Studio guest Fyodor Voitolovsky, Deputy Director, Institute of World Economy and International relations (studio guest), Janes Sever, Jesuit Priest with the Institute of Saint Thomas in Moscow, Rev. Michael Rayan, Irish Priest, who served in the Philippines now working in Moscow, Timothy Misir, independent researcher (Singapore).
Are we seeing the Pope taking more of a political role across the world, and specifically in Asia in this case?
Fyodor Voitolovsky: Of course, Asia is the fastest developing region in the world and it is becoming the new center of the world economy. But, at the same time, it is a region where the social contradictions and social differences are very sharp. And trying to enlarge the audience of the Catholic Church, Pope pays a lot of attention to the social issues. And that is why Asia is becoming one of the regions in the focus of the Catholic Church, together with Africa and South Asia.
The Catholic Church has a long history of work in Asia, and especially in the Philippines. It has a historic legacy of trying to multiply its activity and trying to bring the new agenda, especially the social agenda. And touching the economic issues in his speeches Pope Francois is paying a lot of attention. When he mentioned a new approach to the problem of the growth of population in Asia, for the first time he used the formulas and models which are much closer to the approach of the UN.
One of the things we are wondering is what is behind Pope’s balancing act between Dalai Lama and Beijing? Could he potentially try to bring the two together?
Timothy Misir: I think it is still going to be a long time, if ever, when Beijing will establish formal ties with the Vatican. I mean, Pope Francois has to deal with the reassuring Beijing that the Vatican will not wield its influence over the 12-20 million estimated Catholics in China. But he also has to make sure he doesn’t alienate that segment of the population. I don’t know. I mean, during his last visit to Asia late last year he made public statements to Xi Jinping, who also took power the same week he was elected Pope in 2013. So, there are talks, but I don’t think the formal ties will ever be established.
Do you think he succeeded in bringing the Church closer to the people and making it more tolerant?
Timothy Misir: I don’t know. The Philippines is 80% Catholic. So, the Vatican has always had a strong influence over at least the social and moral affairs of the population. I guess with the elections coming up in 2016 in the Philippines, the Vatican’s position on the issues and the influence it has over the population will be of great interest to the authorities there. At least in the past quarter of century Christianity and Catholicism has been growing very rapidly across all of Asia. Pope Francois is paying a greater attention to this region already; this is his second trip in six months.What do you think explains such a phenomenal upturn of support and can the Pope capitalize on this to enact the changes that he wants to do?
Rev. Michael Rayan: I think lots of people in the Philippines, whether they are Muslims or Protestant, or in majority Catholic respect the man of clear face, clear intentions and ability to speak simply to people in the words that are understandable and welcome.
How do you see the role of the Catholic Church and how do you assess the Pope’s visit to Asia, which is really torn by conflicts?
Rev. Michael Rayan: I think that the Catholic Church is Christian, and the Christian message is the one of peace. Remember the message of the Angels at the birth of Jesus: “Glory to God in highest, and peace on earth to men of good will”. I think that is the first message that Christianity has to offer. Christians have sometimes fallen away from that. Forgive them and bless them for their foolishness and the wickedness! But I think most Christians try to live like that. A country like the Philippines is profoundly anchored in the tradition of trying to get on with your neighbours who might be different from you. And I think the Christian message is well liked by many people, even those who are not Christians.
Could this be the beginning of the Western dialog of civilizations?
Janes Sever: I think generally the West doesn’t include South America. When people talk about the West, they think about Europe, Western Europe especially and the US. Pope Francois doesn’t really come from that notion of the West. He is the pastor of the universal church – 1.2 billion people in the whole world. So, in that sense, there’s been a continuing dialog throughout the history. It’s always been his business to associate with the one and the other, and to promote harmony and mutual respect.
Do you think that the Pope can really pull this off with bringing together so many different cultures?
Rev. Michael Rayan: Let’s put aside the popemania. The Pope doesn’t decide, do and make everything. The Pope is a voice of clarity and reason, and we hope that he reflects and encourages clarity, reason, openness, tolerance amongst those who are willing to listen to him. We’ve all got freedom, we've all got the responsibility. Forget about the Pope in Rome, it is to some extent my responsibility, our responsibility to be tolerant here and now with the people in front of us. And he is making that message very clear in Sri Lanka, in the Philippines. When he went to Strasburg the other month, he was making that very clear. When he is going to go to the UN next year in the US he will make that message very clear. I think it is not up to the Pope, it is up to us to live peacefully with our neighbours.
Do you think this will have a huge impact? Is there a really strong and impactful takeaway or will this be seen as yet another routine visit a couple years from now?
Fyodor Voitolovsky: I don’t think that it is a routine visit, because the Catholic Church, like all the other global actors, is turning to Asia and is paying much more attention to Asia, and especially to the Asia-Pacific. In the close future the only opportunity for the Catholic Church to bring its influence to Asia is to actively separate its activity from the Western activity in the region, from the US and Europe which are also paying more attention to Asia than before.