03/15/2023, 19.09
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Bangkok Document: the ‘’plan’ of Catholic Churches in Asia

by Giorgio Bernardelli

The text was officially made public today. It contains the reflections of Asian Bishops' Conferences brought to the assembly held last October in the Thai capital. Nine emerging challenges have been identified in Asian societies, from the role of women to digital technologies, from urbanisation to trends that undermine the family. The Church is called to tackle such questions in the light of the Gospel, but also by choosing the path of true inculturation.

Milan (AsiaNews) – The Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences (FABC) today officially made public the "Bangkok Document”, the pastoral plan that contains the reflections of the General Conference that brought together last October delegates from Asia’s Catholic Churches, meeting for the first time to mark the Federation’s 50th anniversary.

FABC president Card Charles Bo, archbishop of Yangon, today defined the event “a watershed for the journey of the Churches of Asia, a dialogue in solidarity and collegiality" that the document released today aims to translate into the concrete life of the communities, pointing to some common paths.

Citing the example of the Three Wise Men, which inspired the Bangkok Assembly, the text calls for a return to the peoples of Asia "by another road", as did the Magi when they travelled from the East to see Jesus in Bethlehem.

Archbishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, presented the document; he led the select commission that in recent months completed the general draft, approved by the Assembly at the end of its work in October.

The “plan” is divided into five chapters, with as many verbs used to follow the journey of the Three Wise Men: "walking together", on the theme of synodality; "observing", on the emerging challenges in Asia today; “discerning”, on the responses to these pastoral challenges; “offering gifts”, on the relationship between the Churches of Asia and the universal Church, and finally "following new paths”, on today’s pastoral presence in the great continent.

The document lays out nine emerging challenges in Asian societies today: the conditions of migrants who are often refugees and indigenous peoples expelled from their native lands; the family, the foundation of society; gender identity; the growing role of women in rapidly evolving societies; the relationship between young people and today's world; the impact of digital technologies; the need for a fair economy amid the transformations caused by urbanisation and globalisation; the climate crisis that threatens our common home; and finally interfaith dialogue.

With respect to each challenge, the document calls on Asia’s Churches to undertake pastoral action: from paying attention to the family to the leadership roles for women in ecclesial communities, from a more conscientious use of digital technologies to the promotion of bridges of dialogue and reconciliation along the wounds that cross so many areas of Asia.

Local Churches are also called to adapt clergy training to the contexts and cultures of Asia.

As for the "new paths" to follow, Asian Churches have five in mind, starting with evangelisation, hopefully moving from a paradigm based on a dominant model to one that is truly inculturated.

Basic ecclesial communities, which are numerous in Asia as well, are invited to widen their tent and look outside their own borders to encourage fraternity among men and women of every confession.

Improvements are called for in church life, from simple dialogue to true synodality. With respect to proclaiming the Gospel, this requires moving from an abstract proclamation to the telling of stories of a faith embodied in life.

Finally, as a general approach, the document calls on Christians to be willing to leave the beaten path in order to face the new pastoral priorities. This means turning to leading missionaries like Matteo Ricci and Alessandro Valignano, who in the 16th century had heeded the call to root the faith in a specifically Asian context and culture.

The “Bangkok Document is a text that we deliver to the Churches of the continent” on the basis of which “they can reflect, pray and choose their priorities,” said Card Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay, who coordinated the work of the Assembly since the preparatory stage.

“I think that, as was the case with the Aparecida Document in Latin America, it will be the point of reference for our communities for the next five or ten years. Indicating the working orientation to be Church for a better Asia and a better world is the mission God has assigned us.”

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“L’Asia: ecco il nostro comune compito per il terzo millennio!” - Giovanni Paolo II, da “Alzatevi, andiamo”