Preparations are well under way for the first ever Asian Mission Congress that will be held in October. Following the intuitions of John Paul II, the third millennium is set to focus on Asia.
Bangkok (AsiaNews) At least 1000 personalities from Churches across Asia are expected in Chiang Mai to participate in the first ever Asian Mission Congress (AMC). Organised by the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conference (FABC), the congress will be realized by the Thai Church from 19 to 22 October 2006 in Pang-Suan Kaew hotel in Chiang Mai, in the north of Thailand. Another 3,000 people, all Thai, will participate in the encounters, exhibitions and cultural exhibitions that have been planned.
The theme of the AMC is "Telling the story of Jesus in Asia a celebration of faith and life." The aim is to develop among Catholics in Asia the awareness of being missionaries in their own continent and to reinforce their identity.
The congress springs from two ideas dear to John Paul II. The first was expressed in Ecclesia in Asia (the Apostolic Exhortation that followed the Asian Synod in 1998), in which the Polish pope emphasized several times that "Christ was born in Asia" and that the Christian faith was not foreign to the Asian continent, although Christians were only a small minority (between 1 and 2%) there, with the exception of the Philippines (Catholics 83%, Protestants 9%, Muslims 5% and others 3%) and East Timor (Catholics 95%, others including Protestants and Muslims 5%).
The second element was that John Paul II encouraged the celebration of mission congresses at continental level every four or five years. Those held in Latin America have become famous; they would later stretch to encompass the entire American continent. The last was held in Guatemala in 2003.
Perhaps one could add a third factor: the idea that the third millennium should be dedicated to a promising evangelization of Asia: In 1995, John Paul told bishops gathered in Manila:
"In the first millennium, the Cross was planted in the soil of Europe and in the second in the Americas and Africa. We can pray that in the third Christian millennium, a great harvest of faith will be reaped in this vast and vital continent of Asia... Asia is thirsting for the living water that Jesus alone can give."
Fr Chalerm Kitmongkhol, AMC Deputy Secretary General, told AsiaNews about the main challenges facing mission in Asia: "There are two: differences in language, faith and culture among Asian countries and a lack of support or even persecution from governments."
This was why, he said, the congress aimed to prompt believers "to share the happiness and enthusiasm of our faith in Jesus Christ, recognizing that God brings reconciliation, especially where there is division; to celebrate evangelization in Asian culture by bearing witnesses in their daily living and to exchange experiences and dialogue of life." To this end, members of other Christian denominations and representatives of other religions have also been invited to the congress.
Fr Chalerm Kitmongkhol explained the logo selected for the AMC that depicts a map of Asia surmounted by a stylized cross and dove: "The map of Asia represents all of us; the cross symbolizes Jesus Christ; the dove the Holy Spirit. The overall meaning is that Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit, embraces the Asian continent and will be the real leader of the congress."
The Thai Church, which is hosting the congress, has prepared itself well for this continental event, launching a "year of evangelization" from 2005 to 2006.
A typical, small Asian Church, it gathers 300,000 Catholics living among a population of around 63 million, of whom 95% are Buddhist. The history of evangelization dates back to the XVI century: the Dominicans arrived in 1567, the Franciscans in 1582 and the Jesuits in 1606. Faced with difficulties, hardship and persecution, evangelization activities stabilized with the arrival of Mgr La Motte of the 'Missions Etrangeres de Paris' (MEP) in Siam [the old name of the kingdom that modern Thailand used to belong to] on 22 August, 1662.
Mgr George Yod Phimphisan, Vice President of the Thai Catholic Bishops' Conference, urged all believers to prepare for the Congress. "It will bring much benefit to evangelization and mission in Asia", he told AsiaNews. He added a word of advice: read the Apostolic Exhortation, Ecclesia in Asia and make it as widely known as possible.