Why we propose the ALL Forum?

Lay Catholic NGOs, groups and movements face major challenges throughout Asia. Often isolated and working in settings that are overwhelmingly non-Catholic, Asian lay Catholics need more support from the wider Church. Among the challenges Asian Catholics face today are social and economic pressures emerging from widespread unemployment, growing materialism, and widening gaps between rich and poor. Asian societies are especially vulnerable to ecological degradation as decisions are made under the corporate pressures of globalization and market-dominated economic policies. Asians face not only physical poverty, but also a “poverty of spirit” that comes from, in no small part, by their sense of isolation from other like-minded Catholics in Asia and throughout the wider Church. Asian lay Catholics have a hunger for Christian support and community. They need encouragement to help meet their many challenges.

Catholic pastoral workers, social activists and NGO leaders need to be better equipped with the social teachings of the Catholic Church. They need the opportunity to share their visions, challenges and experiences to solidify their faith and commitments aimed at building more peaceful, justice and ecologically sound societies. To achieve this, Catholic activists need to be in better contact with each other. They need to share their experiences with each other. They need the assistance of like-minded, justice-driven Catholic scholars, including economists, sociologists, and experts in cultural matters. And in turn to promote a wider ecumenical, inter-religious and inter-cultural encounter.

Consider the following:

  • Pope Francis recognized the unique and pressing needs young people face in Asia, deciding to travel to South Korea last August to participate in Asian Youth Day. During his visit he stressed the need to reach out to the marginalized and the otherwise needy. The pope urged the young to reject “inhuman economic policies” that disenfranchise the poor. He spoke of “an idolatry of wealth, power and pleasure, which come at a high cost to human lives.” Meanwhile, he showed his compassionate hand by repeatedly reaching out to the families who lost children in the April 2014 Sewol ferry disaster. He reached out as well to migrant workers, to the disabled, to “comfort women” forced to be sex slaves by Japan during World War II. He spoke of the need for reconciliation with North Korea. He met with Koreans displaced by economic pressures to build new nuclear power plants. Throughout his trip he challenged lay Catholics to become more active in living and modelling their faith.
  • Today, the work of lay run Asian NGOs is more important than ever. Yet Catholics make up only three percent of the population of Asia. These Catholic need each other; they need to network with each other. This is especially true for Church NGOs that are involved in “social ministries” such as human rights work, justice and peace building, work with migrants, with women and young children and with ecological concerns. These are often lonely and thankless tasks. These groups have already been highlighted in the Fifth and Sixth General Assemblies of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC), which took up their “special pastoral concerns.” As we emphasize the need to assist Catholic lay NGOs and related Catholic organizations in Asia, we are in fact following the lead of the FABC and its stated pastoral concerns.
  • Asian Catholic are being called to strengthen their Christian identity as they embrace their traditional cultures, histories and religions. This is complex yet necessary work. For Catholics to succeed in justice activities they need to cooperate with other religions similarly seeking a more just world order. This is another reason yet why Asian lay Catholics need solid formation. Unfortunately, because of a lack of resources these Catholics don’t get adequate formation or ministry support. In some cases they have been largely abandoned by some in the Church hierarchy who do not understand or do not agree with Pope Francis’ vision. While our Church eagerly provides support for seminarians who want to enter the priesthood, it does very little for young lay leaders’ in great need of Catholic formation.
  • We acknowledge the serious efforts made by some Church-related organizations to boost the formation of young lay activists. While there is a record of some success, much remains to be done. At this crucial juncture a far greater effort is required. An important step to providing this assistance is the formation of an Asian network of lay Catholic leaders who can find support in each other’s vision, work and commitments. This would be a giant step forward. Given new technologies, understandings, and papal direction, Asian lay Catholics find themselves with new opportunities as well as new challenges. This is a good moment to move forward. What can be done? Who is to be part of this network? How does it come together?