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Vatican’s first resident Apostolic Nuncio to Malaysia and Apostolic Delegate to Brunei Archbishop Joseph Marino addressed the Arch/bishops at the opening session. Eleven Arch/bishops from the region were present. Also present were Bishop Emeritus James Chan of Melaka-Johor and Msgr Ionut Paul Strejac, charge d’Affaires of the Apostolic Nunciature in Malaysia.
Archbishop John Ha, president of the CBCMSM chaired the CBC meet and welcomed Archbishop Joseph Marino and Msgr Strejac and all Arch/bishops for their presence.
Before the start of the CBC, Bishop Richard Ng, the Episcopal President for diocesan priests and seminaries met with the rectors and permanent staff formators of the three Major Seminaries of Penang, Singapore and Kuching.
Archbishop Marino greeted the Arch/bishops present and wished them a blessed spirit-filled new year.
He said this meeting is precisely in order to coordinate and make effective the pastoral activity that you offer to the people entrusted to your care.
“The goal is always to make Christ more present not only within the communities that you serve, but also towards those who embrace and live other faiths,” he said.
In other words, he said, our pastoral goal is always to let Christ go from within the Church to outside the Church.
He said Pope Francis proposed to the Church in Asia a pastoral strategy when on August 17, 2014 he spoke to the Bishops of Seoul who had come from throughout the continent to be in Korea during his visit there.
Archbishop Marino said in that important speech, which many stated opened “new horizons for the Church in Asia,” Pope Francis referred twice to the Apostolic Exhortation of St. John Paul II, Ecclesia in Asia.
He went on to say that “the desire for dialogue is not simply a strategy for peaceful coexistence among peoples; it is an essential part of the Church’s mission because it has its origin in the Father’s loving dialogue of salvation with humanity through the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit.”
He stressed that the dialogue which the Church proposes is grounded in the logic of the incarnation, based in fervent and unselfish solidarity as she ventures forth to meet people even beyond the Christian world to the followers of every other religious tradition on the basis of the religious yearnings found in every human heart.
Archbishop Marino said, according to Pope Francis, the content of our speaking is a dialogue about everyday life (that is the dialogue of life) and a dialogue of charity (a dialogue of collaboration).
In other words, he said, by emphasizing these two elements of dialogue, Pope Francis seems to be placing at a secondary importance the other two dialogues, namely the dialogue of theological reflections and even the dialogue of spiritual exchanges.
He pointed out that Pope Francis elsewhere in his talk reminds us that the basis of our dialogue is theological, to the extent of God’s relation to humanity.
Therefore, he said, when we go to the other, in many ways so different from us in the areas of culture, ethnicity and religion, we are in the end going to the other who is exactly the same as us, sons and daughters of God, and therefore our encounter in dialogue is about life which we commonly share and about charity which we all live when we help other sons and daughters if God who need our assistance.
He noted that Pope Francis gives other characteristics of our approach towards others and dialogue with others.
Elaborating further, he said that authentic dialogue can only take place if we “open our minds and hearts” to the other and if we have “empathy towards others”.
Archbishop Marino states that this openness which is receptivity, acceptance and welcome is so important for Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei and the very milieu of your Churches, because just like the vast continent of Asia, you are “home to a great variety of cultures”, religions and ethnicities.
He told the Bishops’ Conference that, “our commitment to is grounded in the very logic of the incarnation, for in Jesus, God himself became one of us, shared in our life and spoke to us in our own language.
“So, what hinders us from expressing ourselves as being “of Christ” and “from Christ” in relation to others?”, he asked.
He said this question does not refer to external forces or realities that we think threaten the Church, like consumerism, philosophical relativism, secularism, materialism and even Islamization.
He said that Pope Francis has called us to have sincere dialogue and fraternal encounters with others, within and outside our faith community, adding that “such a goal demands of us a truly contemplative spirit of openness.”
He called on the Arch/bishops “to open our cold hearts and shake up our lukewarm and superficial existence” as such our identity of Christ and from Christ is solidified and made effective and we are moved to go out to meet others face-to-face and undertake with them a journey in life together.
He said the first fruit of such an attitude and spiritual experience “leads us to see others as brothers and sisters.”
“Once we see others as ourselves, true relatives to me, we listen not only to the words which others speak, but to the unspoken communication of their experiences, their hopes and aspirations, their struggles and deepest concerns,” he said.
He said the second fruit derives from the first where hearing the other is not just the absorption of words being spoken, but rather the assimilation of what their heart wishes to communicate.
He said the third fruit signifies a genuine encounter, the creation of a culture of encounter in which “heart speaks to heart” and this union of hearts, human hearts leads to our enrichment arising from the wisdom of the other and we become partners travelling together the path of greater understanding and solidarity.
Archbishop Marino said, “Our pastoral strategy is very simple, a dialogue of Christ and from Christ, walking together, arm in arm, not distancing ourselves from others as enemies, but approaching them as fellow human beings.
He noted that when we meet other people of faith, we extend our hands to them as sons and daughters of God.
He said Pope Francis has truly opened new possibilities for the Church in Asia, in particular for the Church in Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei “that we should not be fearful or hesitate to embark upon this adventure because I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.”
The following day the Conference proper began with a concelebrated Eucharistic celebration by all Arch/bishops of the region and an invocation of the Holy Spirit.
The agenda included 3rd Extraordinary Synod, Seminaries and Formation, Catechetics, Synod 2015, Young Priests Meet and other pertinent matters. – Vincent D’Silva