World Council of Churches

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Called to be the One Church - Presentation by Sister Maria Ko Ha Fong

Sister Maria Ko Ha Fong addresses the main theme of the Faith and Order Plenary Commission meeting, Called to be the One Church, from an intercultural perspective.

09 October 2009

Presentation by Sister Maria Ko Ha Fong

1. Rediscovering the Asian roots of Christianity


Being not more than 3% of the population of Asia, where nearly two thirds of the people of the world live, Christians are a “small flock” (Lk 12:32), immersed in the diverse, contrasting and even conflicting realities of Asia. Yet, far from considering themselves to be a closed and timid minority, they are alive in the faith and growing steadily, especially during the last decades, not just in number, but what is more important, in their own self-awareness as disciples of Jesus in their Asian cultural identity.


Asia is the cradle of the world's major religions and this includes Christianity. It was the continent where Christ chose to be born, live, die and rise. The entire Biblical drama (except for some of Paul’s travels) was enacted on Asian soil. Already in the early centuries Christianity reached the two great nations of Asia: India probably during the first and China by the sixth or seventh.


The Good News of Christ from the East penetrated ever more deeply into the cultural structure of the West, and from there, it spread further to America and Africa. In Asia itself, however, the same journey still remains slow and difficult. The majority of Asian countries came into contact with Christianity only in the second half of the second millennium. By then, however, the Christian faith did not come with the freshness and openness of the origins, it was laden with doctrine and the life experience of the West, with established institutional structure, and unfortunately, with the ambiguous support of colonial forces and with signs of division.


It is therefore a sad irony, that Christianity, though born in Asia, is still today regarded in most Asian countries, as a “foreign import”, and that Christian churches are still looked upon as “bonsai-churches”, trees transplanted from abroad and still growing in borrowed pots. Conscious of the burden and the resource of the past, the Church in Asia now tries to look back on her history not with resentment or polemic, but with thankfulness and a healthy critical spirit to decipher God’s plan of salvation realised in human events. Efforts are being made to “rediscover the Asian face of Jesus”, to promote contextual Asian theologies, to search for “Asian ways of being Church”.


Three events within the Catholic Church have marked the rhythm of the movement toward a new way of understanding and being truly Asian Christian communities.


  • The Second Vatican Council has been characterized as the most significant event of the century, and not only within the Catholic Church. Even if Asian bishops and theologians were playing only a minor role in it, the impact of the Council on the Asian Churches is clearly discernable, especially in the field of inculturation and dialogue.

  • The next important event for the Catholic Churches in Asia was the foundation of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) in 1970. In the course of its now almost 40 years of operation, the FABC has developed into an extremely valuable and important instrument for all its member churches in Asia. It unites the Churches, creating bonds of mutual knowledge and understanding, friendship and solidarity. Due to the various activities under the auspices of the FABC the Asian Catholic Churches were enabled to develop common guidelines for theological orientation, pastoral work, ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue.

  • The Asian bishop have used the occasion of the “Special Assembly for Asia of the Synod of Bishops” held in Rome 1998, to express their problems and hope, their gratitude to God their need for conversion, and their theological ideas and pastoral conceptions. It is the first time that the Church in Asia has discussed its own mode of being on such a large scale. Before the pope and the Roman curia, humbly but forcefully, the Asian bishops have affirmed that the churches of Asia not only have received much, but also have something to offer to the universal Church.