Daphne Leong from the Singapore Pastoral Institute shares her experience at a recent AsIPA conference
I HAD the privilege to attend the 6th AsIPA General Assembly in Nainamadama, Sri Lanka from Oct 18-24.
With over 120 participants from 16 countries across Asia and Europe, the week was spent networking, listening and learning together.
AsIPA is short for Asian Integral Pastoral Approach. It is a process to promote a “Participatory Church”, to realise the Asian bishops’ vision of creating a “Communion of Communities” within the Church.
The AsIPA General Assembly is held every three years and the last one was in Davao, Philippines, in 2009.
One significant point I took away from this 6th General Assembly is that we share some similar concerns and challenges although our contexts may be different.
For example, while we are concerned about making our faith meaningful and relevant for our youth and young adults here in Singapore, others also share it across Asia.
Despite coming from different cultures and countries, such shared concerns created a kindred spirit among participants and also an awareness of the universality of the Church.
It was also inspiring for me to hear stories from different participants especially from places such as Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
We were told that during the military confrontation with the Tamil Tigers in the northeast of Sri Lanka that displaced thousands in the area, the Small Christian Communities there were the first to reach out with food and clothing to the displaced people.
As for Pakistan, being discriminated is part of the life of the Christian minority in a Muslim-dominated country. In the face of prejudices, the Christian lay faithful courageously engages in interreligious dialogue through witnessing faith in their lives and being in solidarity with the poor.
They even have a programme to teach children to evangelise other children.
Despite harsh conditions, the faith of these remarkable people is an inspiration for someone like me from comfortable Singapore.
I cannot help but wonder: Do we need to experience some kind of strife or persecution before we can truly be conscious of our calling to build the Kingdom by our lives? How come we seem to complain a lot despite having so much?
Even my colleague, Amanda Yeo, who was attending this assembly for the first time, was touched by the faith of the locals.
We found out that some of them actually walked a long distance to their parish church on Sunday, yet they welcomed us warmly when we joined them for Mass during the exposure programme.
We were again greeted with warm blessings when we joined the small communities in their Gospel sharing.
Despite living in an environment of religious tension with the Buddhist majority, the people live and share faith in joy.
Indeed the Gospel text came to mind: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:10).
I left Sri Lanka convinced that the road to building Small Christian Communities is a long one but it is certainly one that is filled with joy, as I witness how being nourished by the Word of God, the lay faithful deepened their faith in the life of these small communities.
As I take with me back to Singapore the task of helping our Neighbourhood Christian Communities grow in consciousness of the mission of Jesus, serving and ministering, I also pray that all the communities across Asia continue to make Christ known by their lives, reflecting His light to all parts of Asia.
The writer is Pastoral Coordinator and Researcher at the Singapore Pastoral Institute.