Bishops of Asia decided to become the 'church for the poor' in their first meeting' in Manila in 1970 and established the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences (FABC). In the recent Catholic News Weekly, the director of the Institute of Theological Studies explains the meaning behind the establishment of the FABC and the three-part dialogue with Asia in proclaiming the Kingdom of God.
The spirit of 'renewal' and 'dialogue' of the Second Vatican Council influenced the Asian bishops. After the death of Pope John XXIII, Pope Paul VI led the Council and published the encyclical Human Development (1967) based on the teaching of the Council. The pope presented development as another name for peace. Not only the absence of war and hunger but the study of peace as a true development of our humanity, giving Asia the necessary energizer.
When the Asian bishops first met in Manila in 1970 there was a lot of gossip preceding the meeting about the foray of the pope and Cardinal Kim's 'karate' but this began to quickly disappear at the plenary session because of the important discussions on Asian reality.
Only five years had passed since the end of the Council and most of the participating bishops had suffered from colonial rule, and the common meaning of independence and liberation was at the heart of their thinking. The spirit of 'conversation' with the world from the Council provided the occasion for bishops to recall the place of life in Asia and became the focus of the meeting.
Although the conference did not use the term "triple dialogue", the final statement stated that the seeds had already been sown by emphasizing the dialogue with the poor people of Asia, the diverse religious traditions and the cultures of Asia. This topic for discussion was formulated by C. Arevalo SJ who was called the father of Philippine theology.
If the fact that the Asian bishops were gathered in one place is the birth of the FABC, then it's an important step in its history. Four months before the Bishops' Manila Conference in 1970, the Chairmen of the 11 Bishops of Asia met in Hong Kong and discussed the issue of organizing similar institutions as the current FABC.
The pro-nuncio Cardinal Edward Cassidy in Taiwan said to the bishops: "Important persons in the Curia of the Roman Catholic Church are seriously opposed to the establishment of such an institution, so stop immediately." This response was completely unexpected. The participants, including Cardinal Kim Soo-hwan, were surprised, but the Vatican's reaction by Cardinal Cassidy was not strange. The Catholic Association of Latin American Bishops (CELAM), which was founded in 1955, was still not recognized in some parts of the Vatican. Some members of the Vatican were displeased with CELAM, because of "Liberation Theology," and did not welcome the creation of such an institution in Asia as "another CELAM".
But something unexpected happened. A few months later Archbishop Sergio Pignedoli, secretary of the congregation of the evangelization of peoples, was present at the bishops' gathering in Manila and expressed his strong support to Cardinal Kim. Inspired by this, Cardinal Kim directly presented the agenda to a meeting attended by Pope Paul VI, which adopted a resolution calling for the founding of the FABC at the end of the plenary session. Two years later, at the end of August 1972, four cardinals, including Cardinal Kim, went to Rome and received approval from the Pope for a "two-year period", eventually becoming a consultative body for Asian bishops.
Asian bishops held the first FABC General Assembly in Taiwan in 1974 on the subject of "Evangelization in Modern Day Asia." Among the many pending issues, the reason for choosing 'evangelization' as the theme of the General Assembly was simple. In September of that year, there was a "bishop synod on 'evangelization' scheduled in Rome, so it was a kind of preparatory meeting to reflect the voice of Asian bishops. Because of this effort, the next year's Pope's exhortation 'Evangelii Nuntiandi', became the Mission Charter, providing basic principles and guidelines for the evangelization of the modern church.
At the Asian level, this document resonated in many areas with the FABC's missionaries, providing a bridge to link universal and Asian churches. In any case, it was a monumental meeting in that it addressed the theme of evangelization and suggested the basic direction of the FABC theology.
The triple conversation is embodied in its concrete context, in the view of the eschatological theology of 'God's Kingdom'. For example, in the situation of poverty experienced in most of South Asia, the triple conversation is realized with the spirit of the gospel: the church should help not only with the excess but even with what is necessary. In most of Indochina and Southeast Asian countries where the Communist dictatorship, the military dictatorship, and the people suffering under authoritarian regimes live, the struggle against dictatorship is the way to realize the triple conversation—the path of evangelization.
In Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and similar countries we have 'dying alone' of the elderly, those with disabilities, sexual minorities, temporary employment of the young, and the many other problems from our economic development. This is the reason for the holistic human development that is envisioned in Asia—the dialogue with the various cultures, religions and the poor.