Homily for the Closing Ceremonies of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences (FABC) 50th Anniversary General Conference
by His Eminence Luis Antonio G. Cardinal Tagle,
Papal Envoy and Pro-Prefect for the Section of Evangelization
of the Dicastery for Evangelization
October 30, 2022 | Cathedral of the Assumption, Bangkok, Thailand
As we bring the FABC50 General Conference to a close in this Eucharistic celebration, we make our own the words of the Psalmist, “I will praise your name for ever, my king and my God” (cf. Ps. 145:1). We praise God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for journeying with us, and for calling us, the Churches in Asia to journey together with each other and with the peoples of Asia.
We thank the local Churches who have participated in the consultations, prior to the conference. We thank also the various committees who made sure that the proceedings would be a holy space for discerning God’s action in God’s people. We thank the experts, the guests, the bishop delegates, the wonderful people of Bangkok and Thailand, the royal Thai Government, and the hard-working staff that attended to our needs. You have shown what journeying together means. To all of you, I bring a message of communion and closeness from His Holiness Pope Francis who has been journeying with us these past days, even from Rome. He is watching. Our Blessed Mother, the angels, the saints, especially the Saints of Asia have been our constant companions also. We pray in a particular way for the victims of the stampede that happened in Korea yesterday; and yesterday also, a typhoon passed through the Philippines. So, we pray for those who have been affected.
Journeying together as peoples of Asia “…and they went a different way” (Mt 2:12). This has been the theme, the experience, and I dare say, the future of the general conference, convened to celebrate the FABC which was founded 50 years ago. Then, now, and in the future, there is no other path for FABC, the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences but to journey together. No other path, but to journey together, then, now, and in the future.
We might think or we might even ask, yes, we need to journey. That is life. Very often, even in Asia, life is described as a journey. Mission is a journey. But why journey together? Isn't it more pleasant to go my own way? Why journey together? You have been married for thirty years and you say, “May I journey by myself, even once? Why always together?” The religious community would say, “Why take recreation together? Why always together?” If we have to do it together, how? How do we do it together?
What is togetherness? Our readings for this Sunday’s Mass, the regular readings for the Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, especially the Gospel (Lk 19:1-10), point to us the way to togetherness; and I have three simple points.
Jesus, Someone on the Journey
The first point: Jesus is presented in the Gospel as someone on the journey. Jesus came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town. “Intended to pass through the town” (Lk. 19:1). There, he encounters Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector and a wealthy man. He probably became real wealthy through dishonest conduct, and Jesus tells Zacchaeus, “Come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house” (Lk. 19:5). He did not say “I want to stay in your house.” “I must stay at your house.” Jesus intended to pass through Jericho. Intended: “I must stay at your house.” “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost” (Lk. 19:10). Jesus wills the journey. Jesus intends to go to Zacchaeus' house. Jesus chooses Zacchaeus as a companion on His journey.
Journeying together must be intended. We must choose to journey together. Even four months of discussing “journeying together” will not amount to anything unless we intend. We choose it as the path. We journey together. We cannot leave journeying together to chance; and we must not be indifferent to it. “I intended,” “we intended”, “I seek you,” “we seek each other”, we seek a companion on the journey.
Journeying with Those Who Might Differ from Us
The second point. Who did Jesus choose as a partner or companion on the journey? Not the purest of persons, not the holiest, not the most upright, not the blameless, not the one who will make Jesus more acceptable to society, not the one who belongs to His circle with whom He shares all things in common. He chose Zacchaeus, as we said, a chief tax collector. Considered a traitor by his people, for he collaborated with the occupying oppressive forces. Zacchaeus is someone whom nobody wants to journey with. You will ruin your name by walking with Zacchaeus. If you want your future to be ruined, then walk with Zacchaeus; and nobody dared to ruin his or her life by walking with Zacchaeus.
But there is a good spot in the heart of this person: he wants to see Jesus. According to the Gospel, he was short in stature. So, he climbs the tree to see Jesus, but probably, he climbed this tree also so that he will not be seen by people. Probably, it was a way of hiding in order to protect himself from ridicule. He can see from the tree but cannot be seen. Surprise! Jesus sees him. Jesus sees him and tells him to come down quickly. “Quickly!” Jesus is excited and Jesus cannot wait. “Come down quickly!” Come down. Show your face to the crowd. Come down and walk with me to your house. Jesus will enter his house. Jesus will enter his heart. Jesus will enter his wounds, his guilt, his shame, and Jesus will bring all of it on their journey together.
God wants us to journey with those who might differ from us. God wants us to journey with those who are hiding: hiding in shame, or being hidden by others. God wants us to journey with the isolated, the friendless, the despised, the shamed, those in dark alleys and slums, those crossing mountains, rivers, and seas in the dark of night. God wants us to journey also with those who are in high positions, like Zacchaeus on the tree. High positions in politics, in business, in the military. God wants us to journey with the poor, despised, and marginalized, the refugees, migrants, displaced, and indigenous peoples, the wounded, and exploited earth, the youth, the women, the families. We will walk together as you face rejection, as we face extremism, as we face the threats to life, as we face violence, conflicts, and the ambivalence of the digital revolution. We will journey with those of neighbour religions and cultures. Yes. We intend to journey with them.
A Journey of Mercy, Compassion, Patience, Justice and Charity
The third and final point: what type of journey together will it be? Where will it end? As the readings point to us, it will be a journey of mercy, compassion, not of destruction. A journey of patience, and not condemnation, a journey that ends in the beautiful land of justice and charity.
Zacchaeus was finally treated as a human being, who could show his face, who could share his wounds, and be loved. Jesus says, “He is a son of Abraham” (Lk. 19:9). He is one of us. We belong to each other. Becoming a human face with dignity, Zacchaeus discovers his brothers and sisters, he remembers the poor, and those whom he might have treated unjustly. The poor and his victims who probably were just objects before, but now, recovering his humanity, he sees their humanity. He promises to pay back those whom had cheated, four times over. Beyond the demands of justice: love. And he will give half of his belongings to the poor. They are now his co-journeyers too.
Jesus is the Different Way
Journeying together as peoples of Asia “…and they went a different way”. Jesus shows us the different way. Jesus is the different way:
different from those who disrupt unity in order to maintain division;
different from those who want to keep others unseen and non-existent;
different from those who have lost mercy towards neighbours.
Jesus is the way, and shows a different and renewed way all the time. He promised that he will be with us until the end of time (cf. Mt. 28:20). “Emmanuel,” “God with us” eternally. We will never be alone in our journey. So let us walk with Him, like Him, with each other and with the peoples of Asia.
I think Pope Francis would want to make his own the words of Saint Paul that we heard in the Second Reading (2 Thes 1:11-2:2). “Brothers and sisters: We always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose and every effort of faith, that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him…”
“…that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him.”
“…in accord with the grace of our God and Lord Jesus Christ.” Amen.
Transcribed by Joel Vasquez Ocampo