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.

 

Advent in Vietnam during the 10th FABC Plenary Assembly 2012

N. J. Viehland Photos

 

A symbol of the Star of Bethlehem hanging around Xuan Loc Pastoral Complex remind delegates and guests attending activities of the 10th Plenary Assembly of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences about the meaning of Advent, the season during which the assembly commemorating the 40th anniversary of effectivity of FABC's Statutes and studying together challenges to the Church in Asia. (N. J. Viehland Photo)

A symbol of the Star of Bethlehem hanging around Xuan Loc Pastoral Complex remind delegates and guests attending activities of the 10th Plenary Assembly of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences about the meaning of Advent, the season during which the assembly commemorating the 40th anniversary of effectivity of FABC’s Statutes and studying together challenges to the Church in Asia. (N. J. Viehland Photo)

Indian Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai led the opening Eucharist for the 10th Plenary Assembly of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences (FABC) . The statutes of the voluntary association of episcopal conferences in South, Southeast, East and Central Asia was approved by the Holy See on Nov. 16, 1972. The federation has been created 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. Filipino Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales served as Pope Benedict XVI's official representative to the assembly whose activities were held in Xuan Loc and Ho Chi Minh City from Dec. 10-16. (N.J. Viehland Photo)

Indian Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai led the opening Eucharist for the 10th Plenary Assembly of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) . The statutes of the voluntary association of episcopal conferences in South, Southeast, East and Central Asia was approved by the Holy See on Nov. 16, 1972. The federation has been created 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. Filipino Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales served as Pope Benedict XVI’s official representative to the assembly whose activities were held in Xuan Loc and Ho Chi Minh City from Dec. 10-16. (N.J. Viehland Photo)

Filipino Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales (in front), Archbishop Emeritus of Manila was welcomed by a drum and bugle corps and a reception line stretching through the main roads of Xuan Loc Pastoral Complex in the diocese east of Ho Chi Minh City on Dec. 11, 2012, after he delivered his address citing Pope Benedict XVI's message to the 10th Plenary Assembly of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences (FABC). He is accompanied by Assistant of the Papal Legate Father Marcelino Antonio M. Maralit, Jr. (N.J. Viehland Photo)

Filipino Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales (in front), Archbishop Emeritus of Manila was welcomed by a drum and bugle corps and a reception line stretching through the main roads of Xuan Loc Pastoral Complex in the diocese east of Ho Chi Minh City on Dec. 11, 2012, after he delivered his address citing Pope Benedict XVI’s message to the 10th Plenary Assembly of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC). He is accompanied by Assistant of the Papal Legate Father Marcelino Antonio M. Maralit, Jr. (N.J. Viehland Photo)

The Grand Chapel is one of five chapels on the block of buildings in Xuan Loc Pastoral complex where Saint Joseph Seminary stands. The seminary's introductory booklet says this chapel is built in the shape of three rice buds indicating the impending rich harvest of the Church. In front of the chapel Vietnamese Catholics, mostly from Xuan Loc diocese, lined the pastoral complex road to welcome bishops and other delegates from around Asia, the Vatican and other continents, at the opening of the 10th Plenary Assembly of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conference on Dec. 11, 2012. (N. J. Viehland Photo)

The Grand Chapel is one of five chapels on the block of buildings in Xuan Loc Pastoral complex where Saint Joseph Seminary stands. The seminary’s introductory booklet says this chapel is built in the shape of three rice buds indicating the impending rich harvest of the Church. In front of the chapel Vietnamese Catholics, mostly from Xuan Loc diocese, lined the pastoral complex road to welcome bishops and other delegates from around Asia, the Vatican and other continents, at the opening of the 10th Plenary Assembly of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conference on Dec. 11, 2012. (N. J. Viehland Photo)

Xuan Loc was created in 1965 from places under the pastoral care of Ho Chi Minh City archdiocese. In 2010, more than 35 percent of the 2.34 million people living in the diocese had been baptized Catholics. Today, more than 1,700 women religious are helping in Church ministries diocesan officials say. Many of them contributed to discussions, services and operations in support of the 10th Plenary Assembly of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences Dec. 10-16, 2012. (N. J. Viehland Photo)

Xuan Loc was created in 1965 from places under the pastoral care of Ho Chi Minh City archdiocese. In 2010, more than 35 percent of the 2.34 million people living in the diocese had been baptized Catholics. Today, more than 1,700 women religious are helping in Church ministries diocesan officials say. Many of them contributed to discussions, services and operations in support of the 10th Plenary Assembly of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences Dec. 10-16, 2012. (N. J. Viehland Photo)

Philippines Archbishop Jose Palma was among 13 presidents of Catholic Bishops Conferences in Asia who joined the 10th Plenary Assembly of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences in Xuan Loc and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam Dec. 10-16, 2012. (N. J. Viehland Photo)

Philippines Archbishop Jose Palma was among 13 presidents of Catholic Bishops Conferences in Asia who joined the 10th Plenary Assembly of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences in Xuan Loc and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam Dec. 10-16, 2012. (N. J. Viehland Photo)

Participants, including Ursuline Sister Mary Walter Santer processed from the Xuan Loc diocesan offices building to the auditorium for the opening of the 10th Plenary Assembly of the Federation of the Asian Bishops' Conferences (FABC) on Dec. 11, 2012. Sister Santer was honored at the assembly for her long-time service as Executive Secretary of the FABC Office of Consecrated Life, a post now held by Religious of the Assumption Sister Deanna Maria Villavert Combong. (N. J. Viehland photo)

Participants, including Ursuline Sister Mary Walter Santer processed from the Xuan Loc diocesan offices building to the auditorium for the opening of the 10th Plenary Assembly of the Federation of the Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) on Dec. 11, 2012. Sister Santer was honored at the assembly for her long-time service as Executive Secretary of the FABC Office of Consecrated Life, a post now held by Religious of the Assumption Sister Deanna Maria Villavert Combong. (N. J. Viehland photo)

On Friday, December 14, the plenary hall during the evening prayer filled with voices of hope singing:

“Waiting in silence, waiting in hope; We are your people, we long for you, Lord. God ever with us, Emmanuel, Come, Lord Jesus, Maranatha! –  “Waiting in Silence” by Carey Landry

Reports from the FABC plenary assembly are posted on the FABC’s website with photos on the website Gallery