Cardinal Shan, who is the relator general for the special synod, met with the media along with Archbishop Thomas Manamparamil, SDB, of Guwahati, India, the secretary general of the special synod; Bishop Joseph Vianney Fernando of Kandy, Sri Lanka, the head of the public-information committee; Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros, MSSP, of Baalbek, Lebanon, the vice-chairman of the information committee; Archbishop Orlando Quevedo, OMI, of Nueva Segovia, Philippines, and Bishop John Tong Hon of Hong Kong.
Cardinal Shan reminded reporters that two Chinese bishops-- Mattias Duan Yinming of Wanxian and his coadjutor Joseph Xu Zhixuan-- had received personal invitations from Pope John Paul to participate in the synod. Although those bishops may not have had time to obtain visas, he said, they could still receive government permission to travel to Rome before the three-week session ends. "And two seats are being kept open for them," Bishop Fernando added.
Bishop Tong said that the Patriotic Catholic Association-- the government-controlled body which claims to preside over the Catholic Church on mainland China-- had announced that no bishop would be allowed to attend the synod in Rome without presenting a written invitation. The Pope's gesture toward the bishops of Wanxian would appear to fill that condition.
In one of the more dramatic statements during the first day of discussions at the Synod of Bishops for Asia, Bishop Stephen Fumio Hamao of Yokohama said that the Church in Japan was guilty of failure to fulfill her "prophetic" role in denouncing the "inhuman" political system that involved that country in World War II.
And Cardinal Bernardin Gantin, calling attention to relations between Asia and neighboring Africa, asked his fellow bishops to work for "decolonization" of the undeveloped world, and issued a special call for help in evangelizing the region the Maghreb, in northwestern Africa.
Bishop Hamao began his intervention by recalling the atomic blasts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and mourning the thousands of people whose lives were ended in an instant. But he said that those bomb victims were in a real sense the victims of Japanese aggression, which had brought the country into the war, and had devastated several neighboring Asian lands. "The Church neglected her prophetic role to bear witness to the will of God and to protect human life," he said.
The Japanese bishop said that his fondest wish was for the Church to promote the development of enduring peace. "Peace is a gift, the fruit of a healthy human community," he said. He urged that the cause of peace be placed at the center of the Church's missionary efforts in Asia.
Cardinal Gantin thanked the Asian bishops for their help with missionary work in Africa, but observed, "missionary cooperation among the poor churches has never been more necessary." He said that the Asian Church, which has had experience in missionary work and in contact with Islam, could be particularly helpful in extending the work of evangelization in northwest Africa, where Islam is now dominant.