By Robin Gomes
Amid the numerous social pandemics that Covid-19 has exposed, the Catholic Church in Asia is called to develop the “vaccines of compassion, solidarity and justice” in the spirit of the encyclical of Pope Francis, Fratelli tutti, on fraternity and social friendship.
“May the call of our Holy Father to solidarity, encounter, and gratuitousness find an echo in your lives and communities. May you take up the insistent invitation of Pope Francis for dialogue, respect and generosity towards every human being.”
Myanmar Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon, the president of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC), makes the appeal in a letter to his fellow bishops and their Churches in Asia.
“Our Asian realities are echoed in the urgent message Fratelli tutti”, the cardinal notes in his letter dated 12 October. Asia is at the crossroads, he says, adding that the path “we take will decide the inheritance we leave to our next generation”.
“Will it be wasted or saved? Will Asia choose individual greed or commit to the common good?” he asks Church leaders, politicians and governments. Much, he says, depends on how we rebuild society after Covid-19.
He laments that “many governments in Asia are attempting to return to tried and failed economic and social models”. He thus calls for a politics for the common and universal good; politics for and with the people; politics that seek human dignity; politics of women and men who practice political love; politics that integrate the economy and the social and cultural fabric into a consistent, life-giving human project.
Rising above the crisis
With Covid-19, the year 2020 has been a time of chaos, fear and loss for the people, Cardinal Bo points out. Yet, Pope Francis urges bishops never to stop being on mission, stressing: “If the Church is alive, it must always surprise.”
The 71-year old cardinal urges his fellow bishops not to let the joy of the Gospel diminish in their hearts, giving way to the culture of indifference. Despite all the pain surrounding us, he says, the Holy Father insists on the overwhelming, immense, surprising and unmerited gift of fraternity.
“Fraternity, which means care and respect for our sisters and brothers,” the Archbishop of Yangon says, “is the foundation and pathway to peace.” “Fraternity is solidarity and dialogue; it is true religion. Without fraternity, liberty and equality do not make sense.”
Many underlying pandemics
According to Pope Francis, Cardinal Bo says, Covid-19 has exposed underlying systemic pandemics in society such as racism, inequity, hate speech, disregard for the poor, the elderly and the unborn, trafficking of women and children, and the culture of death.
The death penalty, the cardinal notes, is legal in at least 18 Asian countries and the continent has some of the longest running wars in the world. Millions have no choice but to leave their families and go abroad to find work.
The Good Samaritan
Against all of this, the cardinal urges, “we must develop the vaccines of compassion, solidarity and justice,” as indicated by the Pope in the person of the Good Samaritan. In the parable, Pope Francis “charts a common course for humanity through a commitment to peace, the rejection of war and capital punishment, encouragement of forgiveness and reconciliation within societies and care for our common home.”
With the eyes of the Good Samaritan, the cardinal says, we are called to critique the culture of waste and to defend the human rights of people made vulnerable by society: women, children, racial minorities, refugees, the unborn, the aged and many others. Respect for persons and for the common good only grows from true fraternity, Cardinal Bo stresses.
In his message, the president of Asian bishops’ conferences also speaks about fraternal relationships between religions in dealing with the Covid-19 crisis and on the dangers and opportunities it creates.
In this regard, the Holy Father “urges us to look courageously and creatively for opportunities to build, here and now, the world that God desires. “The society that will rise again from Covid-19 is a society where fraternity is valued,” Cardinal Bo added.