FABC’s Vision for a New Way of Being
Church in Asia
The Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) grew out of the historic gathering of 180 Asian Catholic Bishops with Pope Paul VI during his 1970 pastoral visit to Asia. The meeting gave the impetus for the local Churches to begin formulating a vision of Church and mission adequate to the new world being born in Asia in the post-colonial period.
They asked themselves: How would the Churches incarnate a decisive “turning to history” and a “turning to the Gospel” within history “for all the peoples of Asia”? How would the FABC articulate an overall vision that captures what “being Church in Asia today” truly means? This is the context for appreciating the role of the local Church in the inculturation process.
During the past fifty three years the FABC has aimed to strengthen the bonds of communication among Catholic communities and their bishops and to contribute to the development of a shared vision of the Church and her evangelizing mission in Asia.
The FABC continues to engage in a three-fold dialogue: with Asian peoples (especially the poor) through eﬀorts towards integral development, Asian cultures (inculturation), and Asian religions (interfaith dialogue). This vision of a “triple dialogue” has constructively guided the FABC for over the five decades.
The Asian local Churches are committed to the challenge of inculturating the Christian faith in the Asian milieu. The FABC has expressed this vision in one of its early documents: “The decisive new phenomenon for Christianity in Asia will be the emergence of genuine Christian communities in Asia—Asian in their way
People of Asia Journeying with Jesus of thinking, praying, living, communicating their own Christ-experience to others….” (ForAll Peoples of Asia(FAPA)I,70).
While aﬃrming the importance of building and strengthening each local Church the first FABC Plenary Assembly in 1974, envisaged “a Church incarnate in a people, a Church indigenous and inculturated” (FAPAI,14).
The Christian communities of As i a continue to search for appropriate means to make the Church truly Catholic and truly Asian. It is imperative “to deepen the dialogue in Asia between the Gospel and culture, so that faith is inculturated and culture is evangelized.”(FAPA III, 27).
A 1991 FABC theological consultation stated: “As a social institution the Church is perceived as a foreign body in its colonial origins while other world religions are not. lingering colonial image survives…. The Church is seen by some as an obstacle or threat to national integration and religious and cultural identity.
The Church is perceived as foreign in its lifestyle, in its institutional structure, in its worship, in its western trained leadership and in its theology. Christian rituals often remain formal, neither spontaneous nor particularly Asian…. Seminary formation often alienates the seminarian from the people. Biblical, systematic, and historical theology as taught are often unpastoral and unAsian .” (FAPA II, 195-196).
Eﬀorts to address these concerns have resulted in the emergence of indigenous theology, spirituality, religious life, creativity in liturgical celebrations. They express the commitment the Churches have made to achieve the goal of inculturation.
A dialogical approach is the only possible avenue, given the multiracial, multilinguistic, multireligious, and multicultural reality of Asia, the world’s largest and most populated continent. Such an approach is not a mere methodology but is part of the identity of the Church as she is called to be a community of dialogue is dialogical model is in fact a new way of being Church (FAPA I, 332).
Such a Church may at last become a Church of Asia and not simply a Church in Asia. It may then be perceived as no longer an alien presence. In this model of Church, dialogue, liberation, inculturation and proclamation are but diﬀerent aspects of the one reality” (FAPA I, 333). This demands a faith-community that is in “continuous, humble and loving dialogue with the living traditions, the cultures and the religions” (FAPA I, 14).
Eighty-five percent of all the world’s followers of other living faiths (besides Christianity) are Asians. Christians in Asia are less than three percent of the total population. In short, except for the Philippines and East Timor, Christians are a small minority. The four largest Islamic countries are in Asia: Indonesia, Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh. Other two major religions in Asia are Buddhism and Hinduism.
Often “Asia tends to identify nationality, religion and culture”.
The FABC takes a positive approach to the religions, promoting constructive collaboration, dialogue, and critical interaction. It aﬃrms that building up a truly local Church “involves dialogue with the great religious traditions of our peoples.” The spiritual riches and religious values by which the people of our continent have been nourished through centuries must recognize the life of the local Church to enrich it.”
Asian Churches recognize the need to become truly “Asian in all things” including her ministries and ministerial structures. The FABC’s pastoral- theological refection is rooted in the emerging realities of life and recognizes the “Church of the poor” and the “Church of the young”; she shares the vicissitudes of the “Church of silence” in several parts of Asia. Her pastoral priorities concern
People of Asia Journeying with Jesus the displaced (refugees and migrants), women and the girl-children, youth, workers, families, and the indigenous peoples.
Asia has much to give to authentic Christian spirituality: a richly developed prayer of the whole person in unity of body-psyche-spirit; prayer of deep interiority and immanence; traditions of asceticism and renunciation; techniques of contemplation found in the ancient eastern religions; simple prayer-forms and other popular expressions of faith and piety of those whose hearts and minds so readily turn to God in their daily lives. This is Asia’s gift of prayer to the Church (FAPA I, 42). Church is to be “a communion of communities,” a “participatory Church,” a “prophetic sign,” a “Spirit-filled community.”
For some unfamiliar with the growth of the local Churches in Asia afer Vatican II, the phrase “new way of being Church” may need explanation. The phrase implies no rejection of essential dimensions of ecclesiology; it attempts to capture the aspirations of Asian Christians to live their faith in the Christian community in an “Asian way.” This “new way of being Church … is a following of Jesus-in-mission, an authentic discipleship in the context of Asia…. For the spirituality of the new way of being Church is the spirituality of those who place their complete trust in the Lord.” Their lives are marked by the “Gospel values that resonate deeply with the cultures of Asia.”
While noting that “Asia is a cultural mosaic with rich diversity,” the bishops of Asia stated their position: “We are committed to the e m e r g e n c e o f t h e ‘Asianness’ of the Church in Asia. This means that the Church has to be an
The eight-fold movement of growth of the local Churches in Asia, particularly is indeed “Good News from Asia.” It is an inspiring story of faith and service. It is a profound witness to the action of the Spirit in Asia. It is a story of a Church renewed in its evangelizing mission. It is a narrative of God’s love becoming incarnate, a story of inculturation.
FABC sees its growth as:
- a movement toward a Church of the Poor and a Church of the Young
- a movement toward a “truly local Church,” toward a Church “incarnate in a people, a Church indigenous and inculturated”
- a movement toward deep interiority and a praying community
- a movement toward an authentic community of faith
- a movement toward active integral evangelization, toward a new sense of mission
- a movement toward empowerment of men and women
- a movement toward the service of life in Asia
- a movement toward the triple dialogue with other faiths, with the poor, and with Asian cultures (cf. FAPA III, 2-4).