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Religion

Asian Catholics look to life beyond Benedict

The departure of Pope Benedict XVI was an unwelcome surprise for many Christians in Asia. However, some of the continent's faithful are hoping that the next pontiff will have more in common with them.

Catholics in the Philippines were shocked by the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. "The news filled us with sadness," said Archbishop of Manila Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle (pictured). "We felt like children clinging to their father as he says goodbye."

The majority of Filipinos are Catholics. With 75.5 million people, the archipelago is the most Christian-influenced country in Southeast Asia. After Brazil and Mexico, it has the largest Catholic population in the world.

The Philippines and East Timor are exceptional in Asia. In most Asian countries, Christians are in the minority. Even if many Asians do know the name of the pope, few of them know what it is that he represents.

Pope Benedict XVI never visited Asia. However, at the end of 2012, the continent seemed to be moving into the focus of the Vatican. In December, Benedict surprised many by hailing the new Communist leadership of China. He received a high-ranking Vietnamese politician at the beginning of this year. The pope addressed the issue of freedom of religious practice in Asia's Communist nations. He saw religious freedom as an important component of a just society.

Social and political justice have great significance in Asia. Churches often stand up for the rights of the poor and take care of social outcasts. In India, for example, the church seeks to protect the Dalit, or "untouchable," caste.

A vendor reads a newspaper featuring the story of the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI (Photo: TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images)

Some in Asia harbor hopes that the next pope will be a Filipino

Because of this role, many in Asia would be keen to see a pope who addresses social injustice, growing poverty, racism and discrimination and who also takes a leading role when it comes to solving these social problems.

'Too much caution'

Another important issue is dialogue between religions, especially in countries where Catholics belong to the minority. Where these issues are concerned, the Catholic Church has so far been too cautious, complains Ignatius Sandyawan Sumardi, a Catholic priest from Indonesia. The Pope has been too preoccupied with the formal, dogmatic side of faith, Sandywan Sumardi believes.

It is not very likely that the next pope will come from Asia. However, Catholics in the Philippines, for example, harbor the hope that the Archbishop of Manila himself might be a likely candidate. He is close to the Vatican and is a close advisor to Pope Benedict. However, a candidate from Africa or Latin America would also be conceivable for Asian Catholics. Many Asians are convinced that the clergy in these regions have a far better idea about the realities faced by people in their everyday life than the European candidates.

DW.DE