The way the church speaks of dialogue in Asia is the way Pope Francis speaks of dialogue, Filipino Cardinal Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato said here days before the pope arrived for his five-day pastoral visit to the Philippines.
Quevedo said the pope in his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, emphasizes the importance of dialogue with civil society, the state, science and cultures.
He said Francis in his writing and messages talks about dialogue not only for peace, but also for mutual understanding.
He stresses the same things as Asian bishops stress: dialogue, intercultural dialogue, interreligious dialogue, Quevedo pointed out.
The former secretary general of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences, or FABC, is the first cardinal for Mindanao island, where an autonomous region with a predominantly Muslim population sits. He is among Philippines bishops' conference members Francis will see at the tarmac Thursday when the pope steps down from his plane from Sri Lanka for his visit to Manila and Tacloban.
In Sri Lanka on Tuesday, Francis addressed Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and other religious leaders and reaffirmed the "church's sincere respect" for the religious leaders, their traditions and beliefs. He also expressed the Catholic church's wish to cooperate with everyone for the welfare of Sri Lanka.
Quevedo said Francis uses the word "dialogue" in the way the Asian bishops use it: "as a mode of evangelization and not simply as something different from proclamation of the Gospel."
That's a big boost for the FABC because it's a message the bishops' conference has been giving since it committed to "triple dialogue" in Asia in the 1970s. That involves dialoguing with the poor, who make up most of the Asian population, with the cultures, and with religions, the cardinal added.
"It is very encouraging that we are on the right track -- that we are not a church apart that thinks differently from the pope, from the universal church," he said.
"Once upon a time, there was a feeling that what we say is not understood well in Rome," and there was a push for greater emphasis on proclaiming the Gospel.
Asian bishops began meeting in the 1970s after the Second Vatican Council to reflect on how they could implement its teachings in their countries and their region. Catholics in the continent made up less than 3 percent of its population.
Jesuit theologian Fr. Catalino Arevalo remembers the bishops' conference's early discussions.
"Asian bishops said we need to get to know our people," he told NCR. "The church cannot remain isolated in a sort of a small ghetto ... when Jesus says evangelization means bring the Gospel to all the peoples. Therefore, we have to know our people by going to them and not just waiting for them to come to us."
For Asian bishops, dialogue is engaging with people in their activities and communities. The bishops pointed out then the three areas of dialogue, which they called "triple dialogue."
Quevedo noted that today, even the proclamation of the Gospel for Asian bishops is by way of dialogue, not only because of the intercultural and the interreligious situation of Asia, "but because you just don't go around like some groups telling people right away that Jesus is Lord [and] Savior and unless you believe him, you are going to perish."
He cited the first Asian Mission Congress in 2006 that tackled evangelization by "telling the story of Jesus." Quevedo said when bishops from Rome asked about the theological storyline, the Asian bishops replied that "proclaiming the Lord Jesus has to be done in a pedagogical way, gradually, evocatively, through stories, until such time as perhaps the people of Asia can accept the full revelation of the Lord Jesus."
He said after that, there were no more questions about the theology, "but the emphasis was one thing we were asked -- why don't you emphasize this, why not this?"
In the FABC Plenary Assembly in Vietnam two years ago, the bishops also mentioned what Francis is saying: Religious freedom has to be respected especially because of the rise of fundamentalism.
"Now there is ISIS [the Islamic State group], which is different -- be converted or perish," Quevedo said.
Francis is also scheduled to meet with leaders of varied religions Sunday in Manila.
Quevedo said he believes Francis, who is "very strong" in his language on religious freedom, will continue to emphasize dialogue with the poor, intercultural dialogue and interreligious dialogue in his pastoral visits to Asia.