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Holy See

FEATURE: Myanmar’s Cardinal Bo, President of Asian Bishops, Calls for Greater Use of Bible in Life & Mission, & Bringing God’s Word to the Streets

Cardinal Charles Bo, Archbishop of Yangon, Myanmar, expressed this in his May 14 sermon, provided by him to ZENIT, on ‘Bible and Evangelization,’ in which he also applauds the Holy Father’s interest in potentially instituting a super-dicastery dedicated to evangelization in the Roman Curia.

The President of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conference calls for a greater use of the Bible in one’s life and mission, bringing God’s word to the streets, and follow Jesus’ example.

Here is Cardinal Bo’s full Sermon, which he provided to Zenit’s Deborah Castellano Lubov

Bible and Evangelization

Sermon on 14th May 2019

Cardinal Charles Maung Bo., SDB

President FABC

Dear Brother Bishops, Fathers and Friends,

We gather after the horrible tragedy of Sri Lanka.  Our Sri Lankan brother Bishops are here. We send our prayers and fellowship to the people of Sri Lanka and the Church in Myanmar.  In times of Darkness, let the small lamp of faith guide us through the tunnels of shock and despair.

Today is the feast of Matthias. The reading from Acts of the Apostles speaks of his choice as the apostle. The life of Matthias resembles many of our lives.  We were chosen not for our merit but by the working of the Spirit.  Matthias knew his vulnerability but also knew the grace of God by which he could say with Paul “when I am weak, I am strong”.

Early church trusted in God, trusted in the simple capacity of the first disciples.   Matthias knew his vulnerability and fragility of faith but these became his assets.  Early church trusted not in money and power.  As Peter said “”Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” (Acts 3:6) the early church trusted in Jesus and the Spirit.

Yes.  Peter defines the Church Mission:

In the name of Jesus Christ, Walk. In the name of Jesus: Walk the Talk. Evangelize.

Early Christianity believed that they had a message of a God who sent his son to save humanity and feel the power of resurrection: And that message needed to be shared.  The only task of church according to them was Evangelizing both Jews and Gentiles.  Church is a missionary and it exists to evangelize the world.

I was asked to say a few words on Bible and Evangelization:

It is of immense pleasure to say a few words about an issue that occupies the mind of the Holy Father now.  As you are aware he is establishing a diacastery on Evangelization.  A new “super dicastery” on evangelization might be one of the most significant reforms of the governing structures of the Vatican, according to a news report.  This will be first among all the diacastries, bringing to the attention of each one of us the church exists for only on reason:   To Evangelize this world. Evangelization returns as the top priority of the Church.

This is in continuation of what Pope Benedict did, when he declared the New Evangelization initiative. He said   the Catholic Church needs to have return to three significant sectors:

  1. First Return : Return to Christ
  2. Second Return : Return to Bible
  3. Third Return: Return to Proclamation as main activity.

In short Church was asked by recent Popes to return to the important Mission of Evangelization.

What was the core Evangelizing Message of the Bible?

Christ was the first missionary sent by the Father to proclaim the Good news.  In a pivotal verse in the Gospel, the evangelist John says “God so Loved the World that he sent his only Son, not to condemn but to redeem”. (John 3:16). In  Today’s Gospel  Jesus  summarizes the Message of the Bible : Jesus says : Love one another as I loved you; This is the commandment I give to you : Love one another. (John 15:17). Yes Christianity is a four letter Word. Four Letter:  L-O-V-E.   As St Paul Says: There abides Faith, Hope and Love.  But the greatest of this is Love.   This in Summary is Christianity expressed through love of Christ.

As we confront religious extremism, mass killings and hatred peddled against Christians, we are asked to return with the message of Love.  Pope Francis affirmed this message during his visit to Myanmar “never repay hatred with Vengeance; become messengers of Peace”.   When hatred tries to destroy us, kills us mutilates us, we need to rise again, like Jesus, with the message of love and peace based on love.  Forgiveness and reconciliation and healing are part of today’s evangelization.  And this is the call to all.

Proclamation was the farewell mandate.  Christ gave a mission to all those who believed in him “Go and proclaim”.  (Mathew 28: 18-20).  In the early church, becoming a Christian means becoming an Evangelizer by life and mission.   Every Christian thought preaching was the duty of every Christian reflecting the words of St Paul “For when I preach, I cannot boast since I am compelled to preach: Woe to me if I do not proclaim the Gospel” (1 Cor 9:16)

Greater Use of Bible in our Life in our Mission: Bible and Evangelization

Pentecostal Movements know the power God’s Word.  Everyday Televangelists reach out to millions attracting the world with the mystic and beauty of Bible. True some of them are mega pastors, cruising in luxury flights and preaching a prosperity Gospel.    Christ never preached a prosperity Gospel.  Market oriented, packaged Christianity is becoming a counter witness to our brethren from other religions.

Christ had Kingdom in mind, a new heaven and new earth where there will be no more tears.   Bible speaks to the modern man and woman and his problems.

Bible is not a fossil.  It is a dynamic    book proclaiming a living God.  It was the protestant theologian Karl Barth once said A Good Christian holds bible in one hand and newspaper. A healthy interaction of the text and context is vital for any religious book to maintain its relevance.     Reading the signs of times as Vatican II has shown us is vital for evangelization.  God is not only seen in the books.  God continues to speak in every event.   Exodus continues to happen.  Millions are on their exodus today, Christ continues to be crucified in the mountains of injustice, poverty and oppression.  Resurrection happens in every human being that stretches out his or her brother.  The story of Bible is retold in every era with the unchanging message of God’s love for his people amidst all darkness and challenges.

Need for returning Jesus to Asia:  Gospel to Asia and Gospel by Asian Church

There is an urgent mandate for evangelization to the Asian Churches today.   In the last two Millennium, Christianity journeyed through three major cultures:   It was initially a small group of Jewish Christians,    then starting from Paul for many centuries it had the mantle of Greco Roman Culture, and then last few centuries it moved to Franco German culture.  Then for a brief interlude South Americans tried the Liberation theology as the new Good News.

Now most of the Western Catholic Countries have lost their evangelizing fervour.  Is the Asian Church is the new apostolic missionary Church?   If Christianity to be invigorated and  presented afresh,  Christ need to return to Asia  and Christianity needs to be presented as an Asian Face.   There are strong and encouraging signs of Christianity’s growth.   Are we as Asian Christian willing to take up this Millennium Challenge?  Evangelize an Asian Christ- with a message of East of meditation, love of nature, love of sharing and our love for ethnic people?

During his historic visits to Asia and his apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia Asia Pope St John Paul II urged the church to explore relevant evangelization methods. The document celebrates the fact that Jesus Christ took flesh as an Asian. The Pope said proclamation of this Asian Jesus Christ to all is the Church’s “unique contribution to the peoples of the continent” (n.10).  Are we ready for the baptism of Christianity in the Jordon of Asia?

Do we have an Asian Church?  This challenge I understand is perennial to FABC.    How do we contextualize the mission and message of Christ Our Lord?

Themes from the Bible – for Evangelization in Asia.

Catholic Church has been proposing an integral Evangelization framework based on the themes in the Bible. It presents a complementary framework of salvation and liberation: The salvation of the soul as envisaged by Bible and presenting Jesus as the saviour of humanity is complemented by the concept of Jesus as the Liberator of humanity from all kinds of man-made injustice and suffering.  This framework is well defined in the Encyclical Caritas in Veritate.   Based on that I would suggest the following themes for evangelization in Asia.

  1. New Exodus – of millions of refugees, IDPS and migrant workers
  2. New Jubilee – need for forgiving the debts of poor countries and poor people
  3. New magnificat : A clarion cry for  dignity of women inside and outside the church
  4. New spirituality of Peace and Justice
  5. Green Evangelization – eagerness to save the world.
  6. Human development is the new name for Evangelization. ( Mt 25 and Caritas in Veritate)
  7. The Gospel of Economic justice and Ecological Justice
  8. Kingdom of God based on peace and Justice established on the world.
  9. Ultimately the salvific message of Christ

Move from a Church that breaks the bread on the altar towards a Church that breaks the word in the streets.

Christ broke bread and held his only mass on the last day.  He was breaking bread even before that but in the streets.  Proclamation of God’s Kingdom was Jesus Mission.  Today’s church may identify itself as a community that comes to break bread on the altar.  Proclamation calls us to return to the streets.  Yes Evangelization is breaking the bread of proclamation in the street.  The street becomes the altar.

As we confronted the horror of Sri Lanka, the Spirit urges us not to desert the street, but to return to the streets.  Return to the streets to break the bread of healing, mutual understanding and reconciliation.  Pope Francis once again redefines the Evangelizing role of the Church when he said:

I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather           than a church that is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own safety.  A church that goes to the sheep and comes back with the smell of the sheep.

That is the call of the Bible that is the call of the Church.  Evangelization is to return to the people, streets as Jesus did and the early Christians and Apostles did.

May the Asian Church hear this clarion call and be animated by the Holy Spirit to open new Windows of opportunities in Asia.

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