Flashback: Why Pope Francis’ supposed “revolution” isn’t new for some in Asia

By NJ Viehland

AMOR, NJ Viehland

Religious women postulants offer flowers at Mass at 2013 AMOR meeting in Tagaytay City, Philippines/ NJ Viehland Photos

Taking renewal in the Church as the overarching theme of its structure, reflection and activities through the past four decades, the FABC has drafted what Father Arevalo calls a “map for evangelization in Asia.”

        

NCR PCNE tagle arevalo by NJ Viehland

Father Catalino Arevalo (right) with Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila at the 2013 Philippine Congress on the New Evangelization in Manila / NJ Viehland Photos

 MANILA — “It’s a new world,” Jesuit Father Catalino Arevalo, premier theologian of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC), says 40 years after the Catholic association was formally established.

         Retracing the FABC’s journey in an interview at Loyola House of Studies in Quezon City, he marveled at how “the average Catholic person today with all the new media is very different from the ordinary Catholic person when I was a young priest at 40 in 1960.”

         He said he never imagined that people in the mountains of Bukidnon province would see the multi-awarded Grammy winner Lady Gaga on television nor the Philippine popular artists as they performed more than 560 miles northwest in Manila. In his view, this reflects a similar situation in many Asian nations.

         In bringing the Gospel to the peoples of Asia, “we are like Jesus and the first disciples,” said the priest who has advised Asian Church and other leaders. “We have to start anew.”

FABC, Mapping Evangelization in Modern Asia

          More than 50 presidents and delegates of the 19-member bishops’ conferences (were to be) guided by this same spirit of renewal and vision of evangelization when they gathered in Vietnam for the Tenth FABC Plenary Assembly (X FABC Plenary Assembly) Nov. 19-25, 2012 , [1] the latest of such assemblies. They represented local Churches stretching from Kazakhstan in Central Asia to East Timor (Timor Leste) in Southeast Asia. The theme of that year’s assembly was: “FABC at Forty Years – Responding to the Challenges of Asia: The New Evangelization.” 

         The delegates were joined by resource persons as well as observers from the Vatican, other continental bishops’ groups and funding agencies, all accompanying the bishops as they reflected on opportunities and pastoral challenges that society presents the Church in Asia in the 21st century.

         The FABC plenary assembly, held every four years, usually brings together about 100 bishop-delegates with about the same number of resource persons to study a particular theme, pray together and draft a statement at the meeting’s close.

X FABC group picture

Xth FABC Plenary Assembly in Xuan Loc, Vietnam, Dec. 2012 / NJ Viehland Photos

         The working document for the event invited the delegates to discern how the Church can spread the Gospel in societies of Asia impacted by dynamics triggered by globalization, cultural diversity, poverty and many other factors. They will also try to take account of concerns such as: migrants and refugees, indigenous peoples, population, religious freedom, threats to life, social communications, ecology, laity, women, youth, Pentecostalism and vocations.

         The Holy See approved the statutes of the FABC in 1972. This voluntary association of bishops’ conferences in South, Southeast, East and Central Asia was formed “to foster among its members solidarity and co-responsibility for the welfare of Church and society in Asia, and to promote and defend whatever is for the greater good.” 

        Since the start, Father Arevalo has served as a resource person, writing adviser and theological consultant for the FABC. Bishops who pioneered the federation were just settling back in their dioceses after the close of the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II, 1962-1965). They forged their plans for the FABC as local Churches in Asia grappled with questions on how to spread the Gospel in a “new world” being born after the colonial period

        Taking renewal in the Church as the overarching theme of its structure, reflection and activities through the past four decades, the FABC has drafted what Father Arevalo calls a “map for evangelization in Asia.”

Local Church

         “The FABC already made a general map of evangelization in Asia” in the 1970s, Father Arevalo pointed out, and its primary agent has always been the local Church.

          When Asian bishops came to Manila during the visit of Pope Paul VI in 1970, they met to discuss setting up a permanent structure by which Asian Church leaders could gather regularly to share their experiences and develop among themselves what local Churches could do to bring the realities of Vatican II to life in Asia. “Local Church” refers to the Church in each country, Father Arevalo explained, and the FABC gatherings were envisioned to “begin with bishops, but not just bishops.”

         Among those who gathered in 1970 were several prelates who would be instrumental in bringing the FABC to life, including Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan of Korea, Cardinal Valerian Gracias of India and Cardinal Justinus Darmojuwono of Indonesia, as well as Archbishop Mariano Gaviola of the Philippines and Bishop Francis Hsu of Hong Kong.

         In 1971, Bishop Hsu convened a meeting in Hong Kong for the presidents of 13 episcopal conferences, a gathering that would become the FABC Central Committee. Today, 19 episcopal conferences in Asia are FABC members : Bangladesh, East Timor, India – CBCI (Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India), India – Syro-Malabar, India – Syro-Malankara, India – Latin Rite, Indonesia, Japan, Kazakhstan, Korea, Laos-Cambodia, Malaysia-Singapore-Brunei, Myanmar, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Taiwan (ROC), Thailand and Vietnam. The newest member is the bishops’ conference of East Timor, which was launched just this year. Previously, the youngest member was the Bishops’ Conference of Kazakhstan, which officially joined the FABC in 2008.

         The FABC also has associate members in nine Asian places that have no episcopal conference. Three are dioceses: Hong Kong and Macau in China, and Novosibirsk in eastern Russia. Four other associate members are in Central Asia: Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. The remaining two are Mongolia and Nepal.

         In India, four distinct episcopal conferences belong to the federation. The bishops’ conference of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church and that of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church represent the Oriental rite, while the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India represents the Catholic Church of the Latin rite. CBCI, the general body for the whole country, was among the FABC’s founding members.

         The first FABC plenary assembly in 1974 brought hundreds of bishops together in Taipei. The statement and recommendations they issued under the title “Evangelization in Modern Day Asia” spell out the perspective of the Asian context, as well as the FABC vision and approach to evangelization in the region.

         The statement stresses that the local Church immediately and primarily must be the agent, the subject of evangelization, in contemporary Asia. Father Arevalo elaborated that instead of always waiting for instructions from Rome on exactly what to do, “The Vatican Council already said it is time now for each of the local Churches to reflect and define how they see and how they prioritize the work that they must do.” Even so, he added, the FABC has always acknowledged that local Church activity would always work together with Rome.

         “It’s just like a man and a woman who are married now,” he continued. “Must they ask their grandmother or grandfather what they do each day of their lives? No. They get advice and direction from the grandfather or the grandmother, but it’s their responsibility to know what they must do with their own family, following with fidelity what their grandparents taught them also. So that’s the meaning of the local Church’s priority of responsibility.”

Part 2 Triple Dialogue

[Written for a project: 40 Years of FABC, September 12, 2012]

[1] The Xth FABC Plenary Assembly was actually held Dec. 10-16, 2012 to make way for a surprise consistory then Pope Benedict XVI set for Nov. 24 to create new cardinals, including Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila.

published with permission, FABC Office of Social Communication Executive Secretary

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One thought on “Flashback: Why Pope Francis’ supposed “revolution” isn’t new for some in Asia

  1. Pingback: Why Pope Francis’ supposed “revolution” isn’t new for some in Asia, Part 2 | Catholic in Asia

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