Catholic Church leaders across Asia ended their 18-day “general conference” in Thailand on Sunday with a commitment to “positively respond to ‘both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.'”
In a message to the “Peoples of Asia,” the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) said they were “challenged by the different voices of our multifaceted continent that we hear crying out for help and justice.”
The FABC, which comprises 17 episcopal conferences and two synods of Oriental Churches in Asia aims to foster “solidarity and joint responsibility” for the Catholic Church and society in the region.
This year’s general conference, the first since the pandemic in 2020, also marked the 50th anniversary of the federation and carries the theme “Journeying together as Peoples of Asia.”
The meeting was attended by 226 lay people, consecrated men and women, priests, bishops, archbishops, major archbishops, and cardinals.
Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, FABC president, described the gathering as “a time of praying and listening.”
“We gave our ears listening to what was happening in the churches throughout Asia. We also listened to some of the realities facing not just the Church but also all of Asia,” he said.
In their statement, the Church leaders said they were able to “touch the soul of Asia” during a series of meetings and consultation that were held in the outskirts of the Thai capital from October 12 to 30.
“We were inspired by the hope, courage, and determination shown by the Churches in Asia to journey together and work with more dedicatedly for a better Asia,” read the bishops’ statement.
They said that “in prayer and in a spirit of collaboration,” they want to respond to the challenges being faced by the region “by relying on the power of love, compassion, justice, and forgiveness.”
“We believe that peace and reconciliation is the only way forward,” the said, adding that they have “envisaged new pathways for our ministry based on mutual listening and genuine discernment.”
Cardinal Bo said among the issues discussed during the meeting include concerns over “a post-pandemic Church, environmental crisis, women, youth, refugees, migrants, displaced people, family life, the poor and marginalized, digital technology, and many other related topics.”
“We also expressed concern about the rising situations of violence, religious extremism, political instability, corruption,” he said.
“The message of Christianity has always been peace … but how do we bring this peace in such a vulnerable and even volatile situation is probably in the minds of many of us,” said Cardinal Bo.
In their statement, the bishops enumerated plans and commitments, which they said were “inspired by the Gospel and by the recent teachings of Pope Francis.”
Aside from committing themselves “to reach out to the peripheries,” the Church leaders said they are also called to a “pastoral and ecological conversion.”
They also expressed their desire “to live out the spirit of complementarity and harmony by listening to others in genuine dialogue” that will result in the promotion of a culture of peace and harmony.
The bishops cited the need for a “principled engagement” with “governments, NGOs, and civic organizations on issues of human rights, eradication of poverty, human trafficking, care of the earth, and other common concerns.”
“We assure our people of this continent that the Catholic Church in Asia will always work for a better Asia and the good of all our people,” said the Church leaders.
For his part, Cardinal Bo said that as leaders of the Catholic church in the region, “we often think that we only have to go out to evangelize.”
“But we have been reminded that we too have to be ‘evangelized,'” he said.
In the end, the cardinal said it is “never easy to manage the expectations of everyone.” He said “change is never immediate but a process. But more importantly, every change requires a spark.”
“It is my hope that this general conference is that spark of inspiration for the Church of Asia,” Cardinal Bo said.
“We must guard and carry back this spark so that we can renew and revitalize the Church, as we have intended with this conference,” the cardinal said, addressing his fellow Church leaders.