Will Pope Francis’ visits awaken the Asian Church? – Commentary

By: Hector Welgampola

Within the first 22 months of his papacy, Pope Francis has gone on pilgrimage to the Churches in three Asian countries: South Korea, Sri Lanka and the Philippines. As part of a fast awakening vast continent, these countries represent three religio-cultural streams and three varied socio-political realities.

Over recent months, and especially since his return form Colombo and Manila, the Holy Father’s words and actions have evidenced the impact of such exposure to vignettes of Asia’s rich plurality. More than any of the three predecessors who went on pilgrimage to Churches worldwide, Pope Francis keeps recapping and interpreting such pastoral experiences. Just as Saint John wrote the Apocalypse to the Churches in Asia, Pope Francis is using the Asian revelation to enunciate his Francisocalypse.

While enhancing the catholicity of papal teaching with Assisian aura, his spontaneity and off-the-cuff theologizing continue to endear him today to a broader church beyond traditional borders. No wonder, while on pilgrimage, often he went beyond limits set by tour planners as much as he ignored the drafts of papal speechwriters. More important than scheduled speeches were hisfrom-the-heart interventions. Far more significant than diplomacy-imposed hobnobbing with politicians and fraternizing with prelates were his Jesus-like skirmishes “into the multitude.” Quite unsurprisingly, they all jived together as a passionate pastoral embrace of the needy and the suffering.

Pope Francis korea

He first visited Asia to attend the 6th Asian Youth Day in Daejeon, South Korea. And while there, he brought alive the theology of Eucharistic sharing and solidarity by grieving with Koreans mourning youths killed in the 2014 ferry disaster.

During his visit to Sri Lanka, he travelled to Madhu Marian Shrine on the Northern border to pray with and console survivors and mourners deeply affected by the country’s 30-year ethnic war. On the Philippine pilgrimage, the Holy Father braved very stormy weather to visit and embrace Tacloban residents grieving the impact of Typhoon Yolanda. His outreach of pastoral presence radiated Jesus.

Papal Visit pope with Anak children press release

Contributed photo of Pope Francis with street children at Anak-TNK center.

Such intimate encounters and empathy with the suffering and afflicted endure in people’s memory as a fatherly outreach. Their healing impact may even wipe out bad memories of papal galas or exorcising handshakes with corrupt politicians. And it was encouraging to read that Asian Church leaders have learned from the example set by the Holy Father.

Cardinal Oswald Gracias,of Mumbai led the 10th Plenary Assembly of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences in Vietnam Dec. 2012, NJ Viehland Photos

According to a media report, Indian Cardinal Oswald Gracias has admitted that the papal visits to Asia have given a big boost to the “self-confidence” of the Asian Church. The cardinal, president of the Asian bishops’ federation, has said that the pope’s example will encourage the Asian Church to take forward the mission to the poor. Such enthusiasm rekindles hope of a renewed outreach to people harried by multiple forms of poverty and deprivation.

HFSB, Sorsogon,contributed

Sri Lankan Sr. Bernie De Silva, HFSB, leads seminar for fishermen in Sorsogon [contributed photo, HFSB]

In fact, just like Pope Francis’ own home Church in Latin America, the Asian Church used to be a pioneer in social apostolate and outreach to the poor, a few decades ago. Committed social apostles such as Japanese Cardinal Fumio Hamao, Korean Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan, Filipino Bishops Julio Labayen and Francisco Claver and Japanese Sister Filo Hirota were among stalwarts of the Asian bishops’ Office of Human Development (OHD). A few still survive in ecclesiastical backwoods. Although that office is struggling for survival today, hopefully, the grace of papal visits may herald a new springtime!

May the pope’s Gospel witness be a new Revelation even to latter-day Church leaders dismissive of pro-poor movements such as OHD and shift focus from regional commitment by withdrawing into juridical ghettos. The lived witness of the pope’s Asian pilgrimages is further affirmed by his Lenten message 2015, which urges Christians to overcome the scandal of globalized indifference. Time to live that message!

END

Hector Welgampola
welgampo@gmail.com

Hector Welgampola

Veteran Asian Church journalist Hector Welgampola from Sri Lanka has retired as Executive Editor of the former Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN) based in Hong Kong, then Bangkok. Before UCAN, Hector headed editorial teams of newspapers in Sri Lanka. Since retiring Hector has lived in Australia with his wife, Rita. He authored the resource book Asian Church Glossary and Stylebook.

 

Catholic in Asia, don’t stop at baptism

Bishop Claver baptizes Aaron Viehland NJ Viehland

Bishop Francisco Clave baptizes Aaron / NJ Viehland Photos

Francisco F. Claver, S.J. (20 January 1926 – 1 July 2010) was a Filipino Jesuit priest, appointed and consecrated first bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Malaybalay in the Philippines.  He was the first member of the Igorot ethnic groups in the northern Philippines to be made a bishop. 

Claver completed a masters degree in Anthropology in the Ateneo de Manila and finished his doctorate in the University of Colorado. Ordained to the priesthood on 18 June 1961, he was appointed as the bishop of what is now the Malaybalay Diocese on 18 June 1969 and was consecrated on 22 August 1969. Claver resigned in 1984, but was appointed Apostolic Vicar of the Apostolic Vicariate of Bontac-Lagawe, Philippines. He retired on 15 April 2004.

Much talk about Church renewal and change today under Pope Francis’ reform movement echoes some of Bishop Claver’s ideas articulated decades ago. In particular, he has asserted that lay people need to reform also. It is not enough for Church members to be baptized and take part in Sacraments. Laity need also to participate in leadership roles for the change that needs to happen. They are not only subjects who will be affected by change, but also key players who will effect the change.

Bishop Claver “Ikoy” was born in the province of Bontoc, Mountain Province and was one of the most influential people of the Cordilleras and courageous leader against martial law. In his activities and writings, he has emphasized the importance of a participatory Church that is necessary in carrying out the aggiornamento called for by the Second Vatican Council. For him, the Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs) or the Basic Christian Communities (BCCs) are the primary and particular embodiment and vehicles of participation and Church renewal. He died in Manila on July 1, 2010.

 

 

Philippine Bishops and Elections

By: N.J. Viehland

Andrew Pearson’s video on The evolution of the bishops wherein late Jesuit Father James Reuter shares his views and opinions revisits  a period which many voters in the May 13 general elections did not experience.

It recalls how the government of ousted president Ferdinand Marcos pushed bishops to speak out against an “immoral” regime, and rally people to examine their consciences, pray, discern and act to stop what is wrong and enable what is good.

Bishops Antonio Fortich and Francisco Claver, who Fr. Reuter described as “progressive”  have both passed away.

In this period of “restored democracy”,  what does the Church in the Philippines need and who are the next generation bishops who will guide Filipinos to think, feel and act as Christ did in their day-to-day community life ?

Catholic Bishops of the Philippines pray the Our Father at the funeral Mass for Bishop Francisco Claver at the Jesuit Loyola House of Studies seminary chapel in 2010. / N.J. Viehland Photo

Catholic Bishops of the Philippines pray the Our Father at the funeral Mass for Bishop Francisco Claver at the Jesuit Loyola House of Studies seminary chapel in 2010. – N.J. Viehland Photos