Federation of Asian Bishops' Conference: Ninth Plenary Assembly
Federation of Asian Bishops' Conference: Ninth Plenary Assembly
Archbishop Robert Sarah
Secretary, Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples
Living the Eucharist in Asia
The following are excerpts from the message delivered by Archbishop Robert Sarah, Secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, at the Ninth Plenary Assembly of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conference (FABC) on 11 August .
Dear Brothers in Christ,
On behalf of His Eminence Cardinal Ivan Dias, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and on my own behalf, I warmly greet you.
In fraternal and ecclesial communion, I am privileged to be here with you to personally express my affection and appreciation, as well as to listen and share your concerns and your hopes, your pastoral choices and solicitude for the People of God entrusted to your pastoral care and missionary service.
The theme chosen for the Ninth Plenary Assembly of the FABC, "Living the Eucharist in Asia", opens our minds and hearts to the many dimensions of life and mission of the Church in Asia, and I wish to reflect upon some of them together with you.
The theme... reveals that your heart deeply lives a sense of ecclesial communion with the entire Church, sharing the same rhythm and walking at the same pace with her. Indeed from the beginning of the Millennium, the path of the Church has been profoundly marked by the Eucharist, Sacrament of God's love for humanity.
Your presence here as qualified representatives of the local Churches of the FABC in Asia opens our minds and hearts to the immensity, in terms of territory and population, where the Church is simply a little flock. In many countries Catholics do not even reach a percentage of 1%. This situation recalls the words of our Lord Jesus Christ: "I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd" (Jn 10:16), and "when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself" (Jn 12:32).
These words of Christ, when confronted with the reality of the Church in Asia, must make the local Churches feel their missionary call in a very active and real way, as confirmed in the FABC documents. We can for instance recall the Declaration of the I Plenary Assembly, where we read: "Today the preaching of Jesus Christ and his Gospel to our people in Asia has become an urgent task, more necessary and greater than ever in the history of our faith in this part of the world.... We can say with joy the words of the Apostle: 'Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel', because it is 'Christ's love which drives us' to share with our people what is most precious in our hearts and in our lives: Jesus Christ and his Gospel".1
This missionary consciousness was very alive in the Bishops' interventions during the Synod of Bishops for Asia, which were taken up again by the Servant of God Pope John Paul II in his Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Asia (EiA): "As the Synod discussion of the complex realities of Asia unfolded, it became increasingly obvious to all that the Church's unique contribution to the peoples of the continent is the proclamation of Jesus Christ, true God and true man, the one and only Saviour for all peoples" (Propositio n. 5). What distinguishes the Church from other religious communities is her faith in Jesus Christ; and she cannot keep this precious light of faith under a bushel (cf. Mt 5:15), for her mission is to share that light with everyone.
Many and complex are the situations that the Church in Asia is called to face at this time, they all appear to be grave and urgent, and each one of them requires total and immediate attention, tending to monopolize the Church's commitment and to close the horizons of the minds and hearts of the evangelizers. In this perspective, a fundamental question could be asked regarding the mission of the Church in Asia: Where do we begin and how do we deal with these challenges, so that the presence and service of the Church may truly be an authentic mission, showing the face of a loving God who is revealed in Jesus Christ, the Saviour of humanity?
The answer to this fundamental question can be found, I believe, precisely in the theme of this Plenary Assembly that is by "Living the Eucharist".
The challenges facing the Church in mission today are many but they could be re-grouped in a triple challenge or triple "dialogue" as they say in Asia: the challenge of the poor, the challenge of religions, and the challenge of cultures.2 Without reducing the importance of these challenges, however, in the mission of the Church in Asia, I see above all the challenge of God.
Given that the Church in Asia is dealing with difficulties that seem insurmountable we can also witness, with great joy and hope, the unmistakable signs of God's presence which saves and gives life, overcoming any kind of obstacle of any nature. Such signs are, for instance, the presence of many priests, religious men and women and lay people involved with zeal and generosity in God's service, the courage, or better the joy and fidelity of many Christians to Christ and his Gospel, despite the seductions of the modern world, the dangers and the humiliation endured for the sake of the Gospel.
Among the many witnesses, I would like to recall here the one given by a catechist from Asia: "We are helping our dioceses by bringing them religious books, means and objects necessary for the evangelization. Our work is very risky.... In one of my travels, I escaped from danger twice. God closed the eyes of the policemen so that they could not see the books. If they had discovered them, I surely would have a heavy penalty.... Despite the many difficulties we had to face during these travels, we also experienced a little bit of the happiness experienced by the martyrs".3
Another witness in the person of Mons. Joseph Nguyen Chi Linh, more recently shared during the last Synod of Bishops on the Word of God is the following: "One thing must be cited so as to show that the word of God continues to sustain the Catholic Church in Vietnam. I am referring to the mass conversion of thousands of peoples belonging to ethnical minorities, shortly after the canonization of the 117 Vietnam Martyrs in 1988. What is interesting is that many admitted to have listened to the Protestant Radio in Manila, in the Philippines, but they converted to the Catholic Church in Vietnam. So the Protestants sow and the Catholics reap. The word of God, reaching them from afar, has become a source of hope for these scattered people in the mountains, lacking everything and without a future.4
These facts clearly witness the presence of God. We can say that in Asia we can touch God with our hands and see him with our eyes. God does not allow himself to be influenced by the situations, the socio-political systems or the barriers of borders, cultures and religions, God is present in the world to save it and give it his life.
This does not mean, in any way, to ignore the various grave problems but rather one must go to the root of the mission, look at the situation from that perspective and act accordingly. As a matter of fact, the true and deepest reason for the Church's mission is not the problems of the world, but the heart of God searching for humanity with its problems, in order to save it and offer it his life, even if rejected by humanity. It was God who took the initiative to offer his salvation to us (cf. Gen 3:14-15). Therefore, the mission of the Church is above all an answer to God's desire, or in modern terms, an answer to the challenge of God's Love.
But what expression of love can be compared with that of the Eucharist? Every expression of love touches the heart of the one who is attentive and sensitive. The total love and radical gift of Christ in the Eucharist can break through the doors of a double locked heart and hence the Eucharist possesses a unique missionary strength. I would like to quote one more witness, from Ranchi in India: "The local Church in the tribal territory in India, which currently counts more than two million people, represents one of the most remarkable success stories in the mission of the Catholic Church. In just 130 years 12 dioceses were created from the Archdiocese of Ranchi, 23 Bishops were ordained, many priests and thousands of religious came from there. I believe this dynamic growth of the Church was due to our particular devotion to the Eucharist that constitutes our very 'identity'. Since the tribal people welcomed the Gospel, the 'real presence' of the risen Lord in the Eucharist made them free, offered them salvation and transformed them in a 'new creation' in Christ".5
The Eucharist is truly the centre and the source of the Church's life and mission. The Church's life should centre around the Mystery of the Eucharist both in the liturgical celebration and Eucharistic Adoration. During the Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist in 2005, many Asian Bishops strongly proposed, at times insisting categorically to introduce perpetual Eucharistic Adoration in their dioceses and some of them stated that there where Eucharistic Adoration took place, greater reconciliation, peace and communion were experienced. This is possible because Jesus is present in the tabernacle as a magnetic pole "attracting an ever greater number of souls enamoured of him, ready to wait patiently to hear his voice and, as it were, to sense the beating of his heart".6
In formulating the theme "Living the Eucharist in Asia", putting a clear emphasis on the verb "living", the Assembly should not only focus on theory, but should be able to lead the faithful to fall in love with Christ in the Eucharist, from whom one can draw strength and enthusiastic love for the world. In this way the Church in Asia will be able to overcome the modern world's temptation of excessive activism and emphasis on activity and techniques, and at the same time will be able to live and nurture its very culture. Asians usually look at religion with a very existential, practical and experiential attitude. Before the Mystery, the Asian mentality tries not only to know and to comprehend the Mystery but mainly to stand in its presence, to experience the mystery and be communicative with the mystery.
At the end of this brief reflection, my wish is that from the common reflection, fraternal meetings and time spent in Eucharistic Adoration or contemplation, this assembly will be set in a blaze and awakened to Eucharistic awe and firm faith like the disciples of Emmaus (cf. Lk 24:30-35), in order to inflame the hearts of the faithful of the Church in Asia with the fire of love which comes from God, and the courage to break every barrier and share with everyone the joy of their meeting with the Lord: "What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands concerns the Word of life — for the life was made visible; we have seen it and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was made visible to us — what we have seen and heard we proclaim now to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; for our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We are writing this so that our joy may be complete" (1 Jn 1:1-4).
1 FABC, Evangelization of Asia today, I Plenary Assembly, Declaration, n. 8.
2 Ibid., nn. 9, 13, 19.
3 Jess S. Breña, Lay Spirituality Today, Volunteer Lay Apostles Promotion and Training Center, Kuangchi Press, Taiwan, 1990, pp. 154-155.
4 Mons. Joseph Nguyen Chi Linh, Intervention in the Synod Hall, Bulletin of the Synod of Bishops, 14 October 2008.
5 Card. Telesphore Placidus Toppo, Intervention in the Synod Hall, Bulletin of the Synod of Bishops, 4 October 2005.
6 Mane nobiscum Domine, n. 18.
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12/19 August 2009, page 4
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