Homily for the Opening Mass of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences (FABC)
50th Anniversary General Conference
by His Eminence Charles Cardinal Bo, Archbishop of Yangon, Myanmar, President, FABC
October 12, 2022 | Baan Phu Waan Pastoral Training Center, Thailand
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
Peace and joy of the living, loving, and liberating Savior Jesus!
The Asian Church today gathers together, celebrating with grateful exuberance, proclaiming the marvels that the Lord has done in the life of all of us. We have gathered around at the Altar to break the Bread of grace, and the gratitude, to celebrate our communion across the Asian culture, affirming dignity in diversity. This is the synodal moment of the Asian Church. This is our communion, this is our mission, this is our participation; an exciting onward journey awaits us.
We celebrated half a century of our journey, we celebrate the presence of Spirit in the Asian Churches: its diversity, its contribution to nation-building in many countries, its witness to fellowship with the suffering masses, its survival amidst all challenges, and its emergence as the blessed pool of greater vocations. For all that has been, thanks to the presence of the Spirit.
Gratitude, yes. The Jubilee Year in the Bible is also the year of renewal. In Leviticus 25, we find the first reference to jubilee as part of the law given by Yahweh to Israelites. The jubilee Year occurring after the Seventh Sabbath Year, that's every fifty years, is an economic, cultural, environmental, and community reset. When the land and the people rest, and those who are in slavery are set free to return to their communities. A crossroads, yet, a call to a metanoia (a change of heart).
This is beautifully captured in the objective of our celebrations: reaffirm, renew, and revitalize the whole Church in Asia. The theme of Asia, with Christ, “FABC 50: Journeying Together as Peoples of Asia,” “… and they went a different way” (Mt 2:12)
The FABC has a thousand flowers of gratitude to offer to the Lord. It is not just fifty years of gratitude. Our Christian journey started 2000 years ago, as the first Christians carried the Gospel to Asia, and in India. Countless priests and religious, catechists, and the Christian families carried on that tradition ‘till today. To all these gifts, we are grateful.
The Church in the East
The first encounter with Asia is recorded in the great Epiphany, 2000 years ago. The wise men from the East followed the star to have their encounter with God’s love for humanity (Mt. 2:1-12). Today in the third millennium, we, the Church in the East, celebrate Christ's dynamic encounter in our lives. The jubilee is our goal to the epiphany. It is our Pentecostal moment. There is a new star on the horizon, a new goal, a new challenge. Yes, brothers and sisters, the epiphany of the Third Millennium calls for us to take a different route, accepting the challenge to make it this century, the century of Asia, the century of Christ, the century of evangelization.
Let this breaking of the Word and Bread in this Eucharist give us the courage to follow the star, and to let Jesus and His Good News become the new dawn of peace and reconciliation in Asia. Today's reading illuminates an exciting road map to the Asian Church. That destination beckons, challenges, yet, the blazing challenges to the Church in Asia reminds us of the greatest scene of Moses in front of the burning bush. The Asian Church stands in front of the burning bush of existential problems of Asia: exploitation, nuclear winter, big power rivalry, despotic evil, displacing democracy, the commoditization of human tears, ecological holocaust, pandemic, millions in distress migration, wars and displacement, natural and man-made disasters.
So, will the Asian Church rise to the occasion? Moses, plagued by self doubt, could inflict on himself a paralysis and cry out, “How can this be?”. Confronted with the challenges call to respond, we too cry out, “How can this be to a small Church in Asia?” The same assurance that came with that shepherd Moses atop of a horrid mountain comes from Yahweh to the Asian Church with thundering assurance: “Fear not. I will be with you always.” We pray for that assurance from God in our mission in Asia. Let the same Yahweh encourage us in this jubilee: “My dear Asian Church, fear not in the new millennium. I am with you always.” Yes. The Church was not built by emperors, great philosophers, or men of great wealth. It was built by shepherds like Moses, and the fisherman, and intended to make us like Peter and Paul. With God in our hearts, we can move the mountains. This is the message of the Gospel. God is with us. Fear not.
This is also the message of the First Reading today. The First Reading from the Book of Deuteronomy talks of doubt and teetering of the people of Israel. The chosen race always felt ill and at ease at her vocation to be God to witness. The task that seems as reaching the heights of the sky and the depths of the ocean. Following God's call looks daunting to the Israeli people. God’s words shattered those fears with the searing word. No. The word is very near to you. It is in your mouth, in your heart, so you may obey it (cf. Dt. 30:10-14).
Yes brothers and sisters, as we celebrate a great jubilee, let us say with joy “The Word is very nearest, its good news is in our mouth and heart.” The burning bush of great problems is met with another burning bush in our hearts: the fire of zeal, the fire of proclamation of Jesus as the Lord to the Asian people. Let this fire burn in every Christian heart. Set the world on fire with Christ to love.
Ecclesia in Asia
What is the mission today in Asia? Three popes have laid down a map for the Asian Church. Our special task was already prophesied by the great St. John Paul II. Allow me, please, to repeat his challenge to the Asian Church. His challenge reverberates in the opening words of the document on the Asian Synod “Ecclesia in Asia”. I quote, “The Church in Asia sings the praises of the ‘God of salvation’ (Ps 68:20) for choosing to initiate his saving plan on Asian soil, through men and women of that continent. It was in fact in Asia that God revealed and fulfilled his saving purpose from the beginning…In ‘the fullness of time’ (Gal 4:4), he sent his only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ the Saviour, who took flesh as an Asian! Exulting in the goodness of the continent's peoples, cultures, and religious vitality, and conscious at the same time of the unique gift of faith which she has received for the good of all, the Church in Asia cannot cease to proclaim: ‘Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, for his love endures forever’ (Ps 118:1).”
Yes. The Church in Asia cannot cease to proclaim that Jesus is the Lord. Signs of times, call of the Christ: go and proclaim. Asian Church, your task is being a Missionary Church and Proclaiming Church. Two eyes but one mission. Building God’s Kingdom on earth. This is
The Challenge to the Asian Church
FABC started with the visit of Pope Paul VI who insisted, “The Church exists to evangelize.” This is a cool message and identity. The Pope articulated the new evangelization with three objectives:
proclaiming the good news Ad Gentes,
deepening the faith of the baptized, and
energizing the evangelized to become evangelizers
Pope Francis made evangelization the top priority in his restructuring of the curia, published in the Apostolic Constitution, “Praedicate Evangelium”. The Pope himself took on the responsibility for the missionary and evangelization department of the Roman Curia. As the vast parts of the traditionally Christian areas are becoming secular, the East holds a great attraction to the West. The last fifty years saw an explosion of interest in Eastern spiritual traditions. The interiority of the Asian religions, the symbol mysticism, making millions take it to cultivate prayer methods, and the popularity of mindfulness and meditations. All points to a great thirst for experience.
East has insisted on experience, not many explanations. This is our great challenge: moving from words to action, moving from just structures into experience and interiority. Concepts and words do not impress people. A Church that shares because of an intense and a personal encounter with Jesus, and a missionary Church that proclaims through witnessing.
Our second challenge: we also live among great indigenous traditions. The vast landmass of Asia, starting from the shores of the Southern China Sea to the central parts of Asia, is the home to indigenous people. Their stories in the spirit have gained great attention under the present Pope. Laudato Si’ is inspired by the way traditional communities should give stewardship to the modern man. The real challenge is to engage with the Eastern spiritual and indigenous cultures of Asia.
Witness to Asia
Yes. We need to discern in the spirit. Every call demands an answer in spirit. Jesus encourages in the Gospel of today, “the advocate, this Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name will teach you all things and to remind you of everything I have said to you” (Jn. 14:26). Life in the spirit, led by the spirit, moving from the colonial tag into the original Christian charism, the agapē of first Christians. Francis of Assisi gives the modus operandi: “Proclaim the good news always. Use words, if necessary, if needed.”
The Jubilee Laws are essentially concerned with social relationships, economic and security, stability, and the well-being of the community. They seek to ensure that people live in ways that reflect good relationships with God, with each other, and with the creation. This FABC jubilee demands from us that we reset our relationships. Through his three major exhortations, Pope Francis recast that faith is not only a set of dogmas, but a relationship with God, with nature, and with one another.
That ensures a witness. We are in urgent need of not only a personal witness to their message of Christ, but a collective witness. The first Christians proclaim their communal witness. That identity and mission of the Asian Church needs unity. One of the great hurdles of Christianity in Asia is that Christ is divided among so many. Catholic Church needs a universal approach despite our diversity. Our diversity is a great strength, the various rights are a great gift of faith. Unity is not uniformity. Our mission demands being one in spirit and of one mind. This is the grace that St. Paul prayed for the early Churches: “one in spirit and of one mind”. He appeals movingly to the Philippians, “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind” (Phil. 2:1-2).
Dream of a New Asia Century
So, brother sisters, let’s take courage. Together, we can dream of a new Asia century. The Asian Church has many reasons to sing its Magnificat. The Lord has done marvels in us and through us. Its contribution to human development in many countries is gratefully acknowledged. With the Christianity still growing in the continent, vocations continue to be of a greater joy to the Asian and the Global Church, despite persecutions and constraints. The fortitude of the faith of Christians continues to inspire all.
The Jubilee Year demands a metanoia. Evangelization and missionary mode demand that the Church in Asia widened its modus operandi to a modus vivendi. As we step into the next fifty years, joy and gratitude fill our hearts. With humility, we remember that after 2000 years of evangelization, just 2% of Asia is Christian. Asia is the creator of world religions awaits the face of Asian Jesus. We remember with gratitude, grateful hearts, hundreds of missionaries who came to this continent to light the great Christian home. It is now our turn to become a Missionary Church that shows our Asian brothers and sisters the light of Jesus. Daunting as it may look, the bigger the challenge, the greater the grace. Our faith journey started on the Cross despite the great Roman Empire, fishermen and tent’s makers confidently went about proclaiming the Good News of Jesus. Faith of a mustard seed can move mountains because we are not allowed in this endeavor, Christ, the Word that became flesh and wells among us. Jesus the living and the loving God walks among us.
I wish to conclude with the energizing words of Jesus in his farewell discourse with his disciples in today’s Gospel. “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them...Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:23,27). Let our hearts be not troubled. Yes. Onward march, Asian Church. God is with us.
Transcribed by Joel V. Ocampo
Photos from Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences - FABC Facebook page