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ALL Forum and AYA/ATF

ALL Forum and AYA/ATF

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Uniqueness of ALL Forum

Following Pope Francis’ teachings, ALL Forum promotes the spirit of “reaching out” to the “peripheries” in order to smell like the sheep of Asia as the local churches. ALL Forum is a contextualized and praxis-centered collaboration among five partners: social issues – spirituality based Center for Asia Peace and Solidarity (CAPS) in Seoul, South Korea, the pastoral and lay-centered Institute of Formation-Fondacio Asia (IFFA) for youth in Manila, Philippines, and the mystical eco-spirituality centered and Asian ways of doing theology serving for Indigenous Peoples (IPs) concerned by Jesuit Companion for Indigenous Peoples and Migrants (JCIM) & R Training and Research Center (RTRC), university-students-empowering IMCS-AP or International Movements of Catholic Students-Asia Pacific. ALL Forum incorporates and develops some of their existing programs and initiatives for greater synergy for the globalizing Church of Asia. From this collaboration, it is able to provide not only an on-going and holistic formation program for the young lay leaders for the particular Churches in Asia, but specifically faith reflection and engagement as Christians, or the skills and confidence for lay leaders in the fast changing Asian contexts. While ALL Forum focuses on young Catholics, it is not limited to them. It promotes a wider ecumenical, inter-religious and inter-cultural encounter and learning for effective socio-pastoral mission in a globalized Church. Therefore, the distinguishable elements amongst the five partners will contribute to a holistic and on-going formation that promotes ecumenical and inter-cultural-religious collaboration for faith engagement.

Purposes of ALL Forum and Its Methodology

Forming and empowering young lay leaders who have engaged in solidarity with the poor and mother earth is crucial in bridging the Church to the societies and ecology in Asia. Generally speaking, churches in Asia lack a collaborative, coordinated and holistic formation programs and tools for these emerging young pastoral leaders. Reading the signs of the times and recognizing this need, ALL Forum endeavors to provide them with a solid, systematic and intensive formation program.

In order to realize the real meaning of the People of God as a genuine local Church of Asia, ALL Forum has been committed to respond discerningly to the urgent needs of the youth, women and girl children, ecology, migrants, Indigenous peoples (IPs) and other marginalized groups whom FABC designates as “special pastoral concerns” by harnessing the richness of the Catholic Social Teachings (CSTs) and “pastoral spiral” assessment of FABC.

ALL Forum hopes to provide the young lay leaders with an intensive and interrelated programs known as the Asian Youth Academy (AYA)/ the Asian Theology Forum (ATF) which is an intensive and efficient tool for the young lay leaders to learn about Asian theologies, spiritualties and wisdom. ALL Forum will initiate two other programs, namely (a) a “moving school” for those who cannot afford to join AYA/ATF that has been held on a pan-Asian level and to support alumni of our existing programs in their socio-pastoral commitments (b) pilgrimages to sacred places of the different faiths and areas of conflict in Asia by emphasizing dialogue based on the Asian spiritualties of peace-building. These 3 programs will truly complement the programs of the existing partners. At the same time, all the partners will interest the young adults to join further formation programs e.g. mission formation at IFFA; or the regional programs of IMCS AP; formation program for youth from communities of Indigenous Peoples (IPs) based on cultural agricultural approach of RTRC; JCIM’s summer program for IPs’ young leaders and activists.

All the above major programs are based on an Asian method of doing contextual theology, or doing “theology of relevance” in relation to the struggle of the Asian peoples as enriched and motivated by their cultures, spiritualities and sacred wisdom.  We had migrants or refugees as a special focus of AYA/ATF last year before which the Indigenous Peoples (2013), peasants (2014) and women (2015) were dealt as the main themes. The year 2013 was a monumental year for the AYA/ATF not only because Francis was elected as Pope and started his pontificate in the same year but also has consistently emphasized on ‘genuine human development’ in relation to evangelization, social actions and his ideas on the image of church or ecclesiology. The Center for Asia Peace and Solidarity (CAPS) under Woori Theology Institute (WTI), the only independent and laity-founded and run research institute in Asia based in Seoul, has conducted the formation program for youth until 2015. Indeed, it was the first time for ALL Forum to have held the intensive program for youth. It was done with help from the Suratthani Catholic Foundation (SCF) as the local host on Aug. 17-26, 2016. As was 2015, the 2016 AYA/ATF has been carried out without a major difficulty.

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Church Renewal/Reform and ALL Forum

The world bishops’ synods on family in Rome 2014 and 2015 is remarkable in relation to church renewal. It is because the two synods showed the significance of “synodality” , or collaboration based on communion among the People of God, and we reflected it as a part of agendas in the 2014 and 2015 AYA/ATF programs by dealing relevantly with themes related to family. The two synods were over. What could remain and result from the two consecutive bishops’ meetings? One thing very clear to laypeople in the world church is that Pope Francis’ church-reform drive has a long way to go during which there has been many obstacles including some “conservative” clergy who express their objections publicly to the pope seen well in the synods.

Therefore, we believe that there is an urgent need for church renewal about which Francis points out in “The Joy of the Gospel” (Evangelli Gaudium): there is “ecclesial structures which can hamper efforts at evangelization” (no.26). In other words, there is reason why the “should-be-open church” to all especially the poor or the church as “field hospital” should remain a “church for church”. This isolation has happened because of strong clericalism and clericalization in many local churches in Asia. If that is true, then the question is to identify who will be the right one that makes the church a “field hospital” to go forth to the poor and wounded. In this sense, the presence and roles of lay-run NGOs is, once again, more important than ever. It is why we brought the church reform issue here and in the AYA/ATF agenda which has really to do with formation of young lay leaders from Catholic NGOs. In other words, not only church NGOs’ presence and roles but also their on-going formation is more important in order to achieve transformation of the church and the society. And such youth formation should go with creative ideas and acts of the Catholic lay NGOs: that should be made into new movements which rightly fit the rapidly changing world, regions, nation, societies, and neighbors in the arenas of service, human and social development, and spirituality. Put it simply, we need theology, pastoral practices, and spirituality of “relevance” which make sense to our neighbors’ life and cultures.

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  • Youth as Main Theme for 2017

At the dawn of the New Year 2017, Pope Francis declared that another synod of bishops under the theme “Youth, Faith and Vocational Discernment” will be held in Rome in October 2018. At the World Youth Day in Krakow, the pope reminded young participants of their answer “yes” to his question: “Can you change the world?” He reminded also that such a heart full of youth and bitterness does not endure injustice culture and won’t be defeated to the globalization of indifference. Therefore, the faith of the youth goes without fear in the risk of following the Lord Jesus to make a better world. He said that the church wants to hear the voices, beliefs and even doubts and criticisms of these young people. When he made a visit to Korea in 2014, the pope has already encouraged Asian young people whose continent is younger than other continents. While he asked the churches in Asia to care for them, Pope Francis told them not to lose hope in the midst of poverty. The pope seemed to express his worry about how serious the situation facing the youth to international community through various channels.

The preparatory document for the 15th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops released on Jan. 13th, 2017 also clearly points out the situation where youth has been being suffered. It specifically mentions various “particular hardships” as follows: “those who grow up without parents or family, or are unable to go to school; children and young boys and girls who live on the street in many suburbs; the young who are unemployed, displaced persons and migrants; those who are victims of exploitation, trafficking and slavery; children and young people forcefully recruited in criminal gangs or as guerrilla fighters; and child brides or girls forced to marry against their will.” It goes further to say that “Oftentimes female children, little girls and young women face even greater difficulties than their peers.”

In such context, we have to raise the following question in the document: “How we could reawaken the greatness and the courage of comprehensive choices, of the impulses of the young heart in order to face such difficulties and challenges?” For this, Pope Francis gives us such an encouraging words with a full of confidence: “Take a risk. Whoever does not risk does not walk. ‘But what if I make a mistake?’…You will make more mistakes if you remain still.” (Discourse at Villa Nazareth, 18 June)

If such a moving encouragement were not completed without setting up a concrete plan, its feasibility and realization at hand, the youth would be easily discouraged and remain in despair soon after, even if they had willingness to “take a risk”. It is quite important that young people themselves seek, find and propose “alternatives” to the society and the churches in which they could dream, explore and decide to participate in “the World We Want”. For this, like the preparation document also points out, “If society or the Christian community want to make something new happen again, they have to leave room for new people to take action.” However, it would be too late if the church would only aware and recognize the significance of their presence in the church amid young ones having been already and still witnessed their absence and disappearance in the churches in Asia and the world indeed. Therefore, the following quote from the document needs to be engraved in the hearts of politicians, educators and church officials including pastors and those in charge of formation. “Devising change according to the principles of sustainability requires enabling new generations to experience a new model of development. This is particularly problematic in those countries and institutions where the age of those who occupy positions of responsibility is high and slows down the pace of generational change.” If they don’t consider nor hear the voice of the youth for reforming such already-made “positions of responsibility”, there would be no sustainability of society and the church nor the future of them. In other words, amid the despair, sigh and tear of young people, humanity is challenged to start setting up “a new model of development” which AYA/ATF has long been seeking and pursuing in order to show young church workers hope and confidence to “change the world” like the pope said.

In other words, economical, moral and spiritual dimensions of human development stressed in Pope Francis’ social teachings mentioned above will be dealt with regard to the issues of youth, ecology and peace. In the AYA part, we will focus more on various situation and realities facing the youth in Asia. On the other hand, we put more stress on many other issues in relation to young people and the church’s role for them in ATF. Therefore, in this sense, all the political, economic, social and cultural problems including the employment of young people can be implicated in bringing about a new model of progress or development of the present economy model. The question of peace, ecology, and human development is a key to how religion and civil society can contribute to the realization of this new development model.

Meanwhile, following the UN-led Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which ended in 2015, a new project called Development Goals (SDGs) was launched for the next 15 years (2016-2030). The MDGs and SDGs are not new because the international community, including the Catholic Church, has been discussing and struggling to provide viable ideas by reviewing new projects such as the MDGs and the SDG. Especially since Pope Francis has much focused on genuine or ‘integral’ human development in his key documents, including “The Joy of the Gospel” (Evangelii Gaudium) and “Be Praised” (Laudato Si), which have been one of the key themes of AYA / ATF held yearly, such idea is more familiar.

In his speech on 2nd May, 2016, Cardinal Peter Turkson, the president of the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace, made clear that the “SDGs must guide and orient us over the next few decades.” He said that true development must go together with “economic development, social inclusion, and environmental sustainability”. He picked up six paragraphs (no. 124-29) of Laudato Si as its heart and the subtitle for the paragraphs show the spirit of “connectivity”: “The need to protect employment.” In other words, it emphasizes that work acquires true nature when it is appropriate and sustainable for workers, employers, governments, communities and the environment. As a matter of fact, youth as this year’s theme of AYA/ATF has been proposed in the context of this economic and cultural reality and designated as a “special pastoral attention” targeted by the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conference (FABC).

As we well know, each local church and bishop’s conference has theology, pastoral plans and devices for youth which have little implemented. FABC on the pan-Asia level has a remarkable theology of “Triple Dialogue” since the first plenary assembly in 1974 and designated youth as a special pastoral attention, there has not been systematic support for the youth, one of the marginalized, which the FABC’s threefold dialogue aims at. ALL Forum is ready to work with the bishops’ association for creating the new world we and all like-minded people want for the poor and marginalized including the youth. So it is not “Show me the Money” but “Show me Support and Willingness” for working together for the poor and the marginalized in Asia so that they could dream realize bit by bit with us the World We Want in a more practical and operational manner.

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