As we bring the FABC 50 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.” 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 consultation prior to the Conference, the various committees who made sure the proceedings provided a space, a sacred space, for discerning God’s action in God’s people, the experts, the guests, the Bishop-delegates, the wonderful people of Bangkok and Thailand, the Royal Thai Government and the hardworking 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. Our Blessed Mother, the angels and saints, especially the Saints of Asia, have been our constant companions too.
Journeying Together as Peoples of Asia, “and they went a different way” (Mt 2). This has been the theme, the experience and the future of the general Conference convened to celebrate the foundation of the FABC 50 years ago. Then, now, and in the future there is no other path for FABC but to journey together. We might think or ask: yes, we need to journey together. That is life. That is mission. In many Asian cultures, life is often likened to a journey. But why together? And if we really have to do it together, how can we do it together? Our readings for this Sunday’s Mass, especially the Gospel, point us the way. I have three points to share with you.
The first point. Jesus was on a journey. “Jesus came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town.” He “intended to pass.” There he encountered Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector and a wealthy man, probably amassing wealth through dishonest conduct. Jesus told Zacchaeus, “Come down quickly for today I must stay at your house.” I must stay at your house. Jesus intended to pass through the town. Look at the words used: Intended! Must! He also said, “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save who was lost.” Jesus wills the journey. Jesus intends to go to the house of Zacchaeus. Jesus chooses him as a companion on his journey. Journeying together must be intended, chosen and willed. We cannot leave it to chance. We cannot be indifferent to it. I will journey with you. We will journey together. I intend this. I seek this. We intend this. We seek this.
The second point. Who did Jesus choose as a partner or companion on the journey? Not the purest, not the most upright, not the blameless, not the one who will make him more acceptable to people, not the one who belonged to his circle. He chose Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector, considered a traitor to his people for he collaborated with occupying oppressive forces. Zacchaeus is someone nobody wants to journey with. You will ruin your name by walking with Zacchaeus. But there is a good spot in his heart. He wants to see Jesus. He climbs a sycamore tree because he is small in stature in order to see Jesus, but probably also so that others will not see him. He can see but not will be seen. Surprise! Jesus sees him and commands him to come down quickly, to show his face to the crowd and to walk with him to his house. Jesus will enter his house, his heart, his wounds, his shame and bring all of it to their common journey.
God wants us to journey with those who might differ from us, with those who are hiding from other people, the isolated, the friendless, the despised, the shamed, the unseen, those in dark alleys and slums, those crossing mountains, rivers and hills in the dark of night so no one would see them, and also those hidden in high political, financial and military offices. God wants the Church in Asia to journey with the poor, depressed and marginalized, the refugees, migrants, displaced and indigenous people, the wounded and exploited earth, the youth, the women and the families. We will walk together as we together face rejection, extremism, threats to life, violence, conflicts, the ambivalence of the digital revolution and our neighbor religions and cultures.
The third point. What type of journeying together will it be? Where is its destination? With Jesus it will be a journey of mercy and compassion, not of condemnation; of patience, not of destruction. It is a journey that ends in the land of justice and charity. Zacchaeus finally felt treated as a human being. Jesus called him a son of Abraham. Accepted as human with a face and dignity, he began to see the poor and those he had hurt as human too. He would repay those he might have defrauded beyond the demands of justice. Half of his belongings he would give to the poor. They have become his brothers, sisters and partners in his unfolding journey in life.
Journeying Together as Peoples of Asia and “they went a different way” (Mt 2). Jesus shows us the different way – different from ways that disturb communion and sow division, different from ways that keep other people unseen and non-existent, different from ways that show no mercy towards neighbors. Jesus is The Way and shows a different way. He promised that he will be with us until the end of time. We will never be alone in our journey. He is Emmanuel, God with us, forever. Let us walk with Him. And like Jesus let us walk with each other and the peoples of Asia.
I am certain that Pope Francis would love to address to you the words of Saint Paul, “Brothers and sisters, we always pray for you, that God may make you worthy of his calling and powerfully being 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, in accord with the grace of our God and Lord Jesus Christ”. Amen.