Fr Bonnie Mendes


Fr Bonnie Mendes


After 50 years of historic Vatican Council II the Church has gone past from Cold War era to the era of globalization.

The preparatory work of the Council itself was Euro-centric and and at that stage voices of bishops from the third world, especially from Asia and Africa, were not heard adequately. Herve Carrier S.J. writing in The Contribution of the Council to Culture said, “Even if the main actors at Vatican II at first seemed to be westerners and the ante preparatory texts tended to be their work, their thinking certainly did not dominate the debates so that in the course of the Council, there was a decided maturing of minds and a new awareness of universality.” Vatican II Assessment and Perspectives edited by Rene Latourelle Volume III Paulist Press, New York, 1989. P. 448.

Pope John XXIII said that the Council would be mainly Pastoral. He saw the need for the Council to come to grips with the problems of the contemporary times. There were two trends at Vatican II. One looking to defend the Church from hostile forces ‘at intra’ and there were those who wanted a new perspective of the duties of the Church to the world.

Heavily loaded with theology and metaphysics, the preparatory documents of the Council documents failed to address Asian realities. However during the proceedings, the  presence of experts, the representatives of theologians, religious and lay people, and the interventions of various Bishops from different countries, changed the course of the Council. Cardinal Cardijn was one of them who brought fresh thinking to the Council. The “influence of Cardinals Montini (later elected Pope Paul VI), Suenens, Lercaro, Konig, and Bishops such as Wojtyla and Garrone was felt, and that the Council decided to turn resolutely toward the world, with its anguish, its problems of hunger and poverty, and its hopes for peace and development.” Vatican II Assessment and Perspectives edited by Rene Latourelle Volume III, Paulist Press, New York, 1989, p. 446. The influence of Asian experts was not as influential as that of countries who were better prepared for it.

The key word at the time of the Council was Aggiornamento meaning updating. Pope John XXIII initiated that effort with his courageous invitation to ‘Separated Christians’ to join and  become a strong Ecumenical force during the Council. Fr Aloysius Pieris S. J says “We should listen to its teaching in according to the spirit of faith, hope and love with which it was convoked, conducted and concluded.” (Fr Aloysius Pieris S. j. Give Vatican II a Chance, Tulana Research Centre, Sri Lanka, 2010, p. 8).

Surprisingly, however, it has been witnessed that Asian churches have shown keen interest and enthusiasm in implementing Council’s teachings despite the fact that some Pre-Vatican oriented clergy, in a few countries, put up great resistance in accepting the emerging changes and more specifically a renewed lay apostolate in the Church. Nevertheless, the post Vatican II era saw a rapid organizational development and emergence of lay movements in Asia in line with the teachings of the Council.

“The Second Vatican Council marked a fundamental turning point in the Church’s attitude to the world. The transformation is above all reflected in the Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, but also in other documents for example the decree on Ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio or the important Declaration on Religious Freedom, Dignitatis Humanae. This new attitude of the Church is described as being a change ‘from opposition to dialogue’.” Bernd Groth S.J. From Monologue to Dialogue in Conversations with Nonbelievers or the Difficult Search for Dialogue Partners. Vatican II Assessment and Perspectives, Edited by Rene Latourelle, Volume III, Paulist Press, New York, 1989, p. 185.

Vatican II clearly stated in Decree on the Lay Apostolate, “The work of redemption concerns especially the salvation of men; it takes in also the renewal of the whole temporal order.” (Apostolicum Actuositatem # 5). Hence no field is foreign to the Church and it’s apostolate, be it social, cultural, economic or political. However, given the fact that the Clergy and Religious have played a leading role and the Laity have not been given the space that is their share by the fact of their baptism and confirmation, anything economic, political and social the Church has second thoughts of getting involved.

As we celebrate and revisit Vatican II we need to take stock of the witness of our local churches “being salt of the earth and light of the world, a leaven of society” in Asia. We need to remember those efforts in the past and present that have brought teachings of the Council in real life situations. In this regard the stories of struggle waged by the Asian churches during the past 50 years could give us an insight into as to how we have implemented Council’s teachings and what are the challenges and opportunities ahead. One can think of many Asian lay and Religious who have spearheaded the efforts of the Church to make Vatican II teachings relevant to the milieu in which we live.

Before I can take case up studies of the Worker Movement from Pakistan, I would like to look at the development of the Church in Asia after Vatican II.


The visit of Pope Paul VI at the end of November 1970, provided the perfect platform for the launch of a relevant Asian Church, responding well to a stirring call of Vatican II for the Church to read the signs of the times and to move on. Vatican II in its Document, the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes), clearly states in the opening sentence, “The joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the men of our time, especially of those that are poor or afflicted in any way are the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well. Nothing that is genuinely human fails to find an echo in their hearts.” (Vatican Council II p. 794).


Asia took up the challenge to voice its own thinking. For that purpose it needed a strong mechanism to unite the whole Church and to allow its leaders to get together to reflect and come up with its thinking. The Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences was set up immediately after the visit of the Pope in 1970. At its first General Assembly in Taipei, Taiwan, in 1974, on the theme of Evangelization in Modern Day Asia, the Bishops in its Final Statement came up with the need of triple dialogue in Asia.

Dialogue with the Poor

Dialogue with Other Faiths

Dialogue with other Cultures.

“The local Church is a Church incarnate in a people a Church indigenous and inculturated. And this means concretely a Church is continuous humble and loving dialogue with the living traditions, the cultures, the religions, in brief with all the life realities of the people in whose midst it has sunk its roots deeply and whose history and life it gladly makes its own.” (Fr Desmond de Souza CRsR, The Concerned Face of the Church, Lobo and Co, Bastora, Goa. India. P.482.)

This really spelt out its difference with many others. Asia was a continent of the young, many of whom had a culture of its own.

The Asian Bishops said, “we pledge our resolves to an continuing and large hearted encouragement and support for those who are engaged in these tasks and for those who, we believe, have a special call from God to identify with the powerful specially when their work meets with difficulty, failure and opposition”.  (Asian Bishops Statement of 1970, Fr Bonnie Mendes, Being Church of the Poor, Maktaba-e-Anaveem Pakistan, Sadhoke, Pakistan. 2011, p. 98.)


The first programs after The FABC Plenary in Taiwan was a series of Bishops Institutes for Social Action (BISA), organized by the Office of Human Development of FABC. This program created a niche for the Asian Bishops quite different from the past. It was a new way of looking at life. It was not looking at the realities from the Centre, rather it was looking at life from the margins. Bishops came together for ten days.  The first few days they spent living with the poor. They listened to the poor and got a chance to listen to the perspective of the poor to the realities of the time. It changed the whole thinking and brought about a conversion of many of them. Rather than being teachers, for a moment they became learners and the poor became the teachers. This is one of the big contributions of the Asian Church to the Universal Church.

The BISA Program gave the Bishops an opportunity to understand the Triple dialogue better, especially to understand the Dialogue with the Poor. The whole process turned things upside down. Teachings did not come the deductive way but rather from the life experience of Asia.

The Bishops at BISA IV said, “Seeing the Lord in the poor, making sense out of His action among them, discerning the direction of His action with them? this we felt deeply within us was the more specific challenge we have to face. It is a challenge we have to respond to in faith, with faith. For the challenge forces us to re-examine our notion of ourselves as Church, as the people of God. Perspective These challenges lead us to only one conclusion:  We must strive to become truly the Church of the Poor. This was the ringing call of the Asian Bishops’ uMeeting in Manila in 1970, and of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences again in Taipei in 1974”. (BISA IV from the internet.)

The inductive process helped make theology contextual and relevant. The series of BISAs, eight in all, have been the outstanding contribution of the Asian Church.

The BISA series was a bold attempt of the Asian Church to get the Bishops and other leaders to meet workers directly those who had practiced the See Judge Act Methodology and gave their sharp analysis in a lingo that Church leaders could understand at once. The statements of the Bishops after each BISA program reflects their acknowledgement of their mistakes.

This was also the time that Asia Partnership for Human Development (earlier called till 1976 Asia Fund for Human Development). There were a number of YCW stalwarts in APHD. I can name a few of them Fr Stan Fernando and Rienzie Rupasinghe from Sri  Lanka, (Rienzie Rupasinghe was the Executive Secretary of APHD), Fr John Curnow from New Zealand, Tom Johnson and Romeo Maionie from Canada. Alex Ericx from Broderlek Delen, Brian Mckweon from Ireland working for CCFD and Jose Osaba from Spain. Asia Partnership was set up to allow the Asians to be the majority in making decisions that affect them. The pool of money from the Agencies of different countries was meant to help the Asians do development work applying the YCW principles of See Judge and Act. Bishop Labayen and Bishop Mansap were the uniting forces from Asia along with great people like Jefferey Pereira And Fr Timm CSC (Bangladesh), Fr Pierre Gauthier MEP (Malaysia), Fr. Joe Fernando from Sri Lanka and many others. All of them used their rich Pastoral experience of applying the See Judge Act (Methodology) experience to mold APHD into a Pro-people Organization.

Now I would like to restrict myself to some case studies from Pakistan depicting struggle of the local church in implementing Council’s teachings.

Some Cases Studies

Before I begin any example of how the See, Judge, Act methodology has helped in Pakistan as it has in different parts of Asia, i will site one very recent example two factories were gutted down one in Karachi where at least 259 died and another in the city of Lahore where  about 50 died.

Umair Javed columnist of Dawn newspaper commenting on the deaths in its issue of September 18, 2012, in his write up titled ‘Discourse on labour welfare’ said, “If labour inspectors were honest, we’d have better working conditions. If factory owners were less greedy, they’d actually make an effort to ensure worker safety. If politicians were pro-people, they’d hold negligent bureaucrats accountable. If everybody did their jobs, as they are supposed to, as the law asks of them, tragedies like the ones in Lahore and Karachi would be completely avoidable.” p. 7.

The problem is that within the Capitalist system, unbridled as it is in countries like ours, the poor worker is paying to keep the system going. No matter what form of government comes into the country, the poor pay dearly for their mistakes. The writer above has clearly indicated that there is a whole network against the poor worker. The labour inspectors are dishonest, the owners are greedy, the politicians are for themselves, the net result is that the poor workers suffer unbearable weight of the system.

In order to fight this evil, I will site two examples one is of Justuce and Peace and the other is of the YCW Movement.

The J&P office of Karachi was called Idara-e-Amn-o-. Later the National Commission for J & P, Lahore has continued this work.

On the fateful day of September 25, 2002 some unknown terrorists ambushed office of Idara-e-Amn-o-Insaf and left its seven workers martyred. That ecumenical office was closed and now the Catholic Church is running the J&P office in the Archdiocese of Karachi.

Idara-e-Amn-o-Insaf (Idara), an ecumenical body sponsored by the Church of Pakistan and the Catholic Church, Diocese of Karachi, was legally constituted in March 1977.

In the beginning Idara concentrated on giving its staff and volunteers a good understanding of See, Judge Act Methodology, idara was mainly concerned about situations of Christians in the field of work and its first concern was to assist and guide them in their problems. Gradually Christian participants started asking if they could bring along other fellow workers to the labour educational programs it conducted. When it started to provide legal aid to victimized workers, requests also came for assistance from other workers. This became the first non-conventional service of the church that the general Pakistani workers experienced and appreciated. For some years, however, many Muslims found it difficult to understand the Church, otherwise very traditional, taking up the cause of exploited workers and marginalized people.

A further step towards dispelling any lurking suspicion that the Idara was merely the Church’s new approach to evangelizing, was the opportunity given by CCA-URM for Muslim friends to attend various conferences and workshops in Asia, where they experienced the warmth, fellowship and genuine struggle of Christian workers shoulder to shoulder with other fellow citizens. This new acceptance opened the door for Idara to share its facilities with other related groups, as also to be invited to participate in programs organized by them.

From the very start in 1972, Idara identifies itself with the most discriminated people of society – the sanitary workers. In the class-riddled society of Indo-Pakistan, they were – and are, treated as “Outcaste” and “impure”! Idara over the years built up close ties with low-paid exploited municipal and industrial workers. Idara’s Labor Assistant befriended this group at their centers of work, as well as their settlements. He strived at awareness building, periodic informal educational sessions and core group formation, to create awakening and awareness among these workers, and imbuing them confidence to solve their day-to-day problems. Building up alternative and responsible leadership was at the heart of all endeavors.

Idara’s involvement among industrial workers was also similar lines. Due to limited manpower and resources, Idara had confined itself to textile contract workers, the largest group of industrial workers. Idara however had links with textile workers of just one sector of Karachi’s extensive industrial estates. Globalization spawned misery for these migrant workers from the interior of the country, who lived together as bonded laborers under tribal leaders, to work for long hours with no benefits whatsoever. Idara adopted the process of negotiations (SEE, JUDGE, ACT) and legal redress to provide relief to the aggrieved workers. Being less literate and migrant workers most of them had little interest in non formal or informal labor education. Moreover, they perceived that standing up for collective workers rights would be in conflict with an allegiance to age-old tribal values. Besides, the glut of unemployed laborers resulting from overpopulation, stagnation in the economy and which had throttled trade unionism. Idara, nevertheless, carried high credibility in this circle because of the methodology of empowering workers.

Based on the philosophy of community organizing as espoused by CCA-URM, Idara very successfully warded off demolition in the 2 large settlements it was involved in.

(In Mahmoodabad area (400 acres) 2,500 houses were earmarked for demolition to widen and lay down a concrete sewer. The whole of Mohammadi Colony (250 acres) faced demolition, to provide facilities for port expansion. It took Idara’s team of 12 community organizers, 2 years to organize active core groups, establish people’s centers and form action committees. The following 3 years saw these action committees negotiate with the non-regularized settlement authorities, and even hold demonstration, not just to ward off demonstration, but also to press for much needed basic amenities of water, sewerage, electricity, gas and cleanliness. In Mahmoodabad, work on the 11,700 feet long and 40 feet wide closed cement sewer completed without the demolition of a single house).

Another unique feature of Idara was its Urdu monthly, 48-page, workers and human rights publication “Jafakash” (worker). It ran into its 30th year of publication and had won recognition as the only publication of its kind. It was placed on 50 – 60 newspaper stands in Karachi City and 11 other cities in Pakistan. Idara’s other periodic publications were the Justice and Peace Newsletter, a 16 page quarterly, and documentation of involvements in human rights issues.

Women and non-Muslim minorities had also been the focus of Idara’s constant concern. At Junejo Town, a non-regularized settlement of 1000 houses, Idara’s Women Concern’s Assistant started off working with women and created there a mixed core group of women and men, Muslim, Christian and Hindus.

People’s efforts also resulted in obtaining water and gas in 1999. The Women Concerns Project of Idara joined hands with 22 other NGOs to press for the abolition of discriminatory laws against women, 33 percent representation of women at all levels and the abrogation of blasphemy laws section 295 B & C.

Involvement with women brought to light the shocking reality of violence against women, especially domestic violence. Here again Idara organized a series of workshops to train and form a core group to deal with the evils at grassroots. A small group of counselors had been formed. In case where professional assistance is needed, these were referred to related NGOs, with proper follow up.

In 1997-98 Idara for its silver jubilee made an in-depth study of globalization and its impact on workers, their livelihood, settlement, health, women, agriculture / rural areas, religion, violence and human rights. This theme helped the Idara family to be enlightened and to enlighten those Idara is involved with.

Idara had taken up as its new millennium theme: Workers Count: Assert your Power! Idara inaugurated the theme in January 2000, and thereafter each Idara project held workshops, seminars and other activities, including bringing out of a special Jafakash issue on the theme.

Transnationals need to be cut to size so that universal norms of fair labor practice must be sole criteria for employment. So also universal environmental norms must be upheld. Our depressed workers need to be befriends and energized in to the realization that they alone will have to strive to achieve the better deal and better life they aspire for!

In spite of being minorities, Christians are seen in all walks of life, because of the trust and good reputation over the past years. With these qualities Idara grew.


YCW had its existence in Karachi from the 1950s, unfortunately the movement could not get into the factory areas and could not link to the Trade Union Movement, however it did have roots and the See Judge Act methodology caught the attention of a number of the youth of the time. Fr Jimmy D’Souza was the Chaplain. There were even extension workers living in the city and trying to establish the movement. But slowly as emigration hit the city and the profile of the city changed a great deal, YCW became inactive.

Later in the late 1990s YCW caught on in Toba Tek Singh and Lahore. It still struggled to link itself with the Trade Unions, but workers themselves came together for reflection on See Judge Act and Review of Life methodology. They did meet the fragmented leftist parties but never moved further. The Religious parties have become strong. The war in Afghanistan and later in Iraq has hurt the Muslim world and they find it hard to forgive NATO forces for the destruction caused. In this context the worker movement in the country is only a dot on the horizon and every effort needs to be made to increase its space and impact. I have a list of the activities of YCW for anybody interested.

At a recent program of industrial workers they identified these Challenges:

Challenges & Opportunities

South Asian Realities

Organizing People in a Changed World’

‘Models of Peoples’ Development’ and ‘Managing Grassroots Movements’

The influence of the military and civil bureaucracy on the people and institutions.

Feudal domination in the society

The absentee landlord system/local peasants/farmers should have ownership access to these lands and to the government lands.

National accountability system towards a positive change in nation building.

Religious extremists, intolerance, racism and fundamentalism

Exploring liberal aspects of religions

Impact of political and religious groups on social movements

Use of communication technology at grassroots level for peoples development

The dependency syndrome

Grassroots Organizing and Leadership Building

Inter-faith dialogue and cooperation

Theology must be contextual, not universal in nature.

Cultivate spirituality of the people in struggle at grassroots level.

Due to globalization, religious activities must be organized commensurating the present need of the people in the changing world. Local culture must be promoted and beliefs upheld.

Leaders of the religious communities should contextualize the religious teachings under prevailing situation keeping in view the existing problems such as over population, health issues, education and poverty elimination.

To conceptualize the development models in the context of concerned developing countries.

Abolition of discriminatory laws against the women and minorities, especially Section 295-C of Pakistan Penal Code regarding blasphemy

The present system of electorate for minorities in Pakistan should be reviewed.

Women active part in politics and decision-making

Various laws, such as the Hudood Ordinance and the Law of Evidence, which were discriminatory towards women and other suppressed classes of the society, be abolished.

Honour killing

Participation of woken in the trade union activities. Make women workers members of the unions.

Human Rights and Unauthorized Settlements

Ecological Issues

Cyber Activism – an innovative area in peoples’ movements in Asia

Beyond Vatican II

Church’s concern for and involvement in social justice and human rights. Projecting the vision of a just society. Identifying with the poor, who struggle for change in their dehumanized situations. Empowering the marginalized to take their destinies in their own hands. Challenging the status quo so as to bring about a meaningful change in the society. Expressing Church’s concern for equal rights for minorities and women in Asia. Promoting Christian responsibility for religious dimension of urban/rural life in Asia.


In the face of destitution, bondage and exploitation, God has always shown a preferential option for the poor, downtrodden, oppressed, exploited and marginalized. He has liberated them from bondage through mighty actions wrought through the struggle of people. The Church has been entrusted with the same mission to bring hope, peace, justice, freedom, acceptance, equality, in the face of many odds that the masses face daily. Acting as leaven in the dough the Church invites all people of goodwill to join hands in the struggles for a better future for the masses. The Laity is ever ready to be of service to society and Church provided we the clerics and religious give them the opportunity to play their role and we train them well in the See Judge Act Methodology. Cardinal Cardijn’s influence was beyond Vatican II and Europe, it was everywhere in Asia.

Bonnie Mendes


Vatican 2 + 50: A Cardijn Perspective Conference

Communication Foundation of Asia

Manila, Philippines

11-14 October 2012