The Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences must be restructured to make the church “relevant and responsive” to the people of Asia, a senior cardinal has said.
Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai, a member of Pope Francis’ Council of Cardinals, stressed that there was a great need to restructure the federation of Asian bishops and model it on the council of Latin American bishops, CELAM.
Ucanews.com reported that at the opening of the FABC’s golden jubilee programs in Bangkok on October 12, the cardinal said that suggestions for restructuring the FABC have the approval of senior Vatican officials, including the Pope. Francisco.
By the end of the two-week meeting on Oct. 30, the bishops will have issued a final document and “plans for a restructured FABC will also have been finalized, or at least given direction,” Cardinal Gracias said.
“I cannot stress enough how vital our role is in this general conference. We are committing ourselves to become and remain a prophetic, relevant and responsive Asian church serving the people of Asia,” he said.
“All participants in recent world ecclesial events will have noticed how the bishops of South America have invariably referred to Puebla, Medellin and now Aparecida in their reflections,” Cardinal Gracias said, referring to CELAM’s decennial conferences.
As cardinal of Buenos Aires, Argentina, Pope Francis was the main architect of the final Aparecida document, which continues to influence him, Cardinal Gracias said.
“Then the question arises: Isn’t it about time the FABC had something similar in Asia? What helped South America can surely help Asia,” said the Indian cardinal, who heads the organizing committee for the jubilee program.
He said a restructured conference would help churches in Asia “renew and reinvigorate our pastoral momentum” and make it “a vibrant church working for a better Asia.”
The call to restructure the FABC comes amid criticism that the federation has been virtually inactive for nearly two decades. It began in the 1990s after the Vatican expressed doubts about the theological patterns developed by Asian theologians, who they said were trying to help the mission of the church in the Asian interfaith situation.
The Vatican investigated leading Asian theologians to see if they watered down the concept of “the oneness of Christ” and regarded him as one of the gods in their attempt to develop a theology without rejecting the gods of Asian religions and their teachings.
CELAM went through a similar crisis in the 1960s when the Vatican condemned the liberation theology it supported. He regained Vatican approval only with a few leadership changes, but without compromising the basic priority of his mission: the preferential option for the poor.
Cardinal Gracias emphasized that the main objective of the general conference, which he said was the first organized by the FABC, is to create a system to help the Asian church respond effectively to the socio-political realities in the region that affect the poor. .
Cardinal Gracias said the idea was shared with Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, who headed the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples before the Roman Curia was reformed.
“The ideas crystallized and it was pointed out that we were going to meet” at the 50th anniversary of the FABC, Cardinal Gracias said, explaining how the general conference became part of the golden jubilee programs.
Pope Francis has appointed Cardinal Tagle, the first Asian to head the Vatican congregation that oversees missionary work around the world, as his representative to the general conference. Cardinal Tagle will formally conclude the general conference.