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Posted Sunday, August 22, 2004 at 12:45 p.m. CDT


A time of rest in preparation for concluding activities
 “As this assembly comes to a close we are confirmed in the
conviction that the family is truly God’s gift and blessing to Asia.”

Daejeon, South Korea

After six days of discussions aimed at giving guidance to family members and building pastoral programs to help hurting families, participants in the eighth plenary session of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences took a day off.

FABC participant gather in chapel as Cardinal Shan Kuo-hsi, bishop of Kaohsiung, Taiwan concelebrates.

Sunday’s program called for visiting Korean parishes, shopping for some, and rest for others.

Earlier in the weekend, FABC assembly participants discussed the finishing touches on a message of hope they expect to issue to Asian Catholics and all other people of good will. It proclaims the family as “as truly God’s gift and blessing to Asia.”

 “As this assembly comes to a close we are confirmed in the conviction that the family is truly God’s gift and blessing to Asia,” the bishops’ message stated.

It is customary at the end of each plenary gathering that participants issue two documents. The first is a message to the general public. It deals with the subject of the gathering and it often aims at being encouraging. This year’s theme was family life. The second statement is longer and emerges from the direct deliberations of the weeklong gathering. This year’s final paper, written for bishops and other Catholic pastoral leaders, runs more than 30,000 words. It will receive its final approval Monday, the last day of the assembly.

This FABC plenary assembly has drawn more lay participants than any previous gathering, according to assembly organizers. The move was intentional in that the subject was family. Many delegations brought lay consultants. The initial draft of the working paper was completed last January. It was then mailed to the various national conferences. It was at that point that some conferences had consultations with the laity. Early this summer, in Deajeon, a group of Asian lay leaders gathered to draw up their own paper on family. That was mailed to each of the national conferences.

Many general assemblies begin with song. Song leaders led the audience with hand gestures and music to get them in the proper mood for a day's work.

In all, 181 participants came from 22 Asian countries. These included six cardinals, 24 archbishops, 56 bishops, as well as priests, religious and laity.

All general assemblies, workshops and discussion groups included until the last day mixed clergy and laity. It was only on the last day that some bishops suggested they wanted to have at least one session for bishops only.

This year’s plenary assembly message celebrates family life and values as a sign of hope in Asia. It states that Asian family life upholds values and traditions as hope to the wider world. These include reverence for life, closeness to nature, strong bonds, personal relationships, hospitality, respect or elders, filial piety, and care for the young.

In addition to celebrating Asian family values, the bishops’ message marvels at “how the values of indigenous peoples and other religions have enriched Asian families.” It goes on to state, “intercultural and inter-faith marriages have generally been a source of blessing to many in spite of the complex issues they bring.”

The statement expresses the desire by the bishops to share the anxieties that Asian families now face. “New realities impinge on the well-being of many Asian families, the message stated. “An emerging global capitalist culture that propels individualism, selfishness and greed, with lifestyles and mindsets inspired by materialism and secularism, pose a threat to the family.”  The bishops go on to lament a “contraceptive mentality” and the oppression of women and children.

In their message, the bishops recommit themselves to serving families. “We bishops will look for every opportunity, amidst all challenges and threats, to promote the good for families.”

After a day of rest, the bishops conclude their weeklong conference Monday when they will officially issue their message and conference paper.

[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.]

Family Apostolate and scholarships for kids

    At the Tanbang-dong Parish, in Daejeon city, an hour from the FABC gathering, conference participants visited a magnificent church, built in 1992. The parish has three Korean priests.

     In 2002 Joseph Kyeong Kap-ryong, Bishop of Daejeon, established a "Family Apostolate". There are some 100 couples in this movement from 40 parishes in Daejeon City (there are 106 parishes in the Diocese of Daejeon of which 40 are in the city.) The 300 invited participants at Mass consisted of these married couples, all sitting as couples - on one side those with children, on the other those without children. Most women wore white veils. After the homily they renewed their marriage vows

       In 2002 the bishop also set up a scholarship scheme for high school kids. To be eligible families must have 4 children or more; welcoming all children, not discriminating between boys or girls. Until now some ten familes have been granted scholarships - one of these families has 9 children, two families have seven chidlren, one with six children, two with five chldren, four with four children.

-- John Prior

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