From August 31 to September 5, 2010, the Congress of lay Catholics in Asia was held in Seoul, South Korea. It is the tradition of the Pontifical Council for the Laity to convene a Congress of laity involved in the Church accompanied by their pastors, from a geopolitical region or continent, so that they can meet, discuss and help each other in a sign of unity with the See of Peter to strengthen their apostolic work.
The choice of the Asian continent was made in relation to the general economic development and the profound social changes which have taken place in this region of the world in recent years, and this is why South Korea was chosen to host this new appointment, with the theme “ Proclaiming Jesus Christ in Asia today ”.
Since its preparatory stages, implemented in close cooperation with the Commission for the Laity of the Episcopal Conference and local Korean National Council of the Laity, the Congress has received the support and concrete contribution of many ecclesial realities in Asia, which have proved their vitality and active participation.
Delegations from nineteen member and associate countries of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) actively and enthusiastically took part, almost all of them led by a bishop, some officers of the same FABC, as well as thirtyseven delegations from associations, ecclesial movements and new communities recognized by the Holy See, present and active in Asia.
Many bishops and cardinals have given testimony, with their presence and active participation, sharing of issues concerning the participation of the laity in the life of the Church in Asia and their pastoral care in respect of the apostolate of the Christifideles laici.
Cardinal Stanisław Ryłko, president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, opened the Congress presiding a Mass at the Myongdong Cathedral in Seoul on the morning of September 1st .
It was a sign of the climate of full ecclesial communion that permeated the Congress to see priests, religious and lay people of different nationalities, together with Cardinal Nicholas Cheong Jinsuk, archbishop of Seoul, Cardinal Telesphore Placidus Toppo, archbishop of Ranchi (India), Archbishop Osvaldo Padilla, apostolic nuncio to Korea, and Korean and several bishops of other dioceses in Asia take part in the celebration.
In the initial greeting to all participants Cardinal Ryłko pointed out that the challenge of evangelization demands a profound rediscovery of the prophetic mission of all the baptized, and exhorted everyone to be proud of their being Catholic and not be afraid to proclaim the Gospel.
The message sent by His Holiness Benedict XVI, read to all participants by the apostolic nuncio to Korea Bishop Osvaldo Padilla, generated great excitement and gratitude.
In it, the Holy Father recalled that asian Catholics “ are called to be a sign and promise of that unity and communion – communion with God and among men – which the whole human family is meant to enjoy and which Christ alone makes possible ”.
He added that “ the continent’s different peoples, cultures and religions, they have been entrusted with a great mission: that of bearing witness to Jesus Christ, the universal Savior of mankind. This is the supreme service and the greatest gift that the Church can offer to the people of Asia, and it is my hope that the present Conference will provide renewed encouragement and direction in taking up this sacred mandate ”.
The Pope stressed the theme of the necessity of the proclamation of Jesus Christ in Asia today, saying that the Catholic laity “ in union of mind and heart with their Pastors, and accompanied at every step of their journey of faith by a sound spiritual and catechetical formation, they need to be encouraged to cooperate actively not only in building up their local Christian communities but also in making new pathways for the Gospel in every sector of society ”.
He then referred to some areas that particularly need this announcement, such as Christian married love and family life, the defense of life as a whole, concern for the poor and the oppressed, readiness to forgive, witnessing justice, truth and solidarity in the workplace and in public life.
He expressed appreciation for the significant role of lay people involved in many parishes as catechists, as well as the efforts of “ ecclesial movements and associations dedicated to the promotion of human dignity and justice ” which “ demonstrate the universality of the Gospel message of our adoption as children of God ”.
The Holy Father imparted his Apostolic Blessing on the participants expressing the hope “ the Church in Asia bear ever more fervent witness to the incomparable beauty of being a Christian, and proclaim Jesus Christ as the one Savior of the world ”.
Greetings were also sent by the President of the Republic of Korea, Lee Myung Bak, in a message read by the Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism, Inchon Park, in which, recalling the great contribution made by the martyrs of the Catholic Church toward the spiritual maturity and reconciliation of the Korean people, the President showed deep appreciation for the decision to hold this conference in Seoul.
The Cardinal Nicholas Cheong Jinsuk, archbishop of Seoul, also welcomed participants urging all to discover their own vocation and mission in the Church to proclaim Jesus Christ with enthusiasm.
In the first conference, Father Felipe Gomez, SI, from the East Asian Institute in Manila (Philippines), skillfully traced the line of continuity that runs through the history of the Church’s mission in Asia, over two millennia of evangelization and the witness of holiness and martyrdom, of which he emphasized the main events.
Then it was the turn of Cardinal Telesphore Placidus Toppo, who focused participants attention on the major challenges of evangelization in Asia today, recalling the two fundamental dimensions for Christians to proclaim the Gospel: the missionary dimension and the witness of every day life.
The first day of the Congress saw the presentation of different geopolitical and church realities through the witness, often vibrant and moving, of representatives of various national Episcopal conferences. Each illustrated their experiences of Christian life and the proclamation of the Gospel in often difficult contexts, where Catholics are a tiny, but “ creative minority ”, the creator of a real renewal and transformation in the light of the Gospel of many realities and contexts very far from God.
On the second day, it was the turn of the Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, Archbishop. Josef Clemens, who very clearly outlined the contents of the PostSynodal exhortation Christifideles laici on the vocation and mission of the laity in the Church, reevaluating them from a very wise perspective, which showed the continuity between the contents of this document, the magna charta for Catholic laity, and the thought and teaching of Joseph Ratzinger, who had anticipated and shared these crucial issues.
The second intervention was given by Vietnamese Father Joseph Dinh Duc Dao, professor at the Pontifical Urban University in Rome, and regarded the importance of Christian formation of lay Catholics in Asia as the basis of their missionary ability.
He recalled how “ formation means mission ” because it is through it that Catholics become mature in their faith and so can really share it with others. This calls for close attention to programs of education and faith formation to be made available to all faithful.
The proceedings of the September 2 continued with two round tables, where several guests shared their experiences with the Assembly and their specific formation in different fields of life and society of primary importance for genuine evangelization of peoples.
After the Eucharistic celebration, the participants’ attention focused on the life and testimony of a key figure of evangelization in Asia, that of Jesuit Father Matteo Ricci, brought to light through the projection of a film, which traces the major milestones of his work.
On the morning of Friday, September 3, an intervention was given by Father Bernardo Cervellera, of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, director of AsiaNews, with his speech that offered a broad overview of the current meaning of martyrdom of Catholics in Asia, highlighting, through recent news reports, several situations of hardship and suffering resulting from the restriction of religious freedom in many countries on the continent.
After an interesting round table, in which the voices of many experts reflected the main areas and priorities for evangelization in Asia today, the afternoon continued with a fascinating excursus on the significant and fundamental involvement of associations of faithful, ecclesial movements and new communities in the current challenges of evangelization in Asia today.
This conference, titled “ The new season of association of the lay faithful ”, was given by Prof. Guzmán Carriquiry, undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, who in particular covered all of the most significant passages of the Church’s teaching on the importance, in view of evangelization, of the organized apostolate of the laity and the birth of new associative groups, regarded by Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI as providential gifts of the Holy Spirit for the Church of our times.
In a later panel discussion, space was given to the living witnesses of this ecclesial wealth: delegates coming from different associations such as the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, Couples for Christ, the Focolare Movement, Legion of Mary, and Neocatechumenal Way and others spoke of their experiences in the context of evangelization in Asia.
The daily Eucharistic celebration was held in one of the “ symbolic ” places of Catholicism in Asia, the Shrine of the Korean Martyrs Jeoldoo San.
On September 4, the Congress continued after the Mass, with the final conference of Cardinal Stanisław Ryłko who, summarizing the outcome of the working sessions, focused on what even then seemed to be the most significant result of the meeting: the need to nourish hope. He indicated in the inability to hope, the roots of forgetfulness of God by many people today and, citing Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical Spe salvi recalled that “ anyone who does not know God, even though he may entertain all kinds of hopes, is ultimately without hope, without the great hope that sustains the whole of life (cf. Eph 2:12). Man’s great, true hope which holds firm in spite of all disappointments can only be God – God who has loved us and who continues to love us ‘to the end’, until all ‘is accomplished’ (cf. Jn 13:1 and 19:30) ” (27). Identifying in this very concept “ the mandate that Christ gives us the end of our Congress: announce hope to this continent ”, through a renewed commitment of all the baptized faithful and effective action of apostolate and evangelization, as a response to the call and mission of each individual within one Church. He considered the process of a continuous, authentic Christian formation essential to this, which has holiness as the final gaol. On this journey, despite the difficulties and obstacles in many situations of the Asian continent and the necessity, at times, of the cross to the point of martyrdom, Christians will encounter the certainty of God’s support, which, Cardinal Ryłko recalls, quoting Pope Benedict XVI, “ He does not fail because he finds ever new ways to reach people and to open wider his great house so that it is completely filled ” (Homily during the Eucharistic celebration with the bishops of Switzerland, November 7, 2006).
Participants produced two final texts, one to be presented to the Holy Father, in response to the message sent to the meeting, in which they thanked the successor of Peter with sincere gratitude for his closeness and promised a renewed missionary commitment in communicating the message of Jesus Christ to the peoples of Asia, and the second text, to all lay Catholics on the continent, stressing the importance of unity in the Church under the guidance of its Pastors and the need for awareness of the effectiveness of “ creative minorities ”, which , also in trouble, are signs of vibrant hope for the message of Christ to all people.
That evening participants gathered for a convivial moment with a traditional Korean dinner.
Sunday, September 5, delegates met in Seoul Cathedral, together with the local community, for the solemn Eucharistic celebration presided by Cardinal Cheong Jinsuk, during which each participant was gifted, as a memento of those days of reflection and renewal, a wooden crucifix and a rosary blessed by His Holiness.
The success of the Congress must be attributed mainly to the exceptional organizational skills of Dr. Thomas HongSoon Han, from 1984 until this year member of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, whose professional skills, commitment and generous cooperation the dicastery has been able to appreciate.
Graduated in Economics, specializing in Social Sciences and an honorary Doctor of Law, he has participated as an auditor at different synods of bishops and was president of the Lay Apostolate Council of Korea.
On 21 October last, Dr. Han was received by Pope Benedict XVI as the new Ambassador of Korea to the Holy See.