Unfinished Encounter: a Note on the Voice and Tone of Ecclesia in Asia

Resources »Eapr »East Asian Pastoral Review 2000 »Volume 37 2000 Number 3 »Unfinished Encounter A Note On The Voice And Tone Of Ecclesia In Asia

John Manford Prior, SVD
JOHN MANSFORD PRIOR is a Divine Word Missionary (SVD) who has been working in Indonesia sínce 1973. He is presently secretary of Candraditya Research Centre for the study of Religion and Culture. John was liaison with the English-speaking press during the Synod for Asia. He has previously published two articles on the 1998 Synod.A Tale of Two Synods: Observations on the Special Assembly for AsiaÓ (Vidyajyoti 62, 1998, pp. 654-665), and “Apostles and Martyrs: Consecrated life at the Bishops Synod or Asia (Review for Religious 58,1999, pp. 6- 27).

This papal exhortation is an encouraging word to the diaspora Churches of Asia. Something of the vibrant atmosphere of the 1998 Synod and the living faith of Asian Christians is caught in Ecclesia in Asia’s positive tone.

This note is limited to comments starting with the sources referred to in the footnotes of Ecclesia in Asia. In this way, I hope to determine the character and tone of the document, and so discover how to interpret its voice contextually.


 There are 240 footnotes to Ecclesia in Asia. Some 145 of them, or 60.4%, refer to documents from the Synod for Asia. The remainder refer to Roman sources, except for a single reference to Augustine and another to John Chrysostom.1 John Paul II quotes himself 68 times (283% of the footnotes). The only other popes directly referred to are Paul VI (5 times and Leo XIII (once).2 Other Roman documents include the Roman Missal (twice), the Catechism of the Catholic Church (twice) and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (primary reference once, footnote 166). The only Council referred to directly is Vatican II (15 footnotes, or 6.2% of the total). Conciliar teaching has receded into the background, while contemporary papal teaching is very much in the fore (30.8% of the total).

The Special Assembly for Asia is the dominant source taking up 60.4% of all primary references. The Lineamenta is referred to three times, the Instrumentum Laboris twice, the Nuntius once, the Relatio Ante Disceptationem seven times, theRelatio Post Disceptationem 13 times and the Propositiones some 119 times or almost half (49.6%) of all the footnotes. The synodical documents cited were all drawn up by committees appointed by the Vatican. While the Lineamenta,Instrumentum Laboris and Nuntius have been circulated in ecclesial circles, the major source - the Elenchus Finalis Propositionum - is sub secreto. Only participating bishops received a copy which they duly voted on, recommendation by recommendation. The bookletáwas then handed back to the Synodical Secretariat. Nobody outside Rome has a way of checking this source.

This secrecy seems quite unnecessary. These innocuous propositions were accepted by the bishops with virtual unanimity.3 Most could have been written 30 years ago. Their language is consensual, sensitive topics having already been removed. What needed to be kept secret was the disparity between the draft proposals from the bishops’ groups and the resultant recommendations. Thus, proposals from the working groups on the need to reform the Roman Curia, to democratize and decentralize the Latin Rite and to allow much greater scope to the local Churches to forge ahead with deep inculturation find no space in the Elenchus Finalis Propositionum. To hear the bishops’ voice, we must return to their interventions during the first days of the Synod. This is not easy to do. Participating bishops received only a brief summary of their interventions, not the complete text. The complete texts of the interventions, like the recommendations, are the property of the Synodical secretariat.

In Ecclesia in Asia there is not a single direct reference to any intervention by an individual bishop, nor to interventions by bishops in the name of their conferences. There are no direct references to regional episcopal bodies such as the Federation of Asian Bishos’ Conferences (FABC) or the Council of Oriental Catholic Patriarchs (CPCO).4 In the introduction FABC Assemblies and Seminars are viewed as contributing,”to preparing the Synod and making possible an atmosphere of intense ecclesial and fraternal communion... These other assemblies of Asia’s bishops served providentially as remote preparation for the Synod Assembly” (EA 3; see also 26). I am not sure this Rome-centrism is acceptable in much of Asia.


The pope describes the Synod for Asia as an,”encounter-in-dialogue of the Bishops and Successor of Peter, entrusted with the task of strengthening his brothers.” (EA 8). The Apostolic Exhortation forms one half of this encounter. It is a papal document, the Pope’s response to the voice of the Asian Bishops towards the end of his pontificate. As such it is an important document. For the voice of the Asian Bishops we have to look elsewhere.

Unfortunately, not many will have heard the voice of the bishops to which the pope is rejoining. Few Episcopal Conferences have published the intervention of their delegates.5  In order to understand Ecclesia in Asia as an important part of”an encounter in dialogue between the bishops and the Successor of Peter,” we would need to read the interventions of the Asian Bishops to discover whetherEcclesia in Asia responds to the key issues outlined by the bishops, or to key issues as seen by Rome. The Apostolic Exhortation is one side of the synodical encounter. Reading Ecclesia in Asia is a little like hearing one end of a telephone conversation. It is certainly worth listening to, but so too is the voice at the other end of the line! Only when these two voices are brought together can we have an”encounter-in-dialogue.” Such an ongoing encounter is vital and should help to shape the future of Asia’s diaspora communities of faith in the 21st century. Thus, it is important not to read Ecclesia in Asia in isolation, but as part of an ongoing conversation.


To discover whether Ecclesia in Asia is speaking in the same language and about the same concerns as the Asian bishops, we need to turn to their 191 interventions delivered during the first seven days of the Synod. Twenty-three of these were on inter-faith dialogue, 18 on the Local Church as a Communion of Communities (a participative, collegial Church), 16 interventions concerned inculturation, and another 11 the option of the Church to accompany the poor and marginalized. Ten more dwelt on the challenge of economic globalization. Another 10 took up questions of Asian spirituality and God-experience, 7 were on youth and another 7 on the Church in China. Six interventions focused on the ancient Apostolic Churches of the Middle East, five took up the question of women, five more the laity, four on schools, four on ecumenism, four on indigenous peoples, four more on family life.

Most of these interventions (76.3%to be exact) can be clustered around four main topics.

  1. Right at the top comes the dialogue between the Asian Churches with          other faith traditions (22.5% of the total).
  2. At a very close second comes the need for the Church to become    authentically Asian through an ongoing dialogue with living cultures (21.4% of the total).
  3. In third place comes the need for the Churches to learn to dialogue with the poor (17.2% of the total).
  4. And in fourth place, the bishops acknowledge that the Asian Church is a church of the laity (15.2% of the total). These are the key issues that have engaged the FABC over the past 30 years. Are they also the key issues of Ecclesia in Asia?


Virtually every paragraph in the Exhortation rings with phrases like, “preaching... the saving Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ must be your absolute priority” (EA 2), “proclaim with vigor in word and deed that Jesus Christ is the Savior” (9),”Jesus is the greatest gift which the Church can offer to Asia” (l0),”The disciples of Christ in Asia must... be unstinting in their efforts to fulfil the mission... the love of Jesus the Savior.” (50). For the Pope the key issue is the direct proclamation of Jesus Christ to those who are not yet cornmitted to Him. To this end, the Asian Church needs to hold firmly to a correct formulation of faith in Jesus Christ as Savior. An explicit, complete proclamation of Christ must be the overriding concern of the Asian Churches.

Looking again at the 191 interventions, and remembering the informal conversations during Synodal coffee breaks, I can say with absolute certainty that not a single Asian bishop would disagree with the who of mission, with the subject of proclamation. The faith we live is Christic, the ongoing practice of the Asian Churches is a faithful following of the Incarnate Word; on this the integrity of our mission is founded. The key issue that the bishops grapple with is the how of mission.


A central thread running through the synodal interventions is that Jesus Christ is made known primarily through authentic witness by believers who are transparent in their experience of God.6 The centrality of Christ is made manifest through building up a truly local Church -rooted in local cultures while open to social change, in dialogue with the great Asian religions and the cosmic religions of indigenous peoples, above all by becoming a Church of the poor and marginalized. Many Asian bishops do not separate proclamation from dialogue; in Asia we proclaim in and through dialogue. Dialogue is the best and often enough the only viable means of proclamation dialogue of life and action; of hopes and ideals, of faith and convictions.

In Ecclesia in Asia I hear an articulate expression, in European theology, of who Christ is. In the bishops’ interventions I meet with pastoral overseers struggling to live as alter Christus often times in difficult situations. In the Apostolic Exhortation and the synodal interventions we listen to two different voices coming from two different worlds. The voice of Asia is vibrant with life authentically lived in all its vitality, color and spontaneity. The rhythm of Rome beats to a doctrine correctly intoned and broadcast in its entirety. From their interventions, the Asian bishops are aware that the ecclesial situation in Asia is as varied as is the world in which they live. There is a rich variety of Asian Churches by reason of origin, rite and establishment. As was explicitly stated in theInstrumentum Laboris, there are”Churches of Antioch of the Syrians, Antioch of the Greek Melkites and Antioch of the Maronites as well as the Latin Church of Jerusalem. There are also the Chaldean Church of Babylonia and the Armenian Church... Apostolic Churches, coming from the Syrian tradition, ie the Syro-Malabar Church and the Syro- Malankara Church.”7 The communion of Asian Churches is“bhinneka tunggal ika”8 - a unity in diversity. All these Churches live under different cultural, social, religious and political contexts with all their related problems, difficulties, restrictions and even persecution. They are faced with very different situations in their life and witness. Opportunities for, and methods of, evangelization vary from country to country. Hence no uniform pattern of proclamation-in-dialogue, solidarity with the poor or inculturation is applicable to all the Churches in Asia. Interestingly enough, Recommendation No.4 which acknowledges the pluriform nature of the Asian Churches, was one of eight recommendations nowhere referred to in Ecclesia in Asia.9


More than this. In complex and difficult ethnic, religious, economic and political situations, evangelization is not so much a question of baptizing (Church growth), as of day-to-day witnessing to the authentic love and hope in Jesus the Christ (leaven, salt, light). A mission spirituality of witness consists of an interplay between contemplation and action. Missionary witness needs to be hard-headed, tough-minded, pragmatic. Holiness is found in doing what there is to do (age quod agis). While God-experience and authentic witness get their due mention in the Apostolic Exhortation (cf 23) they do not form the pivotal prism through which to view the holistic  mission of the Church as was the case in many of the bishops’ interventions. However, the justice-dimension of authentic spirituality (recommendation No. 19) is quoted in the Exhortation. Nevertheless, in general the key for the pope is doctrinal (the who and what of mission), for the bishops it is pastoral-practical (the how and when).


While the Pope sees the crux of the matter as doctrinal (Christo-centrism), the bishops’ interventions saw their problem as not with Jesus the Christ - who is widely accepted and loved by Asians - but the presence of a foreign Church burdened by a colonial past. As many Asians have put it over the years:”Jesus of the Gospels - yes; your Western Church - no!” Ecclesia in Asia finds it strange that Jesus the Asian, has become a foreigner in Asia (EA 20). Apart from the indigenous Churches in the Near East and Kerala, most remaining Churches are the result of colonial expansion and missionary outreach working hand-in-hand. Whatever the nuances, however great the social contribution of the mission Churches in the past, however heroic the sacrifices of cross-cultural missioners over the centuries, the fact remains in stark clarity: the Latin Churches of Asia are a foreign presence. They are alien in the official dress of its leaders; alien in its rituals (despite use of mother tongue); alien in its formation of cultic and community leaders in foreign thought patterns in seminaries whose professors are foreign-educated; alien in its large, often rich, institutions among people who are generally poor; above all alien in that Christians have had to uproot themselves from their own cultural identity in order to claim a”hybrid” Christian one. This is a major issue for most Asian bishops. However, Ecclesia in Asia mentions it in passing in a single sentence as though the problem was over:”... the Church in many places was still considered as foreign to Asia, and indeed was often associated in people’s minds with the colonial powers” (9).

These are fundamentally different readings of history and therefore of the present situation. For the bishops, the way forward in mission is a radical renewal of the Church that it become authentically Asian proclaiming the Jesus of the Gospels, above all through life-witness in a radical service to the poor and in shining examples of God-experience. Orthopraxis in all its Gospel radicality. This comes out clearly in the work of thc FABC over the past 30 years and is vindicated by the many synodical interventions.

Ecclesia in Asia is surely right in placing Christ at the center rather than, say, the Church, whether Latin or Oriental. This is not to separate Christ from his body, the Church, but rather to accept the Church as sign, sacrament and instrument of Christ’s saving presence. The eternal, incarnate, redemptive, cosmic presence of Christ can neither be confined to, nor controlled by the Church. The central problem is neither Christ nor his acceptance/rejection by his fellow Asians. The key missiological problem is rather the Western Church’s alien tone and idiom inherited from colonial times. Meanwhile, the Oriental Churches of the Near East and South India have too easily allowed themselves to become encapsulated within certain social strata of local culture. On the who of mission both the Apostolic Exhortation and the bishops’ interventions are in agreement although the languages are clearly different. As for the how of mission we need time, patience and perseverance in order to move away from insulated, devotional ghettos and re-invent ourselves as dynamic diaspora living out a dialogue of life and action.


Papal doctrine is important. The theology of religions in Ecclesia in Asiafollows the fulfilment theory. Three examples from many:

1. “The religious values (world religions) teach, await their fulfilment in Jesus Christ” (EA 6).

2. “... as the incarnate Word who lived, died and rose from the dead, Jesus Christ is now proclaimed as the fulfilment of all creation, of all history,and of all human yearning for fullness of life” (l4).

3. “... the Incarnate Wisdom of God whose grace brings to fruition the ‘seeds’ of divine Wisdom already present in the lives, religions and peoples of Asia” (20). This theology is good in that it preserves intact the Christological formulations of past centuries. It has become inadequate in the face of the experience of heart-to-heart inter-faith dialogue.

Here we should note that throughout the Synod bishop after bishop gave great encouragement to their theologians to discover and formulate Asian theologies. Paragraph 22 quotes Recommendation 7, which, despite its caution, remains a positive encouragement to Asian theologians. The quote reads:”... this theologizing is to be carried out with courage, in faithfulness to the Scriptures and to the Church’s Tradition, in sincere adherence to the Magisterium and with an awareness of pastoral realities.” The fulfilment theory must not become the only normative formulation possible. Asian theologians need to continue working on the question from their deep involvement in inter-faith struggles for justice and in considered reflection upon that involvement.10


There is a large measure of agreement between Rome and Asia on the Church’s compassionate solidarity with the marginalized. The emphasis of the bishops’ interventions on social engagement is found throughout Ecclesia in Asiaand in its continual underscoring the importance of living out Christian Social Doctrine (cf. 7 and especially Chapter VI, 32-41). The Gospel of Life is a splendid holistic treatment (35). Perhaps that is why the rather strident recommendation on abortion (No.46) is not referred to. My only regret is that this fine paragraph is separated from the section on peacemaking (38) - also a fine treatment of the theme.11 One tragedy in the North American Church is that those working for preserving life in the womb and those working for peace among nations are divided into two quite separate camps. However, the Gospel of Life is a”seamless robe,” work for unborn children and the ending of war as a way of”solving” inter-communal and international problems belong together. In Asia, the issue is absolutely vital, for many of our countries have long become militarized and our cultural values brutalized.

The Apostolic Exhortation seems to identify Christian Social Doctrine with Petrine Social Doctrine. As important and dynamic as the social encyclicals have been over the past century, it remains true that social engagement”at the coal face” is producing rich seams of social doctrine also. This is clear in both the documents of the FABC and that of various Asian Episcopal Conferences. I feel that neither the episcopal interventions during the Synod nor Ecclesia in Asia itself has made an adequate analysis of economic and political globalization with all its social, ethical and humanitarian consequences. Perhaps the FABC Office for Human Development can help us to coalesce all this committed involvement and considerable reflection into a common focus.


Time and again, Ecclesia in Asia interprets inculturation as a matter of translation and presentation (e.g., EA 20-22). Asia is the “external context,” while Rome asserts a “normative” and “universal” theology. Some might see this translation model as almost “colonial” - the integration of elements of “satellite” cultures into a dominantly Roman frame! However, for Asian theologians, present currents and future trends in society are not simply context; they provide material, questions, and significant existential answers for discerning the provident way of God. The logoi spermatikoi, in an attentive reading of the signs of the times, are part of the revealing Word of the Eternally Provident God and Father of Jesus the Nazarene.

The Asian Churches are struggling not only to affirm but also to re-discover and regain the cultural identities of their peoples. They are engaged in an inter-cultural process. From the interventions on inculturation, it is clear that for many bishops inculturation has hardly begun.12 The Western Church tradition has yet to be re-interpreted and creatively given new expressions. Not appropriation but encounter, not absorption but colloquy, not translation from a European model but the freedom to allow a slow, gradual “natural” growth of new embodiments of the incamate and crucified Word. These new embodiments create new theologies, new ethics, new community arrangements, new worship. They also transform local cultures from within as yeast, as light, as New Life. The Gospel challenges each and every culture - even while it is itself always expressed within certain cultures - Hebrew, Greek, Roman, European, Asian. In mission, priority needs to be given to the evangelization of cultures. That is, a fundamental, deep-structured dialogue with indigenous thought patterns in the context of rapid socio-cultural changes.

Constrictive pastoral directives do not heed the mystery of the incarnation.Christus heri, hodie, semper (Heb 13:8) is present in a multiplicity of ministries(plura et diversa) in the one Body of Christ with many diverse functions. Inculturation is hampered by each and every form of prescribed conformity. An authentic dialogue between Word and culture is at the heart of true inculturation.


The need for a culture of dialogue within the Communion of Catholic Churches has never been greater. Any tension between the universal and the particular is overcome through interpretation and dialogue - a dialogue between theory and reality in cross-cultural communication. We need to develop an open particularity in a communion of Local Churches, not ethnic congregations encapsulated in local ebbs and tides.

Ecclesia in Asia identifies the Universal Church with Rome, that is, with the Petrine ministry and its Roman Curia (e.g. 26 and 43). They, and its western theology and discipline, are the norm. This ideology underpins the ever-increasing - and utterly untraditional - centralization of the Roman Rite which has accelerated rather alarmingly over the past 20 years. Asia has been seeking freedom to proclaim the Gospel in Asian ways, while Rome seems to be responding with ever closer control! The many concrete recommendations by the bishops for re-distributing power in the Church are totally absent from the Exhortation - even the simple suggestion that Rome need not insist on approving liturgical translations in languages they do not know!13

A personal note. The many sharp criticisms of the Roman curia and Roman centralism made on the Synod floor, should not necessarily be interpreted as the wish of every bishop to build up a democratic, participative Communion of Churches. Experience shows that often enough, greater local autonomy is nothing but an opportunity to work in a more “local” way, whether that be that neo-feudal, overtly ethnic or whatever. Greater autonomy from Rome is certainly going to be on the agenda of the next General Council. However, we should be aware that for some bishops it might simply mean a chance to build up a local power base. At least, this is what has been happening in many religious congregations.14 Maybe, that is what has also happened in some of the Oriental Rite Churches over the years. Therefore, in the words of the FABC, we need a “new way of being Church,”15 not simply a passing down of the powers and rights of the Roman Curia to the local bishop or to the local Synod of bishops. We should not replace Roman centralization with local encapsulization.

Recommendation 13 entitled “The Church as Communion” welcomes the Petrine office and its ministry in guaranteeing and promoting the unity of the Church. In this recommendation, the many proposals on the need for a root-and-branch reform of the Roman Curia have been reduced to a single recommendation for a greater internationalization of the Roman Dicasteries. Even this remnant is missing from Ecclesia in Asia. The Apostolic Exhortation does, however, have an oblique reference to the bishops’ dissatisfaction with Curia interference: “An essential feature of this service (of the Curia) is the respect and sensitivity which these close co-workers of the Successor of Peter show towards the legitimate diversity of the local Churches and the variety of cultures and peoples with which they are in contact” (25).


Ecclesia in Asia gives us the voice of Rome; in FABC and the synodical interventions we hear voices from Asia. In the pope's words, these two voices need to be brought into an”encounter-in-dialogue.” However, neither the mechanisms of the Episcopal Synod nor its methodology made for a true encounter-in-dialogue between East and West. A Synod has no decision-making powers.  Even the few modest proposals that were allowed into the recommendations have not been included in the Apostolic Exhortation. A more universal and authoritative instrument is necessary, able to confront issues freely in the full exercise of episcopal collegiality.

At the Synod for Oceania held six months after the Synod for Asia, Michael Curran, Superior General of the MSC, called for a culture of dìalogue in the Church. He said:”There is a fairly widespread feeling that the growing centralization of authority in the Roman Curia is doing damage to the legitimate autonomy of the local Churches and to the inculturation of the Gospel in a truly world-wide catholicity.” He went on to make a concrete proposal:  May I make bold to suggest that we need, at the beginning of the new millennium, an Ecumenical Council in order to deal directly and effectively with issues of Church Order and Government?16 During the Second Synod for Europe in October 1999, Cardinal Carlo Martini ended his intervention by saying: “It would surely be good and useful for the bishops of today and tomorrow, in a Church becoming ever more diverse in its languages, to repeat the experience of communion and collegiality and of the Holy Spirit which their predecessors had enjoyed at the Second Vatican Council.”17 The Indonesian bishops, in their response to the Linearnenta for the upcoming Episcopal Synod due in 2001, made a similar call.18 I would like to end this note on Ecclesia in Asia by quoting the final section of their response:

“The evangelical mission of proclamation can be re-vitalized through a re-ordering of relationships between local Churches (Metropolitans and Suffragans; national Conferences and regional Federations) and between local/regional Churches and the See of Peter in Rome (a thorough overhaul of the diplomatic corps and Roman Curia). The more appropriate forum is not a purely consultative Synod but a decision-making General Council where the agenda and secretariat would be in the hands of the bishops, as the successors of the Apostles and as the closest collaborators of the Holy See. [The Council of Constance (1414- 1418)] decreed that there ought to be a General Council every decade.] Would it not be splendid to open the new millennium with a new General Council of the Communion of Catholic Churches? In Council we would take up again the ecclesial-missionary vision of the Second Vatican Council, and we could dismantle the unnecessary centralizing power-structures that were gradually built up after the Gregorian reform at the beginning of the second millennium. The church, semper reformanda, would then enter the third millennium under the inspiration of the first: as a Communion of local/autonomous Churches, working in dynamic  partnership with Rome and each other, through enhanced Metropolitan Sees, Regional Synods and a variety of Patriarchates, both old and new. All these issues were discussed, but not decided upon, during the Second Vatican Council. Experience shows that we need to revise the structures of governance in the Church, perhaps even - as proposed by Paul VI in 1965 - to draw up a comprehensive Constitution (lex ecclesiae fundamentalis) according to the ancient principles of collegiality, subsidiarity and solidarity and with a clear separation of powers at each level.”


There are 240 footnotes. John Paul II quotes himself 68 times, Paul VI 5 times, Leo XIII once. The Roman Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith is referred to directly once, the Catechism twice,  and the Roman Missal twice. The Second Vatican Council is referred to 15 times, Augustine once and John Chrysostom once.

The Special Assembly for Asia is referred to 145 times as follows:
Lineamenta 3 times, Instrumentum Laboris twice, Nuntius once, Relatio Ante Disceptationem 7 times, Relatio Post Disceptationem 13 times and the Propositiones 119 times.

Frequency of Recommendations Referred to in Footnotes

Six Primary References: Recommendations No.27 (Consecrated Life) & No.29 (Laity & Evangilization).

Five Primary References: Recommendations No.22 (Human Rights & the Promotion of Justice & Peace) & No.35 (Women).

Four Primary References: Recommendations No.l3 (The Church as Communion), No.2l. (Education), No.25 (The Formation of Seminary Professors and  Staff), No.45 (Social Communications) & No.50 (The Oriental Churches).

Three Primary References: Recommendations No.8 (The Joy of Announcing Jesus Christ), No.15 (The Diocese of Communion), No.32 (Family), No.33 (Pastoral Care of Children), No.34 (Youth), No.36 (Pastoral Care of Migrants), No.38 (Tribal Peoples), No.41 (Interreligious Dialogue), No.44 (Human Promotion and Evangelization), No.51 (Particular Churches in Difficult Circumstances), No.52 (The Church in China), & No.57 (Jerusalem).

Two Primary References: Recommendations No.5 (Jesus Christ the Savior of All Peoples), No.6 (Presentation of Jesus Christ), No.7 (Problems in the Presentation of Jesus Christ in Asia), No.11 (The Spirit of God in Creation and History), No.l2 (The Spirit of God at Work in Asia), No.17 (The Word of God), No.20 (Healing Ministry), No.23 (Peacemaking), No.28 (Missionary Societies of Apostolic Life), No.31 (Renewal Movements), No.39 (Option for the Marginalized), No.43 (Inculturation), No.48 (The Debt Crisis), No.49 (Globalization), No.53 (North Korea) & No.56 (Churches in New Areas).

A Single Primary Reference: Recommendations No.l (Introduction), No.3 (The Challenge of Asia), No.l4 (The Communion of Local Churches), No.l6 (The Parish), No.lB (Biblical Formation), No.l9 (Spirituality), No.24 (Formation of Seminarians), No.30 (Basic Ecclesial Communities), No.42 (Ecumenism), No.47 (Ecology), No.54 (Asian Saints and Martyrs), No.55 (Embargo in Iraq), No.58 (A Word of Gratitude) & No.S9 (The Blessed Virgin Mary).

No Primary Reference: Recommendations No.2 (The Challenge of Asia), No.4 (A Variety of Ecclesial Realities), No.9 (Emphasis on God-Experience in Jesus Christ), No.10 (The Trinitarian Plan of Salvation), No.26 (The Priesthood instituted within the People of God), No.37 (Pastoral Care of Tourists), No.40 (Proclamation) & No.46 (Abortion).



1. The splendid citation from John Chrysostom is worth quoting in full: “Do you wish to honor the body of Christ? Then do not ignore him when he is naked. Do not pay him silken honors in the temple only then to neglect him when he goes cold and naked outside. He who said, ‘This is my body’ is the One who also said, ‘You saw me hungry and you gave me no food’... What good is it if the Eucharistic Table groans under the weight of golden chalices, when Christ is dying of hunger. Start by satisfying his hunger, and then with what remains you may adorn the altar as well. Footnote No.203, EA 115. Quote from Homilies on the Gospel of Matthew, 50, 3-4: PG 58, 508-509. The Augustinian quote is brief: (The Church)”progress on her pilgrimage amid this world’s persecutions and God’s consolations.” Footnote No.113, EA 73 (De Civitate Dei, XVIII 51, 2: PL 41, 614).

2. I refer to the first, or primary reference in each footnote. Many footnotes have additional, subsidiary references.

3. There were 168 voting participants present. Recommendation Nos.21 and 23 were accepted unanimously (on education and peacemaking respectively). Nos. 13 and 15 received 156 positive votes (The Church as Communion and The Diocese as Communion), No. 31 just 150 votes (Renewal Movements), No. 41b was accepted by 142 votes (a request for a directory on interreligious dialogue), No.43 by.149 votes (inculturation), and No.50 by 140 votes (the Oriental Churches). The highest number of negative vote (some 14) was to recommendation No.43 on inculturation - it did not go far enough! The other “high” number of negatives was recommendation No.50 on the Oriental Churches. From reactions by the bishops and patriarchs, it can be assumed that they were not satisfied that this recommendation truly represented the views expressed in their sharp interventions.

4. Other Asian-wide ecclesial bodies have also “disappeared,” such as AMOR (Asia-wide Association of Religious)- which received a positive endorsement in the Lineamenta (#14).

5. The Filipino interventions were published in Philippina Sacra. Perhaps only Indonesia has published a comprehensive “Study Guide” to the Synod, translating a wide selection of the summaries frorn the entire range of Synodical interventions, arranged thematically, with brief introductions to each theme and questions for reflection at the end of each section, a total of 386 pages in all. Outside Asia, the USA bishops usually publish their synodical interventions in Origins.

6. The ten interventions on God-experience and Asian spirituality were Nos. 37 (India), 56 (India), 24 (Philippines), 88 (Germany), 121 (Vietnam), 124 (Malabar-India), 135 (Myanmar), 136 (Superior Gencral), 139 (India). Also auditor No.28.

7. Instrumentum Laboris par. l1, p.9.

8. Bhinneka tunggal ika is the official motto of Indonesia - Unity in diversity.

9. The eight recommendations not referred to in the footnotes are Nos.2 (the challenge of Asia), 4 (varied ecclesial situations), 9 (emphasis on God-Experience in Jesus Christ), 10 (the Trinitarian plan of salvation), 26 (the priesthood instituted within the People of God), 37 (pastoral care of tourists), 40 (proclamation) and 46 (abortion). Nos. 2, 4, 9, 10 and 26 were very typical of the bishops’ outlook. No.40 is not quoted, but then the theme of proclamation takes up most of the Exhortation with copious quotes from the pope’s previous writings. The neglect to refer to the strident tune of No.46 is fortunate; the Exhortation is beautifully holistic in its approach to life.

10. A superb, duly nuanced alternative approach is Jacques Dupuis’ Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism, New York: Orbis, 1997.

11. Recommendation 55, quoting John Paul II, had called for the lifting of the embargo on Iraq. This has been very much watered down in the Exhortation at the end of par. 38, p. l10.

12. The 16 synodal interventions dealing primarily with “deep-inculturation” are Nos.l (Japan), 4 (Japan), 04 (Japan- delivered in Latin!), 25 (Philippines), 42 (India), 58 (Philippines), 64 (Indonesia), 71 (Vatican), 9l (Vietnam), 93 (Vietnam), 98 (Vietnam), 103 (Indonesia), 107 (Superior General), 145 (Philippines), 158 (Vatican), 154 (Cambodia).

13. Recommendation 43 sought the authority and freedom to inculturate the liturgy, including a specific request that Episcopal and Regional Bishops’ Conferences have the competence to approve translations of liturgical texts in the vernacular. In the Exhortation,”greater freedom” has become “work more closely with the Holy See”! (cf. par. 22, p. 65).

14. See Abeyasingha 1999: 621-9. Western-led democratic reform of Religious Congregations in the 1960s and 70s has often been translated in Asia into an opportunity to incorporate local values many of which are far from democratic. The author speaks from the Sri Lankan context. Much of what he says is applicable elsewhere in Asia.

15. This is the collaborative, participative ideal behind the Asian Integrated Pastoral Approach (Asipa) promoted by the FABC.

16. Curran 1999:157-8, Address to the Synod for Oceania. (Quoted from General Bulleltin MSC, n.6/98, December 1998.)

17. Carlo Martini, SJ, Address to the Second Synod for Europe as quoted in “Church in the World,” The Tablet, l6 October 1999. Martini listed topics for the next Council such as the deepening and development of the Second Vatican Council’s doctrine of the Church as communion; the lack of ordained ministers; the position of wornen in society and the Church; the participation of the laity in ministerial responsibilities; sexuality; marriage discipline; penitential practice; relations with the Orthodox Churches and the general need to revive ecumenical hope; the relationship between democracy and values and between civil law and the moral law.

18. The l5 page response is dated Jakarta 10th August 1999 and signed by bishop Johanes Hadiwikarta, Secretary General of the Conference.


Abeyasingha, Nibal

1999 “The Next Generation of Religious in Asia,” Review for Religious, 58:6.

Curran, Michael M.S.C.

1999 “A Culture of Dialogue,”  Sedos Bulletin, 31:5.