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Asian Prelates Make Strong Impression at Synod of Bishops
Vatican City: Whatever its defects, a synod is always a kind of graduate seminar about the realities of life in a global church, bringing together bishops and other church leaders from every nook and cranny of the planet. The opening week of this one has been devoted largely to surveying what works and what doesn’t in terms of Catholic evangelization in various parts of the world, and some distinctive regional accents have already emerged.
To be sure, a bewildering variety of points are always made in the opening stages, and not all the voices from a given region are singing from the same hymnal. In broad strokes, however, here’s what some leading Catholic voices seem to believe is required to make the church relevant in their neighborhoods:
Asia: humility, simplicity and silence
Africa: ministering to people scarred by poverty and violence
Latin America: taking cues from what’s already working, such as popular piety and small Christian communities (often called “base communities”)
Europe and the States: sound doctrine and sacramental practice as an antidote to the influence of a largely secular culture
On this landscape, the Asian voice so far probably has been the most compact as well as the most distinctive.
Tuesday morning, Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, widely considered a rising star among the Asian bishops, said for the church to be a place where people meet God, it needs to learn three things from the example of Jesus: humility, respect for others, and silence.
“The church must discover the power of silence,” Tagle said. “Confronted with the sorrows, doubts and uncertainties of people, she cannot pretend to give easy solutions. In Jesus, silence becomes the way of attentive listening, compassion and prayer. It is the way to truth.”
“The seemingly indifferent and aimless societies of our time are earnestly looking for God,” Tagle said. “The world takes delight in a simple witness to Jesus — meek and humble of heart.”
Irish Fr. Eamonn Conway, a theologian who’s among the expert advisers to the synod, said Thursday that Tagle’s presentation “had a certain resonance” in the synod hall, meaning people were favorably taken by it.
A fellow Filipino, Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, made an equally strong plea for humility.
“Evangelization has been hurt and continues to be impeded by the arrogance of its messengers,” Villegas said. “The hierarchy must shun arrogance, hypocrisy and bigotry.”
“The Gospel cannot thrive in pride,” Villegas said. “When pride seeps into the heart of the church, the Gospel proclamation is harmed.”
Bishop Gervas Rozario of Rajshahi in Bangladesh, meanwhile, stressed the importance of “evangelical poverty” in Asia.
“We must learn not only to renounce worldly goods, but also to appreciate the simplicity and humility of the poor, their happiness with whatever little they have and their concern for others,” Rozario said. “Church leaders must also open their hearts to be evangelized by the evangelical values of the poor.”
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