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.

 

Pope Francis visits ANAK-TNK children’s home

Papal Visit pope with Anak children press release

Pope Francis with children in institution who sent their invitation through Cardinal Tagle. Photo release

Pope Francis visited children in an NGO-run institution that invited him last year through Cardinal Luis Tagle of Manila.

 

 

Quevedo: Dialogue in Asia and Francis’ dialogue

 NJ Viehland Photos

Former officials of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao greeted Archbishop Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato at a dinner celebration in Cotabato of his birthday and creation as cardinal. NJ Viehland Photos

MANILA, PHILIPPINES
It is very encouraging that we are on the right track — that we are not a church apart that thinks differently from the pope, from the universal church – Orlando Quevedo.
Full report Quevedo: Francis’, Asian church’s definitions of dialogue are the same N.J. Viehland  |  Jan. 14, 2015
Asian Family buddhist hindu catholic NJ Viehland

Congress on Asian Family with Buddhist monk, Hindu mother and Catholic evangelist Bo Sanchez. NJ Viehland Photos

ABS CBN media network pulls out “Pope Francis” shirt after CBCP warning on error

 

papal visit tshirt for sale pull out screen shotABS-CBN media network apologized Monday for offending people with a Papal Visit 2015 commemorative shirt it is selling on its online store and other retail shops.

In its statement, the mixed media network’s spokesman said it would pull out from shops the design that the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) criticized.

“ABS-CBN assures the public that there was no intent to deceive or mislead the public through the commemorative shirt that carry statements inspired by Pope Francis’ message of love, openness, and humility,” ABS-CBN spokesman Bong Osorio said.

“We apologize if a particular statement shirt offended anyone. We are pulling out the item from our online shop and all retail partner stores,” he added.

Papal Visit tshirt warning screen shot

The recalled shirts carried the slogan “No race, no religion.” It is one of four designs for commemorative shirts produced and sold by ABS CBN in celebration of Pope Francis’ apostolic and state visit to the Philippines on Jan. 15 to 19.

CBCP in a statement on Monday warned the public about t-shirts printed with words it said are “misleading” and “erroneous” in suggesting Pope Francis pronounced those words.

CBCP president Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan urged Catholics not to patronize the shirt with the words: “No race. No religion.”

The other designs include “Ganito Ako. Ganyan Ka (This is how I am. That is how you are. Who Am I To Judge,” “Thank You sa Malasakit (thank you for your compassion). Pope Francis sa Pilipinas (Pope Francis in the Philippines.”

CBCP News reports that Catholics want the “Who am I to judge?” design pulled out also. The report quotes the warning of Catholic lawyer and lay preacher Marwil N. Llasos of the Company of St. Dominic (CSD)  that the design “grossly distorts” Pope Francis’ views on gay people who seek God, and implies that the pope espouses “beliefs and principles that directly violate official Church teachings.”

 

How a “far-away” people’s theology groomed a pope for the Church of the Third Millennium

Book Review by Hector Welgampola

Francis: Life and Revolution by Elisabetta Pique

In 2013, Pope Francis issued his first apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), detailing the church's primary mission of evangelization in the modern world. / NJ Viehland Photos      [ View video on the exhortation by Rome Reports]

Pope Francis’ video message to the Philippine Conference on New Evangelization, 2013 / NJ Viehland Photos

“Francis: Life and Revolution” is more than a papal biography. Based on Jorge Bergoglio’s 76-year life and witness in his native Argentina, the book unravels the genesis of the Bergoglio papacy’s style and nuance.

With native Argentine wisdom and perspicacity of an investigative journalist, Elisabetta Pique helps readers understand the mindset of her compatriot who catapulted to the papacy as Pope Francis. Her familiarity with Argentine lore, long personal acquaintance with Padre Jorge and experience as a Vatican-based journalist have enhanced the well-documented biography with unique insights.

All the way from “Liber Pontificalis”, the papal book attributed to Saint Jerome, more often than not, papal biographies have been, a rather didactic genre of Church literature. Pique’s book, however, follows the lucid and investigative style of more recent papal biographies such as “Paul VI” authored by Peter Hebblethwaite, and “His Holiness” authored by Carl Bernstein and Marco Politi. The narrative style of this much-resourced book makes it addictively readable.

The book’s early chapters give a snapshot of the how and why of the 2013 conclave and the Argentine cardinal’s election to the papacy. Its mid-chapters are a flashback to the cleansing crucible of preceding years very appropriately designated by the author as Bergoglio’s “exile” in and outside Argentina. With uncanny candor, the book reveals the complicity or connivance of various levels of ecclesiastical leadership to thwart the Spirit’s role in grooming a future pope. Noteworthy is the harsh impact of the Sodano-Bernadini curial axis, which scarred the life of several other Third World Churches, as well.

Later on, the book evidences how the blend of a pragmatic Argentine version of people’s theology, Ignatian spirituality and intense Marian devotion sustained Bergoglio through such upheavals and local political unrest. It is reflective, if not predictive, of that blend’s potential for worldwide Church renewal under the leadership of the first pope from Latin America. The book reveals the rationale of the Holy Father’s open-minded approach to renew the Church for the still unfolding mission in the Third Millennium.

And up until now, Pope Francis has done well through the witness to Jesus-like personal austerity and evangelical simplicity he lived as archbishop of Buenos Aires. In recalling the extent of his practical commitment to ecumenism and interreligious dialogue, the book cites how his home for elderly priests cared even for Protestant pastors. “If we have to sell chalices, we’ll sell them,” the future pope is reported to have said while providing for a priest with multiple sclerosis.

No wonder the book describes Pope Francis as a tsunami. Even if curialists may not fear for the treasures of the Vatican, the book indicates that some of them worry about his keenness for curial reform. And so, perceptive Catholics worldwide eagerly watch his Francis-like zeal for ecclesia semper reformanda. As the cliche goes, even if the grinding be slow, it will grind exceedingly small, they hope.

However, as realized by some of his predecessors, ridding a two-millennia-old institution of layers of corrosive accretions is not easy. Hebblethwaite’s earlier cited biography of Blessed Paul VI has a prophetic line: “Montini, the first modern pope, tried to be the first Christian pope after (now Saint) Pope John. It broke him.” Like Bergoglio, Montini too had weathered his own “exile” after being packed off to Milan by curial intervention. But the papacy broke him. He ceased writing encyclicals after Humanae Vitae.

As embers of the Humanae Vitae debate emerge in-between the Rome synods on family, some sniping too has become evident. For example, a comment on a recent issue of the Catholic World Report made insinuative remarks about Pope Francis’ origin from “a destitute part of the world” where people are “poorly educated,” it alleged. Nonetheless, Elisabetta Pique’s book offers hope that such Third World origin itself has steeled the Holy Father with Francis-like faith and grit to “rebuild” the Church for the Third Millennium.

The book ends with two somber questions: One: will Pope Francis follow the trend set by Pope Benedict XVI and retire after a limited term of office? The other and more ominous question: will he be assassinated? Both are not unfounded questions, and are backed with quotes from concerned persons. And as the Holy Father prepares to travel longer distances and to trouble spots like Sri Lanka, greater would be people’s concern for his safety. The prayer call the sports-loving pope made six months ago to some athletes in Rome could be heeded by us too: “Pray for me that I may be able to play this game till the day that the Lord calls me to himself.” 

Perhaps, now is the time to revive the old papal anthem and sing with fervor: “God bless our pope, the great, the good!”

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.

 

Pope Francis Mass for Peace and Reconciliation in Korea – Full Text

Bridge and mountains at Yosemite National Park. - NJ Viehland Photos

Bridge and mountains at Yosemite National Park. – NJ Viehland Photos

I ask you, as ambassadors of Christ and ministers of his reconciling love (cf. 2 Cor 5:18-20), to continue to build bridges of respect, trust and harmonious cooperation in your parishes, among yourselves, and with your bishops. – Pope Francis

Full text of Pope Francis’ homily at the Mass for Peace and Reconciliation

Myeong-dong Cathedral, Seoul

August 18, 2014

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

As my stay in Korea draws to a close, I thank God for the many blessings he has bestowed upon this beloved country, and in a special way, upon the Church in Korea. Among those blessings I especially treasure the experience we have all had in these recent days of the presence of so many young pilgrims from throughout Asia. Their love of Jesus and their enthusiasm for the spread of his Kingdom have been an inspiration to us all.

My visit now culminates in this celebration of Mass, in which we implore from God the grace of peace and reconciliation. This prayer has a particular resonance on the Korean peninsula. Today’s Mass is first and foremost a prayer for reconciliation in this Korean family. In the Gospel, Jesus tells us how powerful is our prayer when two or three of us join in asking for something (cf. Mt 18:19-20). How much more when an entire people raises its heartfelt plea to heaven!

The first reading presents God’s promise to restore to unity and prosperity a people dispersed by disaster and division. For us, as for the people of Israel, this is a promise full of hope: it points to a future which God is even now preparing for us. Yet this promise is inseparably tied to a command: the command to return to God and wholeheartedly obey his law (cf. Dt 30:2-3). God’s gifts of reconciliation, unity and peace are inseparably linked to the grace of conversion, a change of heart which can alter the course of our lives and our history, as individuals and as a people.

At this Mass, we naturally hear this promise in the context of the historical experience of the Korean people, an experience of division and conflict which has lasted for well over sixty years. But God’s urgent summons to conversion also challenges Christ’s followers in Korea to examine the quality of their own contribution to the building of a truly just and humane society. It challenges each of you to reflect on the extent to which you, as individuals and communities, show evangelical concern for the less fortunate, the marginalized, those without work and those who do not share in the prosperity of the many. And it challenges you, as Christians and Koreans, firmly to reject a mindset shaped by suspicion, confrontation and competition, and instead to shape a culture formed by the teaching of the Gospel and the noblest traditional values of the Korean people.

In today’s Gospel, Peter asks the Lord: “If my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” To which the Lord replies: “Not seven times, I tell you, but seventy times seven” (Mt 18:21-22). These words go to the very heart of Jesus’ message of reconciliation and peace. In obedience to his command, we ask our heavenly Father daily to forgive us our sins, “as we forgive those who sin against us”. Unless we are prepared to do this, how can we honestly pray for peace and reconciliation?

Jesus asks us to believe that forgiveness is the door which leads to reconciliation. In telling us to forgive our brothers unreservedly, he is asking us to do something utterly radical, but he also gives us the grace to do it. What appears, from a human perspective, to be impossible, impractical and even at times repugnant, he makes possible and fruitful through the infinite power of his cross. The cross of Christ reveals the power of God to bridge every division, to heal every wound, and to reestablish the original bonds of brotherly love.

This, then, is the message which I leave you as I conclude my visit to Korea. Trust in the power of Christ’s cross! Welcome its reconciling grace into your own hearts and share that grace with others! I ask you to bear convincing witness to Christ’s message of forgiveness in your homes, in your communities and at every level of national life. I am confident that, in a spirit of friendship and cooperation with other Christians, with the followers of other religions, and with all men and women of good will concerned for the future of Korean society, you will be a leaven of the Kingdom of God in this land. Thus our prayers for peace and reconciliation will rise to God from ever more pure hearts and, by his gracious gift, obtain that precious good for which we all long.

Let us pray, then, for the emergence of new opportunities for dialogue, encounter and the resolution of differences, for continued generosity in providing humanitarian assistance to those in need, and for an ever greater recognition that all Koreans are brothers and sisters, members of one family, one people.

Before leaving Korea, I wish to thank the President of Republic, the civil and ecclesiastical authorities and all those who in any way helped to make this visit possible. I especially wish to address a word of personal appreciation to the priests of Korea, who daily labor in the service of the Gospel and the building up of God’s people in faith, hope and love. I ask you, as ambassadors of Christ and ministers of his reconciling love (cf. 2 Cor 5:18-20), to continue to build bridges of respect, trust and harmonious cooperation in your parishes, among yourselves, and with your bishops. Your example of unreserved love for the Lord, your faithfulness and dedication to your ministry, and your charitable concern for those in need, contribute greatly to the work of reconciliation and peace in this country.

Dear brothers and sisters, God calls us to return to him and to hearken to his voice, and he promises to establish us on the land in even greater peace and prosperity than our ancestors knew. May Christ’s followers in Korea prepare for the dawning of that new day, when this land of the morning calm will rejoice in God’s richest blessings of harmony and peace! Amen.

[as published in NEWS.VA]