[ACNS] Poverty is a scourge, a scandal and a sin against God, the Most Revd Renato Mag-Gay Abibico, the Prime Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines, said in a sermon during a poignant service to open the full assembly of the Council of Churches of East Asia (CCEA).
The assembly is to focus on themes of poverty and migration over the coming days and the Prime Bishop used his sermon to set out a coherent theological framework for the week.
As a bishop in a country where poverty has left many vulnerable to the lure of work in foreign lands and so to human trafficking, he rejected the idea that poverty is caused by laziness or stupidity. Poverty, he asserted, is the result of unjust social order where economies are focused on greed and a sign that we are under the judgement of God who has made us stewards for abundant life.
He warned against false prophets who are never interested in justice. In a world defined by sin, “the poor prophecy to the church, the poor evangelize the world.”
He reminded the Assembly that the first task of mission was to build just compassionate societies and that Jesus did not minister in synagogues: he lived in the world. He sometimes wondered if the Church was able today to hear God’s word and to challenge injustice.
Recently he has been encouraged by the words of Pope Francis extolling a “bruised and dirty church” and most especially by Archbishop Justin’s welcome for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Archbishop Justin’s prayer for justice filled him with pride at being an Anglican, he said.
The Prime Bishop recalled the dark era of martial law in the Philippines, which he described as “days of disquiet and nights of rage.” Hope was kept alive by the church resulting in their leadership of the People Power Revolution of 1986, he said. “The church never abandoned the people – we marched hand in hand.”
The Prime Bishop closed with a look at the Five Marks of Mission. He declared himself much more comfortable with the first two. The Marks that refer to service, justice and facing up to our destruction of nature are more uncomfortable for all of us who want more in church.
But he said the acid test of our evangelism and discipleship is the commitment to justice.
The theme of the conference is Revelation 21:5 “Behold, I make all things new...” and Bishop Abibico encouraged all to partner with God in this work of mission in a troubled and suffering world.
The CCEA is an Anglican body which was founded in the 1930s, gaining momentum since the 1950s. The Anglican churches in South East Asia, Myanmar, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, the Philippines and Taiwan (TEC) are full members with associate membership from the Anglican Church of Australia and Philippine Independent Church.
CCEA’s full assembly meets every four years and members can send a bishop, clergy, lay, and youth representative from each diocese and associates send the same from their province.
The current Chair of the CCEA is Archbishop Paul Kwong of Hong Kong.