Asian bishops, youth pitch in to build, renew Church

Indian Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai, Secretary General of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences (FABC) walking during the welcome procession for delegates of the X FABC Plenary Assembly in Xuan Loc Pastoral Center compound Dec. 11, 2012. - N.J. Viehland Photos

Indian Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai, President of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) greets Vietnamese welcome team during the procession for delegates of the X FABC Plenary Assembly on opening day, Dec. 11, 2012 in Xuan Loc Pastoral Center complex. – N.J. Viehland Photos

[updated Aug. 18, 2014, 1:15 pm] 

Indian Cardinal Oswald Gracias of  Mumbai (Bombay), who serves in the 9-member Council of Cardinal Advisers Pope Francis established in April 2013, carries out official tasks in the 6th Asian Youth Day (AYD) that closes near Haemi Castle, South Korea today because he is also President of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC).

The Youth Desk of the decades-old voluntary association of Bishops’ conferences in the continent has coordinated the overall AYD events since the gathering of youth ministers and Catholic youth in Asia was launched in the 1990s. The host for AYD, however, serves as the team coordinating implementation of activities and events, explained Father Ramond O’Toole, a Scarboro missionary priest who serves as FABC’s Secretary General.

Cardinal Gracias was to address several of the events during the Korea visit, including AYD’s Aug. 15 Mass at 6:30 a.m. when he was to deliver the homily, Father O’Toole told Catholic in Asia on Aug. 10.

“The cardinal will also speak when the Holy Father meets with the Asian Bishops, and also at the closing mass of AYD to thank the Holy Father and to announce the venue of the next AYD,” FABC’s Secretary General added. Both of these events are scheduled today.

Manila Archbishop Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle who has chaired the FABC’s Office of Theological Concerns since 2007, Hong Kong’s bishop Cardinal John TongHon, the only Chinese cardinal to be born in Hong Kong, and a host of other bishops serving as presidents of bishops’ conferences in their countries, as heads of various dioceses around the region, or in the Vatican are also expected to join the pope’s meeting with Asian bishops.

For AYD, however, Archbishop Patrick D’Rozario of Dhaka, Bangladesh, Bishop Chairman of the Office of Laity and Family (OLF) will represent the FABC Youth Desk, which comes under OLF. Filipino Bishop Joel Baylon of Legazpi, member of OLF responsible for Youth Desk, and Bangladeshi Fr. Patrick Simon Gomes FABC Youth Desk Secretary also form part of the FABC’s delegation to AYD 2014.

Father O’Toole who is now with the FABC team in Korea had told Catholic in Asia organizers invited 2,000 people from across Asia to attend Youth Day activities, “but with the Pope’s visit, this number may increase.” 

A report from the British Broadcasting Company (BBC), for example, estimated a crowd of 6,000 youths joined the Aug. 15 AYD gathering which Pope Francis addressed.

Rupert Wingfield-Hayes in Seoul wrote:

There is something in the manner of Pope Francis that seems to win people over, Catholics and non-Catholics, wherever he goes. And he has done it again here in South Korea.
His lack of formality has shone through. On Friday he stopped in the middle of a prepared speech to a gathering of young Catholics and said he wanted to “speak directly from his heart, without reading from a piece of paper,” but that his English was not good enough”. “No!” shouted the 6,000 teenagers in one voice.

FABC’s statutes as a voluntary association of bishops’  conferences in the region approved by the Holy See in 1972 established the association to foster among its members solidarity and co-responsibility for the welfare of Church and society in the region that now includes Central Asia in addition to the original membership from southeast, south and east Asia.

“The Asian Church, especially under the leadership of the late Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan of Seoul, wanted to have the local Churches of Asia in the various countries, first of all to appropriate the Second Vatican Council, (Vatican II1962-1965) and what were the new initiatives and the new directives of that Council with regard to the local Churches. That was the main purpose,” Filipino Jesuit theologian Father Catalino Arevalo said in a 2012 interview for FABC’s 40th anniversary.

Father Arevalo recalled Cardinal Kim, other bishops and priests at an initial meeting wanted to set up a permanent structure where the leaders of the Asian Churches, beginning with the bishops, but not just the bishops, would gather together regularly to share their experiences, to develop within the group itself what the local Churches (Churches in every country) would do to bring the realities of Vatican II into action in the Asian region.

“That was the beginning purpose of it. Therefore also, to find what was the vision in the Asian Churches precisely with regard to how to make the Second Vatican Council as effective and as creative within the local Churches of Asia and that the local Churches of Asia would begin also to see what they had in common,” Father Arevalo added. They also looked into how they could collaborate with each other in bringing the movements inside the Church that they had in common flourish to make Vatican II a reality in the local Churches of Asia.

Members of Missionaries of Charity, which is among those whose houses of charity were ruined by Typhoon Haiyan in Palo archdiocese, Leyte filled many pews on the Day of Lament and Hope service led by Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila in San Fernando de Dilao Church, Paco, Manila Nov. 16. NJ Viehland Photo

Philippine community members of India-based Missionaries of Charity joined prayers on the Day of Lament for victims of calamities led by Cardinal Luis Tagle of Manila in San Fernando de Dilao Church, Paco, Manila Nov. 16. NJ Viehland Photo

He considers that meeting held when Pope Paul VI was making his first visit to Asia as the foundation of FABC, “and then it took about 2 or 3 years for it to come into realization, in the first meeting of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences in Taipei in 1974.” 

By 1991, during the World Youth Day in Czestochowa (Poland), representatives from over 30 Asian countries attended the Third International Youth Forum during which they expressed their hopes of establishing different channels and networks for various kinds of exchanges and organizing activities especially designed for Catholic youths in Asia.

Later, youth representatives at the 1993 youth consultation conference in Bangkok, Thailand suggested that a youth working group be formed as a parish-based subsidiary of FABC to gather support for youth leaders within the organization and to enhance mutual cooperation and links among youth parish groups from Asian countries.

FABC’s Youth Desk was officially established in 1994 forming the team that has since  then organized a series of activities for Asian youths and youth leaders, including the Asian Youth Gathering during the World Youth Day, Asian Youth Ministers’ Meeting and AYD.

Multi-media publications and documentation of activities of Philippine Conference on New Evangelization were produced daily with help from young volunteers. By NJ Viehland

Multi-media publications and documentation of activities of Philippine Conference on New Evangelization were produced daily with help from young volunteers. By NJ Viehland


AYD is the coming together of Catholic youths from different Asian countries in weeklong activities including formation programs, workshops, prayer and worship, Bible sharing and sharing with people from other religious groups.

This year’s program centers on the theme: “Asian Youth! Wake Up! The Glory of the Martyrs Shines on You.” 

Asia and the Pacific are reportedly home to 45 percent of the world’s youth amounting to 700 million young people, but disparities exist. For example, South Asia is home to 26 percent of the world’s entire youth population representing up to 20 percent of the south’s population, but in East Asia, only 17 percent of the population fall in the youth sector.