On 29 January 2021, Caritas Asia held its extraordinary meeting of the Regional Conference, which was done virtually, in lieu of the usual face-to-face meeting of the Caritas Member Organisations (MOs) and emerging Caritas organisations in Asia. Though the meeting was not a substitute to the annual Regional Conference, Caritas Asia decided to hold it, as the region needed to have a platform for everyone to get updates of one another, especially after more than a year of not being able to physically meet, due to COVID-19 restrictions. The region also needed to look into the way forward for the Caritas family in Asia, underpinning its existing responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and following-up on the region’s localisation and safeguarding plans, as well as on the extended Regional Strategic Plan 2017-2020.
Out of the 25 MOs in Asia, a total of 23 Caritas MOs took part in the virtual meeting, which was held via Zoom Meetings from 2:00 o’clock to 5:00 o’clock in the afternoon, Thailand Standard Time. Two emerging Caritas organisations in the region, as well as, Caritas Internationalis also joined the meeting. The participating organisations were represented by the national presidents/chairpersons, directors, board members, and/or program officers. There were 47 registrants for the meeting, 44 of whom were able to actually join the meeting.
The Regional President of Caritas Asia, Dr. Benedict Alo D’Rozario, chaired the entire duration of the virtual meeting. He officially called the meeting to order, by welcoming and thanking the participants for their presence. He also presented the agenda, which were accepted and approved by the participating organisations. In his opening message, Dr. Benedict mentioned that a virtual meeting is an opportunity with some limitations, but he believes that it would bring a joyful learning experience and encouragement for participants to take back food for thoughts and inspiration to Caritas services.
At the introductory session, Archbishop Isao Kikuchi, SVD, the president of Caritas Japan and former president of Caritas Asia, led the opening prayer, while Mr. Zar Gomez, the Regional Coordinator, made the acknowledgment and presentation of all the participants.
For the session on sharing the COVID-19 situations and responses of Caritas MOs in the region, each MO was requested to reflect on four pre-arranged guide questions and send their responses beforehand to their respective sub-regional representatives/reporters.
The four guide questions consisted of the following:
- What is the general impact of COVID-19 in your country?
- How has the pandemic affected your organization and how is it coping with the challenges/difficulties brought about by COVID-19? If any, please share any laudable initiatives that your organisation has done, or is still doing, in response to COVID-19.
- How has your organization engaged in localization, especially in your response to COVID-19 and/or in your other programs and services?
- How do you think should our Caritas family in Asia, as a region, address the impacts, or challenges of COVID-19? Please suggest specific action points or key focuses that our region should prioritise in moving forward.
The consolidated responses of the MOs were then presented in the meeting by the following sub-regional reporters:
- Bishop Giorgio Marengo of Caritas Mongolia for Central Asia
- Mabel Bombeo of Caritas Taiwan for East Asia
- Lalit Tudu of Caritas Nepal for South Asia
- Tony Labiao of Caritas Philippines for Southeast Asia
As a way forward to the Caritas family in Asia, all the four sub-regions commonly recommended to have a regular platform for sharing experiences and good practices, in order to learn from one another’s initiatives. Common advocacy works, as well as, developing a program and raising funds on COVID-19, were also suggested by at least two sub-regions. Other specific suggestions were on looking into how health program can be developed regionally and ensuring that COVID-19 vaccines are accessible to all, especially the poor. One sub-region has particularly underscored the opportunity for Caritas to respond to the invitation of Pope Francis to do charity with a human face and promote the culture of care and attention.
After the sub-regional presentations, Mr. Aloysius John, the Secretary General of Caritas Internationalis (CI), provided some updates about the General Secretariat and the Caritas Confederation. He challenged the region into how to look into four emerging realities of Caritas in the midst of the pandemic, namely, 1. Change of paradigm, 2. Systemic changes, 3. A new way of thinking, and 4. New partnership. Specifically, he encouraged the region to reflect well on the following questions:
- How to be creative, as stewards, in the work of charity and solidarity to address the issue of social justice?
- How to define the new paradigm of fraternal cooperation?
- How are we going to seize the opportunity to impulse this new beginning, to give a new meaning to this new beginning?
- How are we going to get into communion with the poor in order to liberate them from complexes of poverty in the context of COVID-19?
The CI updates were then succeeded by the report of the Regional Coordinator about Caritas Asia’s activities and financial status in 2020, as well as the regional activity plans for the first six months of 2021. The new Asia regional focal person for localisation and safeguarding, Dr. Richard Win Tun Kyi, provided a brief presentation of his tasks and responsibilities for the region, and Mr. Ari Nugroho, the regional program officer of Caritas Asia presented a brief overview of the new SHAPE (Strengthening Humanitarian Partnership and Exchanges in Asia Region) program of Caritas Asia.
The last part of the meeting was the Open Forum, wherein the participants had a chance to share their comments, views, recommendations, or reactions to the preceding reports and presentations. The meeting concluded with a word of thanks from the Regional President and a closing prayer, led by Sr. Emma Lee, the Executive Director of Caritas Taiwan.