||Handprints of Asian bishops group are
By THOMAS C. FOX
Bishop after bishop addressing the synod in its first two weeks expressed common hopes for the future of the local churches of Asia. They often used the same metaphors and phrases in painting these verbal pictures. They talked of a new way of being church. They envisioned church as a communion of communities. They spoke of evangelization as a triple dialogue with local culture, religion and the poor.
These ideas did not come out of thin air, and the bishops were not cribbing from one anothers notes. Rather, they spoke from the heart, expressing ideas familiar to them, ideas that have emerged during the past quarter-century in statements written under the auspices of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences.
Unknown to many Catholics in the West, the federation is undoubtedly Asias most influential Catholic organization, having served as the ecclesial, theological and organizational backbone for the bishops of Far East and Southeast Asia for the past 25 years. Not unexpectedly, the federation staff has been at work during this synod for Asia -- a gathering that one day may be viewed as the federations global coming out party. The handprints of the federations thought and activity are everywhere.
Days before the synod opened, the federation staff set up a temporary headquarters in a few rooms inside the Philippine embassy to the Vatican. Key Asian bishops and other federation leaders soon were meeting there to discuss strategies and help the bishops translate their thoughts from local languages into English and sometimes French. Staff members sometimes helped bishops draft interventions or find biblical texts supporting episcopal thoughts.
One of the federations rooms is equipped with a copying machine and computers with E-mail and Internet connections. Asian theological journals are available. Throughout the day, Asian bishops find the temporary headquarters a comfortable place to think, meet or relax. The location is superb, a three minute walk from the synod chambers, across the street from St. Peters Square.
One federation staff member, Jesuit Fr. Soosai Arokiasamy, editor of a Delhi-based theological monthly, was straightforward in speaking of the federations synod efforts. Our goals, he said, are basic: to help the bishops and enrich the process.
The federation is doing that and more. The new way of being church of which many of the Asian bishops spoke is described in a federation document written in Bandung, Indonesia, in 1990. The notion of a communion of communities is contained in a federation document written in Manila, Philippines, in 1995. The idea of triple dialogue is present in several federation documents written in the 1970s and 80s.
The federation describes itself as a Roman Catholic organization existing for cooperation among bishops conferences in Asia. The different dioceses of each Far East and Southeast Asian country -- sometimes of two or three smaller countries -- are organized into national bishops conferences. These in turn are united under the federation network.
An outgrowth of the Second Vatican Council, the federation was founded by some 200 Asian bishops who gathered in Manila in November 1970 during the papal visit of Pope Paul VI. The federation celebrated its 25th anniversary in January 1995 in Manila with Pope John Paul II present for the occasion.
The federation has kept the bishops of Asia in touch with each other, developing ideas, theologies and strategies for the future of the faith in Asia. It stays in touch through communications and conferences, the most important of which are the federations plenary sessions. To date there have been six:
Member national bishops conferences include those in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Laos-Cambodia, Malaysia-Singapore-Brunei, Myanmar, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam. The bishops conferences of Hong Kong, Macau, Mongolia and Nepal are associate members.
National Catholic Reporter, May 8, 1998