Chiang Mai (AsiaNews) The first Asian Mission Congress (AMC) came to a close with Mass presided over by Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, the papal envoy, and a missionary mandate to all communities of Asia. Cardinal Sepe prayed that "the blood of the martyrs of Asia may be, today and always, the seed of new life for the Church in every corner of the continent."
Before the mass, Mgr Vincent Conçessao, secretary for the 'evangelization' sector of the FABC (Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences), read the final message. Just as the Church marked World Mission Day, the message urged Catholics to communicate their faith with courage and respect in dialogue with the peoples, religions and cultures of the continent. The message affirms that in a world marred by "ethnic conflicts and religious tensions", evangelization is the way to build co-existence in Asia. The days lived together reveal that the peoples of Asia could become one "grand tapestry" woven by the "Story of Jesus".
Together with the delegates, bishops and cardinals, today's closing mass was also attended by hundreds of families from tribes in northern Thailand, Karen, Lahu, Miao, and Akka, in their picturesque costumes. A momentous wave of conversions is currently under way in northern Thailand, to the extent that the diocese of Chiang Mai is obliged to open at least one church every month and to organize activities of prayer and for Catechumens. This sign of fruitful evangelization was an encouragement to experience the closing day as an invitation and a duty to "go and tell everyone" that Jesus is Lord. The message recalled the disciples of Emmaus and the apostles who after meeting the Risen One, immediately set out to proclaim the news with "hearts on fire". In these days, however, in a fashion typical of the documents of bishops and theologians of the FABC, the proclamation of the dead and risen Christ has been swiftly absorbed into "three-fold dialogue" with peoples, religions and cultures", leaving little room for explicit proclamations of faith. The bishop of Imus (Philippines), told AsiaNews that anyhow this Congress served to emphasize "daily proclamation, from person to person", which is much more effective than a public proclamation in environments where the Church is in a minority, and where often there is not even any awareness about who Jesus Christ is.
The lingering impression is that "preaching of the Cross" (as St Paul defined proclamation) is somewhat on the margins of the theological reflections of the FABC. Throughout these days, the terms "darkness", "difficulty", appear to have been preferred over the word "cross". The final message (a full two-page document) features the term "cross" only once, when it mentions the disciples of Jesus "carrying the cross", as one of many ways of living out mission.
Another term that was not used at all these days was the word "martyr", although several of the afternoon working groups were named after Asian martyrs. It was Cardinal Sepe who recalled in his homily that one of the most fruitful paths of mission is martyrdom, which is so deeply engrained in the past and present of the Church in Asia. Citing the encyclical Deus Caritas Est of Benedict XVI, he also underlined that mission should be animated by charity, that is, by deeds of the love of God, "not to be reduced to philanthropy or social work".
At the end of Mass, Mgr Orlando Quevedo, FABC secretary-general, read a telegram sent to the pope, assuring him of "prayer and complete faithfulness" and expressing "commitment to mission", one of the fruits of the Congress.
At the end, amid great enthusiasm and general excitement, each national representative received a missionary mandate and a wooden cross with the intertwined words "Jesus Asia" carved on the arms.