The 50th anniversary of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences (FABC) and its General Conference began in Bangkok, Thailand on October 12.
The occasion commemorates the first Asian meeting of bishops on the occasion of St. Pope Paul VI’s visit to Manila, Philippines in 1970.
A fortnight-long event is underway at the Baan Phu Waan Pastoral Centre in Nakhon Pathom's Sam Phran with 200 delegates, including Cardinals, Bishops, and lay representatives from 29 member countries across Asia from October 12 to 30.
The theme of the Jubilee FABC 50 is, "Journeying together as peoples of Asia... and they went a different way" (Mt 2:12). The conference aims to reflect on the "re-emerging and emerging realities and challenges of the Church in Asia."
The inauguration of the Conference was held at the Shrine of Blessed Nicholas Bunkerd Kitbamrung in Bangkok on August 22, the Feast of the Queenship of Mary, seeking her intercession for the FABC. A campaign of prayer in all parishes in Asia was initiated to pray for the success of the General Conference.
In his opening speech, Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon, FABC president, said, "This is a glorious moment for the Asian Church, the FABC crossing the Golden Jubilee."
"The Joy of Jubilee may call us to make this century a call to synodality, a call to be good news to Asia and the world," he added.
Asia is known for its diverse cultures, religions, languages, and colorful people. "Let us join together to make this moment, Asia’s moment, in the Church’s history. All plans and hopes find their convergence today," Bo said.
Echoing the words of Saint John Paul II, Bo said, "To remember the past with gratitude, to live the present with enthusiasm, and to look forward to the future with confidence."
The FABC president pointed out some significant contributions of the Church in Asia in various sectors—the three-fold dialogue with cultures, religions, and the poor; women and youth, support for persecuted brothers and sisters; health and education.
Over the years, FABC, as a robust organization, has collaborated with others to address various challenges.
"We are grateful to the people of God in Asia, their steadfastness amidst threats, their generosity amidst challenges, and their enthusiasm despite their tiny size in many Asian countries. They are the light, seed, and yeast of the Asian Church," Bo said.
"Christ, born in Asia, needs to be proclaimed to the vast multitude in this world," he said. "As the dream of Christ returns to Asia, the Asian Church is called upon to exhibit an evangelical enthusiasm for justice and peace."
This is the first general conference of the FABC, though in the past it had 11 plenary assemblies. The last plenary assembly was held in Colombo, Sri Lanka in 2017. The earlier ones took place in Manila, South Korea, and Bangkok.
Speaking at the opening ceremony, Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay (India) and Convenor of FABC 50, said the General Conference may help churches in Asia to "renew and revitalize."
The occasion would call for "reaffirming, renewing, and revitalizing the Church in Asia, a Church living and working for a better Asia," Gracias said.
In his message, Pope Francis said the Church in Asia is called to be more authentically the Church of the poor, the Church of the young, and a Church in dialogue with fellow Asians of other denominations.
He also urged the Asian prelates to give more opportunity and space to the laity, who would exercise their baptismal commitment better in each country of Asia.
Earlier, Cardinal Francis Xavier Kriengsak Kovitvanit, Archbishop of Bangkok, welcomed the delegates.
The first three days of the General Conference will be spent "visiting Asia."
All 29 countries belonging to the FABC are to present an exposition of the present situation in their countries: political, social, economic, religious, and any other special challenges for the Catholic Church.
On Mission Sunday, October 16, participants will interact with several people in the field and those directly affected by new realities in Asia. Besides, the shepherds of Asia will be making virtual visits to parishes in different Asian countries.
From October 17–22, the FABC delegates will have an in-depth study of the special challenges in Asia. They will reflect on and deepen an understanding of the emerging realities impacting the Churches in Asia in the light of the latest documents of Pope Francis, especially Evangelii Gaudium, Fratelli Tutti, Laudato Si’, Amoris Laetitia, and Predicate Evangelium.
During the deliberations, the participants will discuss the pandemic, globalization, digitalization, urbanization, climate change, the migrant crises, political governance, a transformation of cultures, and religions in society, changing family values, and the issues of gender, indigenous peoples, yearnings of the youth, how our human dignity is being impacted, and how the Church is also being transformed.
The church leaders will also talk about new pathways for the pastoral care of families, for worship, formation, and digital ministry; for dialogue, peace-building, and reconciliation, for giving urgency to the voice of youth; for the role of women in the Church; for proclaiming the Gospel through inter-religious dialogue; for leading and governing the Church in a synodal way.
"We are undertaking to become and remain a prophetic, relevant, and responsive Asian Church at the service of the people of Asia," Cardinal Gracias said.
Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, pro-prefect of the Dicastery for Evangelization, will address the church leaders as the envoy of Pope Francis at the conference.
On October 30, at the end of FABC 50, a new vision of the Church’s way in Asia through a final statement will be issued.
Next year, the FABC members will reflect on the new pathways and directions that will emerge at this General Conference, both during the annual FABC Central Committee Meeting and at the Asian Continental Synod, which will take place in March 2023.
Radio Veritas Asia (RVA), a media platform of the Catholic Church, aims to share Christ. RVA started in 1969 as a continental Catholic radio station to serve Asian countries in their respective local language, thus earning the tag “the Voice of Asian Christianity.” Responding to the emerging context, RVA embraced media platforms to connect with the global Asian audience via its 21 language websites and various social media platforms.