by Clyde Ericson Nolasco
The FABC General Conference
FABC or the Federation of Asian Bishops Conference finally celebrated its 50th anniversary this year, after being postponed for two years due to COVID. (The actual 50th anniversary was last 2020.)
The FABC General Conference in Thailand was held from October 12 to October 30 at the Baan Phu Waan Pastoral Training Center, just outside of Bangkok, with the 29-member countries sending over 200 delegates comprised of Cardinals, Archbishops, priests, religious and lay people. The theme for the event was “Journeying together as peoples of Asia - and they went a different way. (Matthew 2:12)”
The FABC was in fact "born" in the Philippines in 1970, with bishops from various Asian countries arriving for the conference during the apostolic visit of St. Pope Paul VI. The beloved Pope who concluded Vatican 2, attended the latter part of a meeting of 180 bishops in Manila and then gave his blessing for the establishment of an Episcopal Asian Conference, which is now the Federation of Asian Bishops Conference. From then on, meetings and gatherings were regularly held.
FABC called for a general conference originally slated for its 50th anniversary in 2020 but this was delayed due to the pandemic. Hence, this 2022, Thailand made its mark in the Catholic history this October 2022 as host of the historic first FABC General Conference.
The general conference lasted for more than two weeks. The itinerary of the delegates included “Visiting Asia,” a segment where each member presented emerging realities in their country; followed by consultations regarding “pandemic, globalization, socio-economic and political challenges - and the issues of gender; indigenous people, yearnings of the youth, and the transformation of the Church.” Experts from different sectors were also invited to present updated data and concerns regarding their various fields.
The recent papal encyclicals of Pope Francis such as Evangelii Gaudium, Fratelli Tutti, Laudato Si', Amoris Laetitia, and Predicate Evangelium were all considered as delegates reflected on matters on hand. Also, to ensure that the conference was guided by the Holy Spirit, moments of silence, recollections, scriptural readings and Eucharistic celebrations were integrated into the schedule.
After the conference, the members of the FABC expressed their joy for the given opportunity to be together. They also acknowledged that their work has not ended; that they must continue to journey together in the service of God and the people of Asia.
Cardinal Tagle, Special Envoy of Pope Francis
Pope Francis sent Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, pro-prefect of the Dicastery on Evangelization, as his Special Envoy to the FABC 50.
Watch the message of His Holiness here:
My flight to Bangkok took off just hours before all other flights were canceled due to the tropical depression Paeng that battered the Philippines during the long Halloween weekend. Thank God I made it to Bangkok for the Dominus Est coverage of the 50 FABC General Conference, the first international media coverage of our platform.
I arrived in Thailand just in time to attend the final press conference where Cardinal Tagle was present and asked him a question regarding the role of social media in evangelization now that churches are already open and we are encouraged to attend mass physically again. Here is his answer:
Cardinal Tagle emphasized that though social media will remain, visible signs or tangible objects are regarded as necessary as the “Church lives by a sacramental reality”. Thus, the virtual/online worship should only be for emergency or extraordinary situations.
He also acknowledged that during the pandemic, social media was helpful and fulfilled its mission but ended by challenging those in social media evangelization to use the platform for catechetical formation of the faithful, “a tool for truth, sincerity and transformation.”
This was encouraging for us at Dominus Est because we are a purely online platform for new evangelization. It was also heartwarming to be reunited with Cardinal Tagle, who launched Dominus Est with our team three years ago.
The press also had a moment with His Eminence after the press conference. “Kumusta na, Clyde?” he said as I approached him. It was nice to know that he still remembered me as his stage manager for a number of events back here in Manila before being assigned to the Vatican.
At Baan Phu Waan Pastoral Training Center, the FABC delegates spent weeks in dialogue on the concern of the Church in Asia. Cardinal Charles Bo (Myanmar), Cardinal Francis Xavier Kriengsak Kovitvanit (Bangkok) and Cardinal Oswald Gracias (Bombay) served as the Presidents of the General Conference. Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle graced the event as the official Papal envoy presiding over the closing mass at the Assumption Cathedral in Bangkok. Sr Bernadette Reis of the Vatican News was also present.
Cardinal Tagle led the closing of the 50 FABC, presiding over the culminating mass at the Assumption Cathedral of Bangkok, stressing the importance of journeying together in mercy, compassion, patience, justice and charity amidst the challenges we face here in Asia.
Cardinal Tagle in his homily during the culminating Eucharistic celebration: "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."
After the Closing Ceremony, I had the chance to go around Bangkok.
Thailand is so culturally rich. No wonder it is one of the most visited countries in the world, famous for its stunning beaches, elephants, gastronomy and diverse culture.
Pad Thai, sticky mango and grandiose temples equals amazing Thailand. With Fr Kevin's DJI Mimo and my watch as remote control of my camera phone, documenting my solo trip was easy peasy.
It was wonderful to note that while Thailand is renowned for its majestic temples and the Thai are predominantly Buddhist, it is also a home for the Catholic faithful.
Christ was introduced to the Siamese people in the mid-1500s through Portuguese missionaries. Five hundred years later there are now approximately 300,000 Catholics (0.5% of the total population of the country) in Thailand, with 11 dioceses, two of which are archdioceses. Best of all, in spite of being a minority, the Catholics do not experience discrimination or outright rejection.
My personal takeaway for this trip: “the mission continues whatever the situation is!”
I feel very blessed to have experienced the first FABC general conference, to have been the journalist for the first international coverage of Dominus Est and, on a personal note, this was my first ever solo trip.
I flew to Bangkok alone amidst the threatening Typhoon Paeng and the challenging task of being a photographer, videographer and correspondent rolled into one. But I took the task with confidence that God is with me. Indeed, the FABC assured me that we are not alone in our journey of fulfilling our mission as baptized Christians. And, Cardinal Tagle reminded all of us that our mission to evangelize social media is not bound to end as we progress into the new normal.
With faith, hope and love, our mission continues no matter what! Kap khun krap!
Many thanks to Cebu Pacific for being our partner in Journeying with FABC.