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Amid claim of coming ‘Asian millennium,’ Asian bishops told to discern Holy Spirit

Pope Francis said he wished “in some way to accompany you in the work of fraternity and exchange of ideas that you will carry out”

Pope Francis on Wednesday called on Asia’s Catholic bishops, currently gathered in Thailand, to discern what the Holy Spirit is telling them. 

Marking the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC), more than 150 bishops from two dozen nations across the region are meeting in Bangkok from Oct. 12–30.

In his video message, Pope Francis said he wished “in some way to accompany you in the work of fraternity and exchange of ideas that you will carry out.”

The pope told Asia’s bishops they had to answer the question of what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Churches in Asia.

FABC president Cardinal Charles Maung Bo said in a message published on the event’s official website: “The baton of interpreting Christ to the modern man and woman, I think, passes on to Asia. Yes, I strongly believe this is the Asian Millennium.”

Cardinal Bo, archbishop of Yangon, is the first cardinal from Burma and one of several Asian prelates considered to personify the growing prominence of the Church in Asia.

The FABC was established in 1970 on the occasion of Pope Paul VI’s visit to Manila, where he encountered 180 Catholic bishops from across Asia.

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Bishops at the time, Pope Francis said Oct. 12, “noted that the masses were awakening from fatalism to a life worthy of man … culturally diverse societies were awakening to become a true community of peoples.”

“This meant that the Church in Asia was called to be more authentically the Church of the poor, the Church of the young, and a Church in dialogue with Asian brothers and sisters of other confessions,” the pontiff added.

With the notable exception of the People’s Republic of China, most Asian countries today are members of the FABC, now gathering in Thailand. Pope Francis said on Wednesday, in doing so, the Church was “forming; it is strengthening on the way.” 

The celebrations marking the federation’s anniversary, initially planned for the year 2020, had to be postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The gathering now underway has the theme “FABC 50: Journeying together as peoples of Asia ‘…and they went a different way’” (Matthew 2:12). 

In an earlier message to Cardinal Bo, Pope Francis said this theme was “most fitting” within the broader context of the upcoming Synod on Synodality. 

“I pray that the deliberations of the general conference will enable your local Churches to develop, within the polyhedric unity of the People of God creatively ‘different ways’ to proclaim the joy of the Gospel, to form new generations of missionary disciples, and to labor for the extension of Christ’s kingdom of universal holiness, justice, and peace,” the pope said.

Pope Francis concluded his message on Wednesday by blessing those gathered in Thailand. 

Filipino Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, a leading figure at the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Evangelization of Peoples, will preside over the closing Mass on Oct. 30.

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