Monday, April 6, 2015

Catholicism With An Asian Face

Asia's time is in the third millennium. "In the first millennium, the Cross was planted in European soil; in the second, in American and African ground; we can pray that in the third Christian millennium, there will be a great harvest of faith to reap in this vast and vital continent." These are the words addressed to the bishops of Asia in Manila in 1995 by Pope John Paul II.They begin an article in the Catholic Times on the Church of Asia. No longer will it be a copy of the Church of the West.

The task is not a an easy one.  A diversity of people, cultures, traditions and two thirds of the peoples of the globe. Birthplace for religions, cradle for ancient cultures and civilizations, the home of religions that continue to influence the society in which they exist. Asians remember the unlawful seizure of their lands by the powerful nations of the West; after the Second World War some of the countries developed economically but many still face poverty, natural disasters, and wars that bring suffering.

Diversity of cultures, inhuman conditions, imperialism of the West and the harm done to some of the countries of Asia accompanied by Christianity is still fresh in the minds of many Asians. The missioners from the West have worked in Asia for the last 500 years and only 3 percent of the population has become Christian. In some of the countries like China and North Korea there is no freedom, and Christians are persecuted-- serious obstacles to overcome.

Pope Francis along with his two predecessor have seen Korea with a mission to work for the evangelization of Asia. The country has progressed greatly economically, democracy is strong, but  the writer wonders if it is ready for the mission, it will not be easy but the Church has started contemplating the possibility. Scholars have expressed their opinion on the subject: there is a need to become more Asian.

What do we mean by an Asian Church? There is a need in evangelization to have a three part dialogue:  with the poor, other religions and the culture. In 1998  in the meeting of the Federation of Asian Episcopal Conferences (FABC)  the thinking expressed was  that Asia can no longer be a copy of the Church of the West but has to have an Asian face: a need for inculturation.

The missioners from Korea going out to other lands have learned from the foreign missioners of the West and the problems that arose with their connection with the imperialism of their countries. There is a desire to serve the poor, and to dialogue with the poor, their traditions, culture and religions.

First, evangelization of Asia is similar to that of Korea. We have to be first  evangelized otherwise we will not be an example of the light from the Gospel. One scholar expressed it as a renewal of oneself.

Secondly,  the Churches  of Asia need to speak with  each other and become closer. Pope Francis in his talk to the Asian Bishops while in Korea said: “It will be impossible to have a true dialogue unless we open our thoughts and minds in a sympathetic and earnestly accepting manner. So we need to be clearly aware of one's identity and sympathize with others. This will be the starting point of dialogue.” He also said, “I hope you can open your heart to others and promote dialogue for the benefit of our Asian neighbors that have yet to build a relationship with the Lord.”

Thirdly, efforts to make  Christianity feel at home in Asia and not to imitate the West. This will require  examination and a great deal of study. The article ends with the words of a missioner of the Korean Foreign Missionary Society, when a missioner goes to another country to evangelize he needs to ask himself: why, where, how, when, and to examine what he is meant to do; to study, and research and to have his mission work correspond to what he has learned.

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