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Asia’s hopes for popes

BANGKOK (SE): “Rejuvenate,” is the word Father Nithiya Sagayam, the executive secretary of the Office for Human Development of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, chose to describe his hopes for popes.

The Indian Franciscan said that he dreams of a pope who can rejuvenate the word, launch new hope and raise a prophetic and merciful voice amidst the racket of the current climate.

Father Sagayam told Fides this is how he identifies the principal expectations of the vast continent of Asia, immense in its plurality of peoples and religions, for the 267th pope.

“The task of the new pope,” says Father Sagayam, “will be to rejuvenate the world, not only the Church. The world has not lost faith in the Catholic Church.”

He stressed that the foundation of the Church is the gospel and the mission of the Church is centred in Christ, not in canons or sermons.

“It is highly important for the Church not to be like a secular organisation occupied with matters of money and power, instead it must heed the cries and the anxieties of people today, in particular the poor and the marginalised.”

Meanwhile, Asia’s rising clerical star, Luis Cardinal Tagle, from Manila in The Philippines, called for the leaders of the Church to get closer to the people, especially the poor and the young.

“The young want to be connected,” Cardinal Tagle told a forum in Manila on February 17.

“That is the basic of the faith—connected to God, connected to others, to the Church. We need to go back to that fundamental,” the only Asian cardinal to be included on the short list of possible popes continued.

Father Sagayam looked to the spirit of the Pastoral Constitution on The Church in the Modern World from Vatican II, saying it implies, “The cry of the pope should be the cry of the world.”

However, Father Sagayam lamented that often the Church is seen as a body which only talks about contraception, same-sex marriage, the ordination of women or Mass in Latin.

“The amount of energy used for these and similar questions is excessive compared with the energy spent on the burning issues affecting the world like violence, warfare, production of weapons, discrimination against and exploitation of poor and marginalised people,” he commented.

Father Sagayam said that he believes that people in Asia expect that rather than looking inwards at the problems within, the Church should reach outside of herself to bring the message of Christ to all the questions which agitate the planet, including poverty and oppression.

“May the teaching of the next pope help the Church to overcome the temptation to be self-referring and, in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, draw near to the joys and the anxieties of all the peoples of the world,” he continued.

“Today, we see signals of vitality in the young Churches, so I believe it would be no surprise if the next pope was to come from a developing country,” he surmised.

Nevertheless, he said that whatever the origin of the next pope is he should pay attention to the distant Churches and speak the languages of Asia, Africa and Latin America.

“The world expects the next pope to be universal and to be for the world a prophetic and merciful guide,” he went on.

Father Sagayam concluded by saying, “May the pope be the voice of conscience for the world’s political leaders. This will be a most important role and we hope that to do this he may establish strong ties with other religious leaders in the world.”

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