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Sebastian Karotemprel, SDB

Synod for Asia
The Synod for Asia, scheduled for April-May 1998, is the third continental Synod. It is part of the preparation for the Great Jubilee 2000 to commemorate the event of Redemption in Jesus Christ. It was first announced in the Apostolic Letter on the Third Millennium1, and formally announced during the papal visit to Manila at the VI Plenary Assembly of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, 1995.
Soon a Pre- Synodal Council consisting of Bishops from Asia and the General Secretariat of the Synod was established was nominated by the Pope to prepare for the Synod. Asian Bishops’ Conferences, Oriental Churches, the Roman Curia and the Union of Superiors General were then consulted in order to a arrive at a topic of «contemporary importance, universal interest and particular urgency for treatment at the special Synodal assembly for Asia»2.

The first meeting of the Pre-Synodal Council made a series of recommendations regarding the topic for the Asian Synod. These were then submitted to the Holy Father for his approval. Following the suggestions made, the Pope chose the following topic: Jesus Christ and His Mission of Love and Service in Asia: «...That they may have life and have it abundantly» (Jn 10:10). The choice of the topic reflects the centrality of Jesus Christ in the mission of the Church and at the same time also the unique circumstances, problems and sensibilities of the Asian continent. The topic is worded carefully and respectfully, in and not in any triumphalistic manner. It highlights the centrality of Jesus Christ and the mission of Jesus Christ in Asia. It also indicates the path of mission in Asia. which the Church must traverse in fulfilling it, namely, a mission in humility and service. It also highlights the problems of massive poverty, illiteracy and other evils plaguing the Asian continent, and hence her mission is a mission to protect, preserve and promote life in all its temporal and spiritual dimensions.

The second phase of the Synodal preparation was the drafting of the Lineamenta, document to introduce the topic to the Bishops and elicit their answers to questions regarding missionary and pastoral problems in Asia. The Lineamenta is drafted with the help of Asian theologians and again discussed by the Pre-Synodal Council in detail and approved. The final draft of the Lineamenta was submitted to the Holy Father for approval and later translation into various languages and distribution to all the bishops, the Roman Curia and others connected with the Synod. The sole purpose of the Lineamenta is to familiarise the bishops with the topic, its contents and its application to the concrete situation of the Church and its mission in Asia. It has no special doctrinal value, nor is it intended to be a comprehensive treatment.

a. Lineamenta
The Lineamenta contains a brief introduction into the topic of the Synod. The first chapter deals with the Asian realities: the religious, cultural and socio-economic realties of Asia. This is important to know since it is in this specific context that the Church is called upon to carry out its mission. The second chapter gives a brief survey of the history of Christian mission from the Catholic point of view and an evaluation of the last two thousand years of evangelization in Asia. The third chapter speaks of the salvific work of the Spirit of God from creation onwards. The salvific work of the Spirit is brought to fulfilment in Jesus Christ who in turn leads all peoples to communion with the Trinitarian God. Thus the fourth chapter deals with Jesus Christ as the Good News of salvation for all peoples of Asia.
The Church and its mission is in some sense a continuation of the mission of the Spirit and Jesus Christ. The Church is rooted in communion with the Holy Trinity, a communion established by Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Thus the Church is not accidental to the universal salvific plan of God. This is the topic of the fifth chapter. Chapter six deals with the importance of the proclamation of Jesus Christ as the centre of all the evangelising activities of the Church. This is carried out in dialogue inculturation, human promotion and all other activities that promote life in all its integrity. Here Mary is presented as the model of evangelization in love, service and humility for the Church in Asia, leading all to Christ.
The final part of the Lineamenta contains a series of questions to which answers are to be given. Obviously all are free to deal with other questions not contained in the list of questions. The Lineamenta was published in September 1996. It was discussed by bishops, Bishops’ Conferences, theological faculties and other groups. The answers to the Lineamenta questions were received by August 1997.

b. Instrumentum Laboris
The working document of the Synod called Instrumentum Laboris is drawn up by a group of theologians from Asia and discussed in detail by the Pre-synodal Council. We may therefore say that it is the document of the Asian Church. Superficial criticism of the Instrumentum Laboris by some theologians as a document imposed by the Roman Curia has little foundation. The Instrumentum Laboris for the Synod for Asia is special because more than any other continental synod, it contains a fairly long description of the religious, social, economic and cultural situation of Asia and of the diversity of the Asian Churches. An understanding of the context is very important for the future of the mission of he Church in Asia where the Church is meeting its greatest challenge in its 2000 year old history. It is in Asia that the Church is challenged to demonstrate its willingness for true dialogue, inculturation, not in words but in deeds. Will it have the wisdom, genius and courage of the Apostolic and the Patristic Churches to put on an Asian social, cultural and organisational garb?
The description of the Asian realities is followed by a candid evaluation of the positive and negative aspects of mission in Asia. This is followed by chapters on Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, the Church as communion and its mission of love and service in Asia, along with other Churches in an ecumenical spirit, and with the followers of other religions, in a spirit of humility and service in its proclamation of Jesus Christ, in dialogue, inculturation, and human promotion. The mission of the future is seen as a triple dialogue: dialogue with cultures, religions and the poor.

c. The Celebration of the Synod
In January 1998 the Instrumentum Laboris was sent out to the participants of the Synod that they may have enough time to study the document and make appropriate interventions, proposals, suggestions, criticisms regarding Church’s mission in Asia. The Synod for Asia is scheduled for 19th April and will conclude on 16th May, 1998. About 200 to 250 participants from Asia and from the Roman Curia and other continents will take part in the Synod, including bishops, experts, observers. Bishops’ Conference will elect a certain number of delegates according to the number of bishops in the Conference. The heads of sui Juris Churches or the Oriental Churches of Asia, and heads of the Roman decasteries are members of the Synod. There are some members nominated by the Pope, usually about 25. There may also be observers and representatives of other religions as in the case of Lebanon.

The success and impact of any Synod depends on two factors: the new insights brought into the Synod and the use made of them by the post-synodal documents. Whether the Synod for Asia will have lasting influence upon the future of the Catholic Church in Asia is still to be seen. It is too early to make any evaluations. One can only hope that the synod will have the spirit of discernment of spirits and the courage to move forward with the mission of the Church in Asia. The Synod could help the Church in Asia to be Church in a new way, different from what it has been in the past. This has been well expressed by Parmananda Divarkar: «The Synod should seriously consider what Mahatma Gandhi and other Asian leaders have said, in one way or another: Jesus as he appears and speaks in the Gospel is not a problem; the problem is the Church and the Christianity it has evolved. For this the Church in Asia needs a "conversion" in many senses, conversion to a new way of being Church. The old way has been tried out and it has not succeeded. The new cannot break in unless there is true conversion as Paul VI has said: "Vatican II recalled and the 1974 Synod forcefully reaffirmed this theme of the Church that is evangelised through constant conversion and renewal in order to evangelise the world with credibility."»3.

(Prof. Dr. Sebastian Karotemprel, SDB, is professor of Theology of Mission at the Pontifical Urban University, Rome, and has just been appointed for a second time as member of the International Theological Commission. He is also member of the Theological-historical Commission for the Great Jubilee Year 2000)


1) Cf. Tertio Millennio Adveniente, 38.
2) Lineamenta for Asia, p. 111.
3) Evangelii Nuntiandi, 15.