Greetings to the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences
by Bishop Oscar Cantú
Chair, Committee on International Justice and Peace
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
November 29, 2016
Colombo, Sri Lanka
Brother bishops, it is truly a great honor for me to be with you at this Eleventh Plenary Assembly of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, devoted to the theme, “The Asian Catholic Family: Domestic Church of the Poor on a Mission of Mercy.”
I bring you greetings from all the bishops of the United State, especially Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, the immediate past President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, whose term ended days ago and who so kindly designated me to be the fraternal delegate from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to this august gathering of the Church in Asia.
We, the bishops of the United States, recently concluded our annual gathering on November 16. As you are all well aware, this has been a tumultuous political time in my country. In his final address to the U.S. bishops, Archbishop Kurtz outlined some of the challenges ahead for the Church in America and globally as people continue to be persecuted for their religion. He urged us to “tirelessly promote” human dignity and to move beyond the lack of civility and rancor that have marked the American election. He asked that we as a Church work with elected officials, for the common good.
The common good is a goal that is so often forgotten in this world of self-interest and self-aggrandizement. I am sure that for many of you, the situation in your countries may be similar to that of the United States where divisions based on ethnicity, political affiliation, economic status, social class, and yes, religion have often created an “us” versus “them” mentality.
Pope Francis, in his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, spoke of the challenges of today’s world – exclusion, inequality, injustice, lack of opportunity, secularization – and called us to an evangelization, in which we are all missionary disciples.
When I looked over the Pastoral Challenges that will be covered in the course of your deliberations during this Plenary Assembly, I was struck by the fact that the Church in the United States shares so many of the same challenges – religious freedom, poverty, migration, political and cultural conflicts, global warming and climate change. Let me touch on just a few of these issues.
In its 2015 report on Religious Freedom in the World, Aid to the Church in Need confirmed that out of 196 countries, religious freedom is significantly impaired in 81 and deteriorating in 55 countries. According to that report, Christians remain the most persecuted religious minority worldwide. In the United States, we have strongly advocated for policies that protect the rights of all people to practice their beliefs in the public square, without fear of discrimination or persecution, and as a corollary, to be able to make their contributions to the broader society. We are all too aware that political and economic disputes over land, property and resources are often framed in religious terms by extremists, fueling unrest and conflict. In advocating for religious freedom internationally, we share with U.S. policy makers: our Church’s teaching; our strong ecumenical and interreligious ties; our nonpartisan approach that enables Church leaders to work with members of both major political parties; and most importantly, our relationships with local Churches such as yours, bringing your concerns to their attention.
We have also strengthened our dialogue with Muslim leaders to counter anti-Muslim bigotry and discrimination in our own country and supported Muslim organizations and leaders in disseminating the Marrakesh Declaration. This Declaration, promulgated in January 2016 by Muslim leaders from over 120 countries, calls for the protection of the rights of religious minorities based upon the Charter of Medina and its offer of equal citizenship for all.
With regard to poverty, our bishops have been persistent in calling on the U.S. government to increase funding for the poorest and most vulnerable people, both within our country and abroad. We are well aware that as a nation, we provide the most foreign assistance in terms of dollar amounts, but in terms of a percentage of our gross national income, we lag behind many other countries.
As far as migration is concerned, we remind our leaders that we are a nation of immigrants and should welcome the stranger. The United Nations reported that in 2015, over 65 million people were forcibly displaced by conflict and persecution, the highest number on record. Our Migration and Refugee Services agency and Catholic Relief Services have been doing much to assist migrants and refugees, both in the regions where they are displaced and in resettlement to a third country. The need is so great as the UN High Commission for Refugees reports that one out of every 113 people in the world is either an asylum-seeker, internally displaced or a refugee. I know that a number of your countries are affected by this migration flow as I had the opportunity to visit Malaysia and Indonesia last year.
Lastly, we are working to create an awareness within our society and with our government officials of the dangers of global warming and the impact on poor and vulnerable communities. We are a founding member of the Catholic Climate Covenant and advocate for U.S. funding of the Green Climate Fund, a global fund that is intended to help developing countries adapt to and mitigate the impact of climate change. Given our recent U.S. election, garnering support is likely to be a challenge, but we are a people of hope.
And so we in the Church in the United States stand in solidarity with you, the Church in Asia, in confronting these challenges. Together we are called to overcome barriers and divisions, and to build bridges among the nations of the world.
In the United States, we are taking the Holy Father’s call to heart. We are organizing a major national convocation on Evangelii Gaudium, The Joy of the Gospel, in July 2017. This is an effort to bring together some 3,000 leaders from dioceses and Catholic organizations across the United States to assess the challenges and opportunities facing the Church. The bishops intend to form coalitions of leaders who will be better equipped and re-energized to share the Gospel, while offering fresh insights on the basis of research, communications strategies and shared best practices.
Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, reminds us: “The Church must be a place of mercy freely given, where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live the good life of the Gospel” (No. 114). May we together work to create a place of mercy on earth.