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Posted Tuesday, August 16, 2004 at 1:16 p.m. CDT


Asian bishops, religious and laity focus on 'enormous new pressures' that families face
Economic and cultural globalization weaken family bonds, they say

Daejeon, South Korea

ice sculpture
An ice sculpture welcoming the Asian bishops decorates the lobby of the St. J. Hasang Education Center where dinner was served after a late afternoon rain moved activities indoors.
In an informal ceremony that included a brief prayer and a song of praise, the Asian bishops gathered here today for the 8th time in three decades under the auspices of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences. The theme of the weeklong gathering, "The Asian Family: Towards a Culture of Life," takes into account the enormous new pressures that Asian families face. These include the continued migration of millions from rural areas to crowded mega-cities as people search for jobs, as well as the spread of Western secular influences throughout the East.

ice sculpture
A musical group sings a short song of praise before dinner.
A working paper distributed to all the bishops weeks in advance, stressed the twin crises of economic and cultural globalization. A number of episcopal responses to the working paper affirmed these problems, saying they have led to the weakening of family bonds and to new levels of divorce unheard of in Asia until recently.

This plenary gathering, like those that have preceded it, has drawn a mix of clergy, religious and laity. With the focus on family life, organizers have taken extra steps to assure that lay voices are heard. This gathering has drawn six cardinals, 25 archbishops, 60 bishops, 30 priests and some 60 laity, according to conference records.

ice sculpture
Maria Corazon Y. Mateo leads a prayer before dinner.
Participants were shuttled in buses from the Inchon International airport outside of Seoul for a three-hour drive south to a Catholic seminary not far from Daejeon. Opening ceremonies were planned for a grassy plain to the rear of the St. J. Hasang Education Center on seminary grounds, but were moved indoors after a summer rain began to fall lasting through the late afternoon and into the evening.

In keeping with the traditions of FABC plenary gatherings, which mix discussions, liturgies and socializing, the opening gathering featured a dinner including an array of Korean dishes, including many specialties from the sea.

ice sculpture
Conference participants socialize in the lobby of the education center before dinner.
In a move that is certain to have an impact on the gathering, Maryknoll Fr. Edward F. Malone was taken ill shortly after his arrival here. He had to be accompanied back to his home base in Hong Kong. Malone is the assistant secretary general of the FABC, a post he has held for decades. Coming into the conference there was widespread speculation that this would be his last plenary assemble as assistant secretary, the conference's chief administrative post. It is virtually certain now that his illness and absence will hasten the process.

The impact of choosing a new assistant secretary, however, is a matter of speculation. Some conference participants said that new leadership is precisely what the FABC needs to reinvigorate its mission. Others said Malone's experience and long tenure gave him sway with many bishops. They wondered if a new and younger assistant secretary would have the same authority Malone grew to have over the years.

ice sculpture
Food platters featuring many Korean delicacies are set out on banquet tables for conference participants to serve themselves.
With Malone out, a greater burden of conference organizational matters has fallen on the shoulders of Malaysian Christian Brother Edmund Chia who has worked with Malone in recent months to help set up this plenary session.

[Fox is publisher of the National Catholic Reporter and author of Pentecost in Asia, a book about the Asian churches. His e-mail address is tfox@ncronline.org.]


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