Dearly beloved Sisters and Brothers in Christ:
1. Called by the Holy Father Pope John Paul II, on the eve of the Third Millennium, we the Fathers of the Special Assembly for Asia of the Synod of Bishops, together with the Fraternal Delegates and other Invitees, met in Rome from 19th April to 14th May, 1998. United with you all, our hearts are filled with profound gratitude to God the Father. He loved the world so much that he sent his only Son Jesus our Saviour, so that all may have life and have it abundantly (cf. Jn 10:10).
2. Our coming together, for the first time, from all parts of Asia, made this Synod a unique experience and a foundational event upon which our particular Churches could build. From the very start, we gathered round the Holy Father to offer the Eucharistic Sacrifice near the tomb of St. Peter. We prayed and sang in the different languages of Asia. We invoked the martyrs and saints of our people and we worshipped the Lord with gestures taken from our own cultures. We listened to the Apostle John sharing with us the revelation he received: "Listen to what the Spirit says to the churches... " (Rev 3:6) of Asia. "Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven Churches ......" (Rev 1:11).
This Synod brought together participants from all over Asia as well as representatives from other continents. We thank God for the profound sense of communion we have felt in Christ, for the sincere sharing of pastoral concerns and for the deep solidarity we have experienced. The presence of delegates from countries such as Myanmar, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia as well as from Central Asia, Mongolia and Siberia was a special reason for us to thank God. Previously, persons from these places had difficulties participating in such assemblies. We were sad that the two Bishops, who were expected to bring us the voice of the Church in Mainland China, could not be with us, but we prayed for them and benefited by their prayers.
All the testimonies of the great work done by the thousands of missionaries in Asia from the time of the Apostles down to our own times, evoked in us a deep sense of gratitude. We are thankful for all the help received from the various mission agencies, especially the Pontifical Mission Societies and other Church organisations, which generously assist the Church in Asia. We are grateful to God for the inspiration and heroic example we have of many missionaries and Asian martyrs. We also thank the Lord for our sisters and brothers who today carry on the Church's mission in challenging circumstances in different countries. Their trials were recalled on various occasions during the Synod.
3. We respectfully greet all our sisters and brothers in Asia who have put their confidence in other religious traditions. We gladly acknowledge the spiritual values of the great religions of Asia such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam... We esteem the ethical values in the customs and practices found in the teachings of the great philosophers of Asia, which promote natural virtues and pious devotion to ancestors. We also respect the beliefs and religious practices of indigenous / tribal people, whose reverence for all creation manifests their closeness to the Creator.
Together with all Asian peoples, we wish to grow in sharing our richness and in having mutual respect for our differences. We resolve to work together to improve the quality of life of our people. We consider our faith as our greatest treasure and would like to share it with all, fully respecting their religious beliefs and their freedom.
4. We prayed together and listened every day to the one among us who had been chosen to comment on the Word of God for us. The interventions in the plenary assembly, the group discussions, and the peaceful and orderly dynamics of the entire Synod, made us experience day after day that the Spirit of the Lord was by our side. He made us aware of our shortcomings and failings because of which we may be poor witnesses of Christ's saving love. We ourselves need to be evangelised while we strive to evangelise others. We wish to so live, that by seeing us, others may catch a glimpse of the marvellous riches that God has bestowed on us in his Son Jesus.
It is the Holy Spirit who helps us to understand what vision of the Church in Asia we should have as we stand on the threshold of the Third Millennium. The presence among us of representatives of particular Churches who were persecuted in the past and of those now facing increasing intolerance, has added to our understanding of the situation of Christians living in difficult circumstances.
The Fraternal Delegates from other Christian Churches rekindled in us the longing for unity of all Christians which Our Lord desired and prayed for. This reminded us of the urgent need to foster ecumenism. The contributions of special guests and representatives from the laity, religious and apostolic associations have sharpened in us our awareness of our pastoral ministry beyond our traditional and institutional concerns.
5. The Church was entrusted by the Risen Lord with the task of proclaiming the Good News of God's Kingdom in the power of the Holy Spirit. It takes as its model the early Christians who "devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and the prayers" (Acts 2:42).
Our understanding of mission is that all may have life and have it abundantly (cf. Jn 10:10). Having its source in the Blessed Trinity, this life is communicated to us by Jesus, the Son of God, sent to save all humankind from sin, evil and death, and bring us to the dignity and unity to which we are called by God.
The Word of God should have central place in our lives and should nourish us spiritually. The Bible is not an ordinary book, but rather the living voice of the living God who calls us every day to carry out His plan for our lives and our world. We are happy to note that thanks to good Bible translations available in local languages, people have access to "the Words of Eternal Life" (Jn 6:68).
All Christians have the duty to proclaim Christ. The urge to do this springs from the joy of having found a treasure and the desire of sharing it. In Jesus Christ, the unknown and inaccessible God fully reveals and communicates Himself. The living Father sent Jesus, who draws his life from Him (cf. Jn 6:57). This is the life Jesus has come to share with us. It is the source of all life and lasts forever.
Many creative ways, in consonance with Asian cultures, were suggested to present Jesus to our sisters and brothers. We acknowledge the wonderful service being rendered by those who bring the Good News to Asians who have not heard about Jesus Christ. We believe that the presentation of Jesus as the personification of God's love and forgiveness has great relevance for Asia.
We are all aware that the liturgy has a key role in evangelisation. It is an event where people may touch God and experience him as the One who takes the initiative to meet them. This evokes our response in adoration, contemplation and silence. For this, however, the liturgy must be participatory. The gestures should convey that something solemn and holy is happening. Even though we felt the urgent need to take more and more into account the local cultures in our liturgical celebrations, we note with joy that practically everywhere in Asia the liturgy is held in the language of the people.
Above all, it calls for a deep missionary spirituality, rooted in Christ, with special emphasis on compassion and harmony, detachment and self-emptying, solidarity with the poor and the suffering, and respect for the integrity of creation. The witness of monastic and contemplative communities is particularly called for to reveal the authentic countenance of Jesus; likewise, the life and work of consecrated men and women.
For this purpose, we need formation programmes to train priests and religious who are men and women of God devoted to prayer and living deep spiritual lives and who are able to guide and accompany others on their road to God. Christians in Asia need to have zealous pastors and spiritual guides, and not simply efficient administrators. The personal example of formators has a crucial role to play in the formation process.
We highlighted the importance of inculturation so that "the Church become a more intelligible sign of what she is and a more effective instrument of mission" (Redemptoris missio 52). In the Asian context of a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural situation, inter-religious dialogue has clearly become a necessity. In our times, the Church is making major efforts to encounter the millennia-old religions in a serious manner. Inter-religious dialogue is a respectful and sincere meeting in which the encountering parties want to know each other, to learn from one another, to enrich each other and to love one another, as Christians and Muslims are trying to do in Lebanon, where their mutual relationship augurs well for the future. For the Christian believer, this will include the desire of sharing the saving message of Christ. The Church in Asia is called upon to enter a triple dialogue: a dialogue with the cultures of Asia, a dialogue with the religions of Asia and a dialogue with the peoples of Asia, especially the poor. To carry on such a dialogue, formation for dialogue is all-important, especially in our formation centres.
We acknowledge the wonderful service in the field of education rendered by priests, brothers, sisters, and the lay people in Asia. We commit ourselves to promote Gospel values and foster Asian cultures and traditions, such as hospitality, simplicity, respect for sacred persons, places and things. The curriculum must foster critical thinking, equipping our students with the skill of analysing the various forces at work in society and to discern situations when people are exploited. We must pay greater attention to non-formal education. From time to time, we must evaluate our education system, its contents, its methodology, the benefit to its recipients, the relationships engendered, the values inculcated and the impact on society.
A pastoral plan for social communications should be made in all dioceses so as to include a public relations office. Due attention should be paid to media education, the constructive use of the media, such as press and publications, television, radio and the Internet. The media is rightly called the modern Areopagus, and it is here, as in other fields, that the Church can play a prophetic role and, wherever necessary, become the voice of the voiceless.
Entrusted by God the Creator to be stewards of his creation, we must have a respect for mother earth and the life systems which nourish us. We should do all in our power to prevent the degradation of the environment, which is the consequence of unbridled greed among other causes. If not, the result will be the pollution of land, rivers and air and the cutting down of forests. We must work for ecologically sustainable development, particularly in the agricultural sector.
The laity has an important role to play in the mission of the Church. Many signs indicate that the Spirit is empowering them for an even greater role in the coming millennium which could be called the Age of the Laity. Some signs are: their commitment to evangelisation, their involvement in ecclesial life, and their active and enthusiastic participation in small Christian communities. Renewal programmes, catechesis and Catholic educational institutions have a decisive role to play in forming our laity to be missionaries. To equip them for the transformation of the socio-cultural and politico-economic structures of society, we must impart to them a thorough knowledge of the social and ethical teachings of the Church.
The family is the most endangered institution in Asia. Population control tends to discriminate against the girl child in some countries and targets the poor of the Third World. Traditional family values are being overturned and replaced by egotism, hedonism, materialism, and greed. Direct assaults on life are made by contraception, sterilisation and abortion. We must save the family which, because it welcomes and protects human beings, is the basic cell of society and the Church. If the family is destroyed, society is destroyed. The family is the domestic Church located at the core of the Christian community. The home is the first school. Parents are the first teachers. The first text book for the child is the relationships within the family, between parents themselves and with their children and with other families.
One of the significant signs of the times is the awakening of women's consciousness of their dignity and equality with men. The Church in Asia, to be a credible sign of the respect and freedom of women, must give witness to Christ as the promoter of the true dignity of women. This can be done by encouraging active participation of women as equally responsible for Christ's mission of love and service.
Youth are the hope of Asia and of the Church. The need of the hour is that the Church gives youth the formation they need to face the challenges of our fast changing society and our quite uncertain future. By taking proper care of the millions of young people in Asia, we fill their hearts with hope and enable them to be evangelisers. We recognise with gratitude and wish to harness the evangelising power of youth already at work in the shaping of a better future for the Church and society.
Special attention must be paid to migrant workers. Millions of them leave their families to earn their livelihood in other countries. Pastoral care for them in their own ecclesial tradition is most necessary. If they are Christians, a proper formation will enable them to be evangelisers in their host countries.
Another group of people that should cause us concern are the refugees. There are millions of them in Asia who have left their countries and are in great need of all kinds of assistance.
6. We could not help but feel deeply concerned when hearing of the hardships people have to undergo in several countries of Asia on account of recurring violence, internal strife, tensions and wars between countries.
There is also the problem of Jerusalem, the heart of Christendom, a holy city for the three monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. We appeal to all concerned to do everything within their power to preserve the unique and sacred character of this Holy City. When considering the suffering of the people of Iraq, especially women and children, we strongly urge that steps be taken to lift the embargo against that country.
Elsewhere in Asia, people are suffering under political regimes that pay no heed to their legitimate claims for more freedom and greater respect for their basic rights. Others are struggling to regain sovereignty or greater autonomy.
We need to create a greater awareness of the dangers of the development and expansion of the armaments industry. These trends serve to suppress the people's demand for justice and democracy.
While there are beneficial effects of globalisation, we are concerned about its harmful effects. We call on the particular Churches of the First World to be in solidarity with the poor in Asia and to be their advocates with their own governments and with world economic institutions such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organisation so as to bring about what Pope John Paul II called in this year's World Day of Peace Message: "Globalisation without marginalisation. Globalisation in solidarity."
We strongly recommend that during the Jubilee Year 2000, the Third World debt be re-negotiated and its crushing burden alleviated.
7. Our greatest reason for hope is Jesus Christ who said: "Take heart, it is I; have no fear" (Mt 14: 27) and "I have overcome the world" (Jn 16: 33).
Another reason for hope is the religiosity of our people who have great resilience even in the most difficult situations.
In the midst of these peoples - who are obviously called to play a more and more important role in the evolution of humankind - the Church is already present. Barring the special case of the Philippines, Christians are everywhere a minority and in some cases, a tiny minority. Nevertheless, particular Churches in Asia are very much alive and some of them manifest an extraordinary dynamism.
Practically everywhere, we see a high number of vocations to the priesthood and religious life, but we are equally happy to see that in many countries of Asia a high number of lay people are fully conscious of their Christian responsibilities. They take part in the activity of the Church in many ways. Moreover, among them, some are very much conscious of their obligation to be authentic witnesses of Christ and to contribute to the progress of God's kingdom.
Wherever the Church has taken root, she renders highly appreciated services to the people. Though it may happen that some institutions are not truly at the service of the poorest, we are happy to note that more and more efforts are being made to ensure that the Church's institutions are truly helping the most needy. At the same time, we are happy to see that some do not hesitate to get out of institutions to share the life of the most oppressed and to struggle with them to defend their rights.
So let us be confident. The Spirit of the Lord is obviously at work in Asia and the Church is quite active in this continent. With Christ, we have already defeated death; with him, we have already risen.
Without being self-complacent about our past achievements we should preserve our fervour of spirit as Pope Paul VI said, "Let us preserve the delightful and comforting joy of evangelising even when it is in tears that we must sow. May it mean for us... an interior enthusiasm that nobody and nothing can quench. ....and may the world of our time which is searching sometimes with anguish, sometimes with hope, be enabled to receive the Good News, not from evangelisers who are dejected, discouraged, impatient or anxious, but from ministers of the Gospel whose lives glow with fervour, who first received the joy of Christ, and who are willing to risk their lives so that the kingdom may be proclaimed and the Church established in the midst of the world." (Evangelii nuntiandi 80)
In this message, we refer only to a few issues raised during the Synod. Many other matters were discussed which will be taken up in the various propositions to be presented to the Holy Father and eventually to be incorporated in the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation which we await.
8. As we began the Synod so we conclude it with the same Eucharistic Sacrifice, wherein through the words of consecration the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, and where the assembly is transformed into "one Body and one Spirit" in Christ. This encounter with Jesus must now continue in a greater measure all over Asia. This is the work of the Holy Spirit who is always the One at our side to help us. We turn to Mary in whose body Christ was formed by the Holy Spirit. We pray that she may intercede for us so that, like Jesus, her divine Son, the Church may become ever more a Servant Church to continue its mission of love and service to the people of Asia, so that "they may have life and have it abundantly" (Jn 10:10).
Vatican, May 13, 1998