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Celebrate Asia in Manila

Talk delivered by Cardinal Jose Advincula of Manila during the ‘Celebrate Asia in Manila’ gathering on Sept. 26, 2022

Our gathering this morning is a clear testament to the last verse (v. 20) of the Gospel that we have read for today, “And Behold, I am with you always.” While many of you cannot come because of the typhoon, we thank the Lord for the gift of technology that allows us to encounter the Lord and one another. In a special way, we unite ourselves in prayer and compassion with our brothers and sisters who are affected by the typhoon “Karding.”

My dear brothers and sisters, as I visit our parishes and communities, I observe how you interact with one another, I cannot help but be amazed by the joy and hope that is in your hearts and in your faces. I say to myself, “You are indeed with us, Lord. You have not abandoned us.” The Church, your Mystical Body, is alive. The pandemic cannot and will not defeat us. These economic and political crises and uncertainties that we are facing cannot and will not take away our conviction that you abide in us, that you are faithful to us. We proclaim again and again the Good News that you are alive and you have conquered sin, suffering and death for us.

Our fellowship today means so much to me personally. As you may know I arrived in Manila as your new Archbishop at the height of this pandemic. Although I have been able to visit all the parishes and met you in your parish fiestas and other events that you have invited me, our encounters are often brief and limited by the health protocols. The situation remains the same but this day is quite different. We are here to continue our “Audiam”, our mutual listening and synodal journey as a local church. Although the formal consultations have ended and our synodal report has already been submitted to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), our journey as a family, our synodality as people of God continues.

I read with fascination the synodal reports from the parishes and the different ministries and groups in the Archdiocese. With humility, I accept that so many of what you have said, your “salamat” and “sana,” have affected and touched me as your pastor. Some of you said that you are grateful to the Church for always making the sacraments available for you, for always providing the needed “ayudas” and assistance in moments of great need. But at the same time, you have also expressed that we are still very far from our dream to become the Church of the Poor and to be a welcoming church for everyone. Many feel that they are left out, discriminated and not given the opportunity to participate. Not a few have mentioned that their main problem is their parish priest. While some parish priests, in turn, have mentioned that their main problem are the “marites” in their parishes. Our synodal consultations have produced so many deep insights and inspiring stories. Be assured that I have taken note of them and we will try to respond to them the best way we can.

But the movement of synodality does not end with us here in Manila. We are not isolated from the bigger Body of Christ. Later we will listen to Bp. Ambo as he discusses some of the results of the National Synodal Consultations. After Bp. Ambo, we will listen to Cardinal Chito as he leads us to a reflection on the challenges that the Church is facing in the context of Asia. Fifty years ago, in 1970, the bishops of Asia gathered here in Manila, in the historic grounds of the University of Sto. Tomas to be exact. They came to Manila with the Holy Father Pope Paul VI. They decided then that the Church in Asia must discern together and act together to respond to the many challenges that we faced as a continent. As early as the 1970s, they have envisioned a church for the poor, a church for the young, a church that initiates dialogues and respect for diversity and differences. Fifty years later, it’s as if nothing has changed. These are still the very same challenges and concerns that we must face together.

Thus, we call our gathering today, “Celebrate Asia in Manila”. We would like to expand our conversation from the concerns of Manila to the concerns of the Church in the Philippines and Asia. As we commemorate the arrival of Christianity in our islands 500 years ago and as we remember the beginnings of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) 50 years ago, let us proclaim with great joy that “our God walks with us”. And indeed, he has been with us even before the colonizers came. His promise to be with us has never for a moment waned or weakened. Bless, indeed, our God who walks with us.

God’s abiding presence, however, is not just a call to be with Him. It is also a summon to a mission. “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.“ (Mt. 28:18-20) This passage is called the Great Commissioning of the Disciples. Commission literally means to be sent with. We are being sent together to a common mission to go and make disciples. Synodality, therefore, is not just walking together but also doing mission together.

Cardinal Jose Advincula of Manila (File photo by Angie de Silva)
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The Great Commissioning lays down the path of evangelization that we are supposed to take: “Go, make disciples, baptize and teach.” To go forth is the first step. We do not settle with “mere conservation” (EG, 15). We shift our pastoral ministry into a missionary key. We seek to abandon the complacent attitude that says: “We have always done it this way’.” (EG, 33) We open the doors of our churches to let Christ out and to invite people in. Go to the existential peripheries of our time. Go to the places that are in most need of the Good News of Jesus Christ. In our synodal consultations, we heard the clamor for priests to listen to their people, for the laity and the religious to be more active agents of renewal in their communities, for our churches to be open, inclusive and non-judgmental. The direction we are sensing for the Church today is to go out and not to lock ourselves in.

The primary mission given to the eleven in our Gospel reading is to make disciples, followed by baptizing and teaching. We tend to overlook or fail to notice this very important moment in the process of evangelization. We jump right away to the administration of the sacraments and teaching catechesis. We conveniently forget the crucial stage of making disciples. We presume that those we have baptized and those we have catechized are already disciples. When in fact, they were just thrown in the assembly line of the baptized but have never really developed a living and intimate relationship with Christ and made a radical decision to follow Him.

I call on each and every one of us to embark on what the new 2020 Directory for Catechesis calls kerygmatic catechesis: “Kerygmatic catechesis…is a catechesis which manifests the action of the Holy Spirit, who communicates God’s saving love in Jesus Christ and continues to give himself so that every human being may have the fullness of life (Directory for Catechesis, no.2).” Before we can teach systematically the articles and contents of our faith, before we can administer the sacraments meaningfully, we must proclaim the kerygma that Jesus Christ loves us; He gave his life to save us; and now He is living every day at our side to enlighten, strengthen, and free us (EG, 58). Christ is Risen and is at work even today. He longs to be with us and He desires to be part of our lives. We must facilitate this encounter between Jesus and those who seek to become his disciple. Without this experience of coming to faith and intentionally deciding to follow Jesus, all our religious instructions and catechetical programs will end up as tedious and empty academic exercises especially for our young people.

The Salubong ritual we had before our Holy Mass is a powerful image of the encounter between Christ and the grieving Mama Mary. Christ meets us on the way. He who is the way, the truth, and the life always makes the initiative to seek us where we are. The tomb cannot contain Him for long. He is the dawn that breaks the darkness around us. He breaks barriers and closed doors to announce the first “Exsultet”, that He is risen. He appeared to his disciples to restore the broken relationship caused by despair and desertion. He assured Peter that he is forgiven, that all is well between them. But he also told Peter, “Feed my lambs… Tend my sheep.”

Discipleship, therefore, or relationship and intimacy with Christ, is not the end of the evangelization process. We are also called to share Christ with others. “We no longer say that we are ‘disciples’ and ‘missionaries,’ but rather that we are always ‘missionary disciples’” (EG 120).” The work of evangelization is not just for professional catechists or educators. We are all called to evangelize. As Cardinal Chito would often say, let us not complicate the mission of evangelization. It is simply sharing the good news, sharing the many beautiful things that God is doing in our lives. If we are to become “marites”, let us be “marites” of the Good News of Jesus Christ. Let us be like Mary Magdalene on that easter morning. Let us be witnesses to the joy and wonder of hearing the familiar voice of the Master calling us by name.

I have often been asked what to do next after our celebration of the 500 Years of Christianity. After 500YOC, what? My short but emphatic response to it is, let us continue to be the gift that keeps on giving. The 500YOC theme should not be treated as a slogan or a statement only. It must become a reality in our Christian life. A synodal church is a church that is in a permanent state of communion, participation and mission. With our God who walks with us, we will never grow tired in giving the gift of faith, hope and love to all. Brothers and sisters, let us not allow the gift of 500YOC to be wasted and reduced to celebrations and festivities, important though they are. Let us not also allow the synodal consultations to end with the submission of reports. Let listening and accompaniment, encounter and communion, commissioning and serving together be our way of life. Let the Blessed Mother and San Lorenzo de Manila be our companion in this pilgrimage of proclaiming the Good News to our islands, to Asia and to all nations. Amen.

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