Pope Francis on Wednesday, October 12, urged Asian Catholic bishops who are gathered in Thailand for their general conference to recognize the important role of lay people in the Church.
The pontiff told the Asian Church leaders to “let the laity assume their baptism (and) their function as laypersons.”
Marking the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC), more than 150 bishops from across Asia are meeting in Bangkok from October 12–30.
In his message, Pope Francis said that since the establishment of the federation, the Church in Asia “was being called to be more authentically the Church of the poor” and “the Church of the young.”
He said the Asian Church is also supposed to be “in dialogue with fellow Asians of other denominations.”
The pope said that during the establishment of the FABC in 1970, the people in Asia “were awakening from fatalism to a life worthy of man.”
“[T]he young people were also awakening, they were idealistic, aware, concerned, impatient and restless; culturally diverse societies were awakening to become a true community of peoples,” said Pope Francis.
The FABC is a voluntary association of episcopal conferences that aims to foster among its members solidarity and co-responsibility for the welfare of Church and society in Asia.
Pope Francis said he wished “in some way to accompany you in the work of fraternity and exchange of ideas that you will carry out.”
He urged the gathering of the region’s Church leaders in Thailand to answer the question of what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Churches in Asia today.
“Go forward, let the laity assume their baptism, their function as laypersons, and let the singularity of each one be respected, because the universal Church is not the uniform Church, no: she is universal, with respect for the particularity of every Church,” said the pontiff in his message.
Challenge to Asian Church
Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon, FABC president, said in his address at the start of the meeting on Wednesday, October 12, that “the baton of interpreting Christ to the modern man and woman … passes on to Asia.”
With the notable exception of the People’s Republic of China, most Asian countries today are members of the FABC.
Pope Francis said that the gathering of the region’s Church leaders this month shows that the Church was “forming; it is strengthening on the way.”
The celebrations marking FABC’s anniversary, initially planned for the year 2020, had to be postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The gathering now underway has the theme “FABC 50: Journeying together as peoples of Asia ‘…and they went a different way’” (Matthew 2:12).
In an earlier message to Cardinal Bo, Pope Francis said this theme was “most fitting” within the broader context of the upcoming Synod on Synodality.
“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 creatively ‘different ways’ to proclaim the joy of the Gospel, to form new generations of missionary disciples, and to labor for the extension of Christ’s kingdom of universal holiness, justice, and peace,” the pope said.
The two-week FABC general conference opened in Bangkok on Wednesday, October 12, with celebrations hosted by the Church and the government of Thailand.
“The Archdiocese of Bangkok, the Catholic community of Thailand and our friends, extend the warmest welcome to all the delegates of the FABC’s general conference,” read a statement from the organizing body in the Thai capital.
“We proudly and joyously join in the celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the FABC and pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit for the success of this historic conference,” it added.
Thailand’s Minister of Culture Itthiphol Kunplome, Cardinal Francis Xavier Kriengsak Kovitvanich, archbishop of Bangkok, and Bishop Joseph Chusak Sirisuth, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Thailand, welcomed the participants.
The gathering aims to “reaffirm, renew and revitalize” the Catholic Church in Asia under the theme: Journeying Together As Peoples of Asia, which is inspired by the scripture “then they went another way.”
Italian Catholic news agency Fides reported that some key questions will be asked during the conference, including how the Church in Asia continue to be “Good News” in under “emerging realities.”
“How can the FABC serve and support the bishops and their episcopal conferences in Asia? How can Catholic communities on the continent contribute to a better Asia?” said the report.
The gathering will witness a “multicultural picture” of prayers and hymns that will be sung in Asian languages.
With the usual reflections and group work for the bishops, special events have been planned, such as a “Talk Show with Asia” where believers from all over Asia participate in a videoconference.
The life and pastoral activity of 14 selected parishes in different Asian nations will also be shared with those present, with a “virtual visit” of the bishops, who will meet online with the faithful of the specific local community.
The FABC is a voluntary association of episcopal conferences in Asia that was established with the approval of the Holy See. Its aim is to foster among its members solidarity and co-responsibility for the welfare of Church and society in Asia.
FABC members include Church leaders from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kazakhstan, Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Taiwan, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Timor-Leste, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Thailand, China and its special administrative regions — Macao and Hong Kong. – with reports from Fides and CNA