Cardinal Gracias. I know that the process is still going on, the discussions about the issues that the Church in Asia are facing. But can you give us a glimpse of what will be these actions? How will the Church in Asia move forward in all of these issues, such as the environment, human rights, and other issues that the Church in Asia is facing right now? The possible actions that the Church will do.
Thank you very much. And yes, I mentioned a few clarities that came out in our discussions, but there are many other issues also. We are aware that it is the Church’s duty to protect human dignity, to protect justice, to promote justice. To work for peace, reconciliation, harmony, and for the Church to be a bridge builder, that came up in our discussions.
We begin today the process of coming to an appointed direction. You mentioned human rights. In certain places, human rights have been trampled on. In certain places, women are not given equal status. In certain places, the migrants are rejected, and in certain places, the indigenous peoples’ rights are not protected.
Now, this came up. I mentioned it on the list, which I gave in the beginning. But these are also priorities. Now, the Church here, the bishops here, representing the different Churches in Asia, are reflecting how exactly we can promote human rights, how exactly we can promote human dignity, how exactly we can ensure justice, and peace, and reconciliation. How we can make Asia, a place which God wants it to be. How the gospel values — justice, peace, love, unity, harmony — are promoted. That’s our mission, that’s our task, that’s our calling, and we certainly will take it up. Maybe when we meet next time, we will be able to give some more specifics. Thank you for the question.
[Sister Bernadette Reis, Vatican News]
You usually come to Rome. It’s a wonderful opportunity to be able to exchange the visit and come to you. So, I welcome the opportunity. Cardinal Gracias, in your welcome address, you mentioned that the inspiration to hold this general conference came from the Latin counterpart [Episcopal Conference of Latin America or CELAM], which of course we have extremely wonderful documents that have come from that. Why CELAM? Why now in Asia?
Actually, there is nothing specific. It’s really a coincidence that we were inspired in the beginning of this conference by CELAM. CELAM is older than us, about 15 years older than us. Now, CELAM was a very inspiring, powerful force in South America, but they have an advantage. It’s much more homogenous than in Asia. It began before us. The languages are also Spanish and Portuguese. There’s much more communication and physical communication. Cardinal Bo and myself attended CELAM. I, myself, have a lot of contact with CELAM officials, the presidents, and we discussed a lot about what CELAM was doing for the South American countries.
The central committee discussed this and we felt that we will benefit a great deal by having a similar, not a plenary assembly which takes one topic, but a general conference, bigger number of bishops, greater ownership, and looking at the whole perspective.
When it comes to the timing, we discovered afterwards it was approaching the 50th anniversary (of FABC), so we said we will celebrate it in the 50th anniversary. We owe a lot to CELAM.
I am happy that the president came here for a few days, but on the other hand, we have got relations with all the regional, continental groups in Africa and we were expecting the president of SECAM (Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar) to be here. We had the president of COMECE (Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union), we had also the president of CCEE (Council of the Bishops’ Conferences of Europe).
We want to exchange, work together. To give an example, we have similar concerns on climate change, we have similar problems. The indigenous people of South America, I realized, have got the same problem that we have in Asia. Therefore, we realized the world is one, the problems are similar and if you want to learn from them, be in solidarity with them. Thank you for your question.
[Roy Lagarde, CBCP News]
What do you think are the unique contributions the Church in Asia can offer to the Church in other continents?
Not that I’m making a comparison with Asia and the West, like America, but the values of Asia could be shared with other parts of the world, like the values of families, the values of religious devotions, the value of respect for the elders, for parents, and the values of peace, meditation, and sacredness that could be shared very deeply with the West.
We do not want to say that the West has quite forgotten the sense of God. Also in Asia, I could say that 95 percent, or maybe perhaps full percent, everyone has the sense of religion. Nobody in Asia, like Myanmar, nobody will say that “I have no religion.” Each one will have their own, either Buddhist, Muslim or Christian. At least the devotion, the real sense of God, is present in the people of Asia. That can be shared with others, especially with the West.
I think the time has come. The Church in Asia is young, growing. The time has come for the Church in Asia to make contributions also to the universal Church.
During this conference, FABC papers have been giving a new theology, its new insight to theology. The specific point, which the rest of the world can learn from Asia, is about inter-religious dialogue. I think that many countries, especially in Europe, are struggling how to have, how to deal with other religions. And I think we’ve got the experience because for us it is not an option. It is a necessity. We have successfully helped each other. Other religions and us harmoniously help each other. I think the West and Africa also. I think that’s a very big contribution that we can make about inter-religious dialogue.
I think also in some countries in Asia, there are peace and reconciliation committees. I’m thinking of South Korea and North Korea. I’m thinking of South Korea and Japan. I, myself, also attended meetings in South Korea. We’re planning for the future unification of the two, for peace and reconciliation. Certainly, these are contributions we can make from our experience, our reflection, successes and failures to the universal Church.
[Jose Torres Jr., LiCAS News]
The cardinals mentioned that the Church in Asia is quite young, and more young people are active in the Church. But at the same time, a lot of our young people, not only in Asia, but around the world, seems to be forming a new Church online, on the Internet. Are we going online to evangelize, to reach out to the younger members of the Church? Are the bishops and priests ready to go on social media and do TikTok?
You know Asia is a young continent. We all know that …. Pope Francis, in his message to us, to this general conference said, and when Saint Paul VI came to Manila, we found a mass of people, the majority of them were young. So already at that time, Saint Paul VI noticed that.
Yes, we are aware of the young, and I think the young, for the FABC, is very important, a very important component of our planning, action, and vision. We want the youth to be with us in whatever project. They are our full partners and everything.
The Synod on the Youth, the youth accompany us with all their hands. “Teach us, and when we make mistakes, trust us.” That’s what the youth said. I think that is in Christus Vivit, and we are conscious of that. Certainly, that’s part of our program. How exactly, we can work it out.
At the end of this conference, we expect to issue a message to Asia. Also, a certain commitment we hope to make, and certainly the FABC will … implement what we are discussing over here. The youth will be a very important component. I think that certainly is the mind of all the bishops over here. We are very conscious of the importance of the youth, the generosity, the authenticity, and their eagerness to do something to change Asia. They are our indispensable partners in all our works.
Just to add. We have to evangelize the youth in the place where the youth are. Where are the youth? They are on the internet, on Facebook. So, during these days, we have been discussing that the leaders of the Church will have to learn, like Facebook, how to make use of the media. Of course, the pandemic has taught us very well. We have to make use of online preaching. For example, Radio Veritas Asia, we have moved online and we are learning much about that. The leaders of the Church will have to take up the preaching online, especially, to reach the youth. We have to be where the youth are.
Concerning the use of media, last Sunday, Mission Sunday, we, members of the conference here, visited almost 20 parishes of Asia through the media. And everyday, every morning, we pray, all the countries of Asia together with us, through the media. That is also what we’re trying to facilitate, so that we can communicate, we can contact everyone.
[Clyde Nolasco, Dominus Est – Philippines]
My question is for Cardinal Bo. May I ask if there will be specific actions or documents that the FABC will release for the synod on synodality to make the voice of Asia and the various concerns in Asia be heard during the synod?
These days, before we end this general conference, we have been preparing final documents which will mainly deal with the synodality. That final document is the resolutions of the work that we are focusing ahead for this coming year, especially our general conference, which is much integrated to the synodality, or the synod that Rome is preparing.
[Giorgio Bernardelli, AsiaNews]
I want to ask the cardinals if they have some form of involvement from bishops in China.
Yes, in a sense that we were in touch with the Republic of China and the bishops from there. We regret that we missed their presence over here. We did try to make contact but there are logistics problems in the sense of the pandemic. If not for the pandemic, I’m sure they would have been here with us. The two bishops from China came for the synod in Rome, they were there. Subsequently, we had a meeting on theology here in this very place of Asia. China sent two bishops and did full participation.
I did mention to them that we would like their presence over here for this general conference, and said ‘It’s incomplete without you, you are an important component,” and they were interested in coming. However, the conference itself was postponed twice because of the pandemic and there were restrictions of movement there, so it is all because of logistics. We made efforts and we hoped that they would come. Thank you so much and I want to say publicly that we miss their presence over here. They made a good contribution when they came for the theological conference here.
[Victor Gaetan, Catholic News Service]
Hello, my question is addressed to Cardinal Bo. You referred to the many threats to peace in Asia, and you stressed the need for the Church to react, initiate, advocate for equality, and stand up with power. Where do we begin this work?
Yes, thanks for the question. To build peace, we have what was mentioned just now by Cardinal Gracias, that Asia is an example of inter-religious dialogue. The religious leaders would have been the most effective people who could bring peace, build peace in every part of the world and any country. I think the effect or the influence of the religious people seem to be more effective. We have inter-religious dialogue. And also, the world has connected with the hundred countries on religions for peace.
We were discussing during this conference that we have to make stakeholders of different people, especially the government or any leaders in the country in Asia. Though we are a minority, we have a lot of respect and regard for what the Catholic Church do.
The leaders, our religious Catholic leaders, the bishops, have much influence over the leaders of their country, their government. That could be a source of strength for building peace in the country.
[Ivan Fernandes, UCAN]
Is there something you will come up with in projecting Jesus in an Asian way?
We had a mission congress, as you know. It was telling the story of Jesus, that was the theme years back. We tried that time to see how we could tell the story of Jesus in an Indian language. We have not, specifically this topic, has not come up for discussion at the moment. But certainly, it’s an important topic for evangelization, and talking about the values.
Our focus at the moment has been on how to bring the Gospel of Jesus and the presence of Jesus in these different realities and different challenges that were mentioned.
But certainly, when we speak of catechists, when we speak of a formation, this item will come up, but there has not been, at the moment till now, discussion on this topic. But it is an important topic. You brought it up, and certainly we will take it into consideration.
[Roy Lagarde, CBCP News]
The question is, What do you think of the predominantly Asian appointments to the College of Cardinals? Why do you think the Pope has appointed many Asian cardinals recently?
Because the Pope likes Asia [laughs]. We don’t know, really. But you know, it is an indication of Asia taking its rightful place in the Church. I mentioned the FABC making its contribution, Asian Church making its contribution. The Holy Father is very very universal. One of the requests of the Second Vatican Council was to internationalize the curia and, of course the appointments of cardinals is of course the Holy Father’s personal decision.
The idea is in the Holy Father’s mind. I think it is to internationalize everything. Also to give the message, the Church is not Eurocentric. That’s important. Therefore, the Holy Father is showing his confidence and giving the message, I think. But apart from that, it is really his personal choice.
Just to add a word why the Pope has chosen many cardinals from Asia is that the Holy Father is very keen and really giving attention and love for those people who are in the peripheries, those people who are the poorest.
Asia is most of the time small and somewhat forgotten by the world, so he’s trying to pick up from all those corners, so that it becomes universal. At the same time, he’s been picking up those cardinals from the poorest of the people. That’s one reason is that he is so focused and the attention he gives to the poor and the marginalized.
[Joseph, Radio Veritas Asia]
My question is, Christianity in Asia is 2000 years old, but still we are a minority. How are we going to work for it? How can the laity evangelize?
I think the whole idea of synodality is that everybody has got to work together and walk together in fulfilling the mission. And I do feel that the necessity of the laity — women, youth, and also men — getting involved in all Church projects.
Now, in Praedicate Evangelium, Pope Francis has very clearly indicated that even the heads, can be anybody, can be any Christ’s faithful. Technically, bishops, priests, religious, laity.
I think that this is a new concept, new idea. Therefore, we got to develop it. I think the question asked is very relevant, very important, and I think there are thoughts on this already, an examination. We have to see how this fits into Canon Law, how it fits into a practice.
I have no doubt at all that this will go ahead in Asia. I hope that this will be discussed by us. We certainly will give some directions on how the laity could be much much more involved in the whole mission of the Church, which is evangelization and spreading the word of God. I think we will do that.
For me, the credibility of the Christian faith depends mainly on the witness of the lay people, the majority of Christians in each country. The witness of the laity who immersed themselves in society can help a lot to give witness to the people of other religion and faith.
[Bishop Mylo Vergara, Philippines]
This has been a splendid evening. We are really grateful to our three cardinals who have been engaging in our exercise of synodality with the press people both here in person and online.
To conclude, we started with three P’s of the conference – perspective, preparation and process. Let me end with three C’s we have discovered as shared by our three presidents, and what the delegates of this conference have reflected on for the Asian Church as we celebrate 50 years and beyond.
The first ‘C’ is Challenges. Our country reports have expounded many challenges in ministering to the people of Asia, like the pandemic, climate emergency, migration, unemployment, poverty, digitalization, consumerism, even mental health and many more. Amidst these challenges, the Church of Asia has responded with another ‘C’.
The second ‘C’ is Compassion. We have not been discouraged by the difficult challenges to show compassion to the people we serve in mission. We compassionately live out our priestly, prophetic, and keenly identity as missionary disciples of Jesus Christ through the celebration of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, education that focus on faith formation, especially to the youth, and charitable works that have benefited the poor in the peripheries.
As we go to this final week of the conference, we find ourselves with the last ‘C’. The third ‘C’ is Crossroads. In the spirit of synodality, the delegates have listened to each other during the workshops and the plenary sessions. This has made us discern what has been where we are and how we are to proceed in serving the Asian Church. The Holy Spirit has led us to crossroads. We have to decide where to go in our service and mission to better respond to the signs of the times.
What is the best road to take at the crossroads? This reminded me of an excerpt from the famous poem by the American poet, Robert Frost, entitled ‘The Road Not Taken’. These are the last lines of that poem, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by and that has made all the difference.” Perhaps at the crossroads of this conference, we will be led by the Holy Spirit to take the road less traveled. After all, the word crossroad hints that we take the road that will challenge us to compassionately live the cross of Jesus Christ in our service and mission. We will journey together as people of Asia and go a different way, the way of the Cross. Always the way of our Lord and make a difference in Asia and the universal Church.