Chiang Mai (AsiaNews) "Christ was born, died and war risen in Asia . . . but He is still considered a foreigner," said Fr Saturnino Dias, Asian Mission Congress (AMC) general coordinator. Although Christianity was born in Asia its fate in the continent has been unlucky. For this reason the AMC wants to assert that "Christ is Asian," Father Dias said.
Even today, after centuries of Christian presence, Catholics constitute only 1 per cent of the continent's population. They are "small flock", to quote Mgr Orlando Quevedo, secretary general of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences (FABC).
History and politics have played a key role to create this state of affair. Out of 52 countries in the continent, at least 32 restrict Christians' missionary activity. Muslim countries, from the Mideast to Pakistan, Indonesia and Malaysia, create obstacles to anyone who wants to convert. India and Sri Lanka are increasingly adopting anti-conversion legislation. Central Asian countries (except for Kazakhstan) limit religious freedom. Communist nations like China, Laos, Vietnam and North Korea stifle if not persecute the Church.
Under these painful circumstances, Asian Churches have avoided confrontation. They want to renew their faith and bear witness to life that no amount of persecution can stop.
For this reason, Mgr Gilbert Garcera (Philippines), AMC deputy secretary, said that this congress will focus on the catechesis and pastoral work, almost a blueprint "to communicate to Asian Christians the enthusiasm of the faith and renew the commitment to mission". Despite the lack of means, Christians want "to encourage one another, live respecting other religions, root more and more the Christian faith in Asian cultures." Notwithstanding the paucity of means, this great task can be achieved by bearing witness to life.
In today's press briefing, Mgr Vincent Conçessao (India), the FABC's "evangelisation" point man, said that Christian witness by Asians is a path that can be immediately followed to reassert Christians' right to be part of the continent, not only by proclaiming the faith but also by confronting the huge social problemspoverty, hunger, sickness, migrationsthat are the daily lot of so many Asians.
All this must be done by cultivating friendship with members of other religions, "enriching one another" and valorising "the seeds that God planted in their lives".
Participants are already enthused about the future. "The fact that we were able to organise a meeting that brought together groups speaking dozens of languages, travelling over huge distances and coming from different cultures, using meagre resources is in and of itself a success," said an Indian delegate.
Card Crescenzio Sepe, papal legate, arrived today. Card Ivan Dias, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, and Mgr Salvatore Pennacchio, apostolic nuncio in Bangkok, arrived as well.
The latter brought participants two gifts from the pope: a chalice, which will be used during the Eucharistic celebrations (and for future Asian congresses), and an ostensorium for the adoration by all the faithful, which is scheduled to take place next Friday.
Cardinal Poupard, from the Pontifical Council for Culture, was unable to make the journey but he sent a message. Among other things, it said: "The story of Jesus is not a fable or a myth . . . . It is a real story . . . and for this reason it transcends cultures. It is a call to faith for the whole of humanity, even if it lives in farthest corners of the earth."