By : Jose Kavi
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka: Catholic bishops of Asia began their eleventh plenary assembly with Pope Francis’ special envoy urging them to have a bold vision to transform families facing innumerable problems of modern society.
Pastoral leadership and commitment should focus on family, which holds the future of the Church in Asia, Cardinal Telesphore Placidus Toppo, archbishop of Ranchi, said in his homily at opening Mass of plenary on November 29.
Nearly 150 bishops and their officials representing 28 episcopal conferences in Asia are attending the seven-day plenary at Negombo near the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo.
The quadrennial assembly has chosen the theme, “The Asian Catholic Family: Domestic Church of the Poor on a Mission of Mercy.”
“The biggest challenge to this Plenary Assembly would be to have an all-inclusive picture of the families across Asia, the largest continent in the world with 48 countries and the largest population of people professing various religious faiths within varied cultural and social milieus,” Cardinal Toppo said.
He reminded the bishops that deliberating on the Catholic families is “a God given moment” for them to carry forward the message of the Year of Mercy that ended on November 20.
Although “the Holy Year of Mercy was concluded on the feast of the universal Kingship of Jesus, the mission of mercy continues,” asserted the first tribal from Asia to become a cardinal.
The cardinal, who became a bishop 38 years ago, told fellow prelates that although families in Asia are “domestic churches of the poor” they can become instruments” for their mission of mercy in a region beset with varied problems.
He recalled that in the past traditional ties, cultural values and social norms enhanced by faith had guide Catholic families in the region. However, families now face problems such as unfaithfulness, brokenness, loneliness, lukewarmness, poverty, unemployment and several other problems.
The cardinal referred to the day’s Mass reading about Isaiah’s vision of a shoot emerging from the stump of Jesse ger and compared the Asian family situation with the despair, brokenness, hopelessness and destruction that the Israelites experienced under the arrogant Assyrian king.
“Family ties are slowly breaking up affecting family peace and the faith generated unity. The modern media and technocratic lifestyles have left their adverse effects on our youth,” the cardinal explained.
He also bemoaned market economy making people greedier and individualistic affecting family ties and family prayer.
All this, he added, has brought “a strange dichotomy” for the Catholic families where they have to live their faith while tacking social and cultural issues affecting society.
He wants the bishops to chart a clear plan to transform families and engage them in the mission of mercy. “Our challenge then is to confer on the families the required faith dynamism” for this task, he added.
“Each family will have to grow into a fruit bearing tree and all of them together create the new pasture of fruitfulness,” the cardinal elaborated.
Cardinal Toppo also urged the bishops to become compassionate and listen to the cries of families with “angelic” patience and accompany them in their struggles.
For these the pastoral workers have to leave the “comfort zones” of their institutions, the papal envoy asserted. Families are “our hope and the best medium of evangelization and transformation,” he added.
Acknowledging that that task to prepare Catholic families for the mission of mercy is immense, the papal envoy assured the bishops they can meet the challenge sticking close to Jesus, their master.
[Report prepared by Jose Kavi of Matters India (www.mattersindia.com) for the FABC Office of Social Communication.]