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Inauguration of the 50th Anniversary of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences

August 22, 2022 – Shrine of Blessed Nicholas Bunkerd Kitbamrung, Thailand

The Inauguration of the 50th Anniversary of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC), was held at the Shrine of Blessed Nicholas Bunkerd Kitbamrung, Thailand. This marks five decades since the Bishops of Asia came together for the first time in 1970 to establish the FABC. The inauguration commenced with the bells of the shire peeling, inviting all to pray for the Church in Asia. The choir led the delegates in prayer, singing Veni Creator Spiritus, calling on the Holy Spirit to guide and direct the Church of Asia. A solemn procession was led by Charles Cardinal Bo (President of FABC & Archbishop of Yangon), Oswald Cardinal Gracias (Convener of FABC 50 & Archbishop of Bombay) and Francis Xavier Cardinal Kriengsak (Local Convener of FABC 50 & Archbishop of Bangkok).

Charles Cardinal Bo in his inaugural address, expressed how the past fifty years has been a journey of grace and gratefulness.

“This long journey has given the Asian Church a vibrant identity, constantly challenging us to be a missionary church. It continues”.

Charles Cardinal Bo also highlighted key contributions of the Church of Asia to the Universal Church as it sought to be the face of Christ to the people of Asia. “With creativity, FABC fortified the Asian threefold dialogue with cultures, religions and the poor of Asia. FABC envisaged a co-ordinating structure, with empowering commissions. Grace has led us so far”.

Emphasizing the challenging times that the Church encounters as the world stands at the crossroads of history, Charles Cardinal Bo encouraged all gathered to reflect on how Asian Churches can become prophets of peace in an increasingly anxious world. “The third millennium brings great challenges. Pope Francis has always encouraged to look at every challenge as an opportunity. As we inaugurate the 50-year celebrations, we are reminded that the Biblical perspective of Jubilee mandates a comprehensive change and robust renewal. The Church under the present Pope has proactively initiating changes.”

What is the Lord’s Call to the Asian Church?

“With Christianity playing important role in Asian nations, education, health and human development, countries are becoming economically and politically more confident. The Church is vibrant in Asia with increasing vocations. This is a great opportunity and challenge. With prayer and planning and commitment, this century can become the Asian Christian Century, proclaiming the Good News and fostering peace with justice in the world”.

The theme chosen for the General Conference is FABC 50: Journeying together as peoples of Asia – “...and they went a different way.” (Mt. 2:12).

The basis for the theme comes from the infancy narratives in the Gospel according to St Matthew 2:1-12.

The Gospel passage was read by four persons representing the four regions of the FABC. Sr Rekha Chennattu RA shared a reflection on the passage.

“The story of the Magi invites the Asian Church to see, to recognize, and to respond to the interventions of God. In this context, we may ask ourselves: when and where do we experience interventions of God? God speaks to us through the various events of our daily life. So, what is God’s message in and through the global experience of the coronavirus pandemic? What is God’s instruction as the Church is called to make a synodal journey? What is God’s dream when FABC celebrates its golden jubilee? The pandemic, more than ever before, reminds us of our inter-connectedness and interdependence as members of the human family. Pope Francis, by convoking the Synod on Synodality, invites us to be a listening Church, to make a radical shift in our mindset so that we become more attentive, more inclusive, and journey together. The Jubilee year of FABC offers a golden opportunity for us to enter into a process of renewal.”

“Lastly, how do we understand v. 12b – “And they went by another way”? In the light of the above analysis, it is reasonable to say that the Asian Church is challenged to explore new pathways for its journey forward."

"The story of the Magi invites us to consider the pandemic, the synod, and the jubilee as God’s interventions and challenges us to take new ways – to journey on different paths, to allow the Church to unfold in new and even more authentic and holier ways. Perhaps it is a call to embrace a new way of being the Asian Church."

“God calls the Church to continual renewal. Are we called to become more contemplative and interdependent, more synodal and inclusive? A more ascetic and prophetic Church? God invites us to become fully and truly an Asian Church by listening to Asian realities and embracing Asian spiritualities. We are called to journey together as peoples of Asia into the unknown, at the service of God’s mission of announcing the gospel of Jesus Christ, guided by the Holy Spirit”.

Oswald Cardinal Gracias in his address focused on the future direction of the FABC.

“To begin with, FABC will affirm and celebrate our journey thus far. The FABC was founded in response to the particular needs and challenges of the Asian Church of fifty years ago. We wanted a Church of the poor, of the young, and of dialogue: a Church for the poor, for the young and for dialogue. This goal remains relevant even today. But there have been so many big changes, so many new challenges. Hopefully, we have just exited the COVID-19 pandemic; we have new socio-political and economic tensions; a deepening migrant and climate crisis, and so on. The first few days of FABC 50 will be spent in getting to know about the situation in different countries and deliberating on the emerging realities. These challenges and realities may well disturb us. But they will not surprise us. We live with them!”

“Then we turn once again to God and search for the face of Jesus in Asia. We will seek out the Jesus that is among each of us, despite our diversity. Strengthened by our encounter with Jesus, FABC 50 will try to trace a new vision for the Church in Asia. As Church, we do not exist for ourselves, but are at the service of all the peoples of Asia as we continue to build up the Kingdom of God.”

“Our responses to the challenges today must be well-discerned, grounded in Scripture, tradition, magisterial teaching, and pastoral practice that promotes unity and sustainability in order to transform our realities in the power of the Holy Spirit (Lumen Gentium, 5). We have, therefore, dedicated the next few days of FABC 50 to workshops and plenary sessions on Church documents and characteristics of the Church in Asia so that we become and remain a prophetic, relevant and responsive Church. We discern the role of the Church for a better Asia.”

The song of Asia composed by Fr Carlos Marcelo was then played.

This was followed by the message of the Holy Father, Pope Francis, which was read by the Apostolic Nuncio to Thailand, Archbishop Paul Tachang In-Nam.

His Holiness Pope Francis wrote:

“As the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences marks the fiftieth anniversary of its establishment and inaugurated a season of spiritual preparation for the celebration of its first General Conference in October next, I send warm greetings and prayerful good wishes to you, your brother Bishops, and all taking part in this significant ecclesial event. It is my hope that the FABC 50 General Conference will renew the Churches in Asia in fraternal communion and in missionary zeal for the spread of the Gospel among the richly diverse peoples, cultures and social realities of the vast Asian continent.”

“I pray that the deliberations of the General Conference will enable your local Churches to develop, within the polyhedric unity of the People of God (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 237), creatively “different ways” to proclaim the joy of Gospel, to form new generations of missionary disciples, and to labour for the extension of Christ’s kingdom of universal holiness, justice and peace.”

“With these sentiments, I invoke upon the forthcoming assembly a rich ourpouring of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Commending you, your Brother Bishops and all those entrusted to your pastoral care to the prayers of Mary, Mother of the Church, I cordially send my blessing as a pledge of wisdom, grace and peace in the Lord” - From the Vatican, 5 June 2022 Francis

Cardinal Francis Xavier Kriengsak Kovitvanich invited all to the Litany of the Saints for Asia.

Bishop Allywn D’silva (Auxiliary Bishop, Archdiocese of Bombay) led the congregation in the prayer of the FABC 50 General Conference. Cardinal Bo, Cardinal Gracias and Cardinal Kriengsak invited the whole of Asia to join in prayer by the striking of the “gong” - a tradition that announces good news for everyone to recognise.

We look forward to the journey ahead, as the Church in Asia reflects on how it can be the Face of Jesus in these times.

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