2006-11-16 THAILAND

From the meeting with Christ to evangelisation

To experience a personal meeting with the Resurrected Christ and to share this experience on the Asian continent, according to the circumstances of each country: this is the commitment of the First Asian Missionary Congress, recently finished, the first of its type to be held on the Asian Continent, organised by the Federation of Episcopal Conferences of Asia ( FABC)

One of the smallest Churches in Asia, that of Thailand, welcomed one of the most important events for the mission of the Church on the Continent. The First Asian Missionary Congress was held in the city of Chiang Mai from the 18th to the 22nd October, with the participation of more than a thousand delegates from all the Christian communities of Asia, with many observers, hosts and journalists from the entire world; it was presided over by Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, president, delegate of the Pope and Cardinal Iván Días, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of the People.

The theme of the Congress, ?Recounting the story of Jesus in Asia? a celebration of faith and of life? tried to deepen the value of the Catholic faith in a continent dominated in its majority by Buddhists, Hindus and Moslems and where Catholics are a minority. At the same time, it wanted to give a new impetus to the mission and proclamation of the Gospel in countries where, in the large part, the conversion to another religion is forbidden by law. These difficulties did not prevent the presence of delegates coming from countries as different and distant as Lebanon or Kazakhstan, Mongolia or Indonesia, even though representatives from many Churches of the Middle East and China were absent prevented by current circumstances in their countries.

The First Asian Missionary Congress was born as a response to an intuition of John Paul II. At the start of his exhortation ?Ecclesia in Asia? (6th November 1999), the deceased pontiff acknowledged this hope: ?As in the first millennium, the Cross was planted in Europe and in the second millennium in America and in Africa, thus in the third millennium there could be a great harvest of faith in this continent that is so vast and with so much vitality.?

The numbers confirm the ?prophecy? of Pope John Paul II. The Church?s statistical directory shows that from 1978 to 2004, Asian priests increased by nearly 100% from 27,000 to 48,222; seminarians increased from 11,536 to 29,220 more than 153%. To this we must add the Asian vocations in religious institutes. A great hope weighs on Asia, the most populated continent of the world with 3,900 million inhabitants and with 50% of the population younger than 25 years of age. In the midst of this immense continent, the proclamation of Christ, ?born, died and resurrected in Asia?, still has few followers, since Catholics are scarcely 1% of the continent. Certainly, history and politics have contributed to this situation: of the fifty-two Asian countries, thirty-two limit the mission of Christians at least in one way or another. Also the temptation of the ?ghetto? exists. Felling oneself in the ?minority? and the fear of being taxed for ?proselytism? is a cause of a certain timidity to declare oneself to be Christian.

The Congress, structured with testimonies in the morning and work group meetings in the afternoon, tried to strengthen the ?pride? of being Catholic in Asia and the ?respectful? testimony towards one?s neighbour in charity, in dialogue and in joy, stimulating the faithful to have the courage to ?recount? their own story of their personal encounter with Jesus. The theme of ?recounting a story of shared faith? underlines that the mission is communicated by sharing the personal experience which leads to personal commitment.

This catechetical process of proposing the mission has been defined as an ?Asian? model, in opposition to a ?western? method, perhaps more rational. Such a method is basically the same as is found in the Gospel when you are invited to ?Come and see.?

Effectively the testimonies that were presented showed that the mission is for everybody: for the Hindu employee who converts; for the poor emigrant who gathers in a hiding place to pray in an Islamic country; for the manager who saves the work of his employees by adhering to the social doctrine of the Church.

A theme that was a little suppressed was that of martyrdom and persecution. The organisers explained that they did not want to raise subjects ?of conflict? concerning the political powers and they preferred to stress more the subjects of dialogue and respect. Nevertheless, Cardinal Sepe, in his final homily, stressed that ?the blood of the martyrs of Asia is today and always the grain of new life for the Church in each corner of the continent.? besides, among the communities that are the most alive in Asia are those Churches whose martyrs were canonised by John Paul II: Korea, China, Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines. It is these countries who have missionaries spread out in all of Asia and in the entire world.

The presence of our brothers at Davao, preparing themselves for the mission ad gentes in Asia, imprints a particular interest in this meeting of the Church of the Asian continent. Brother Michael Flanigan who collaborates with the team of formators of Davao was present at this first congress sharing with the participants the news of the growth of the collaboration of the Marist Institute with the missionary Church of Asia.

Official page of the Congress


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