The New Evangelization - Asia






































PRESENT SITUATION

Geographic Area and Population

The vast continent of Asia extends from West Asia and the Gulf countries to the East Asian countries. The southern portion includes South Asia, South-east Asia and East Asia. In the north, there are the Central Asian Republics and in the northeast, Siberia and Mongolia. In this large land mass, the great distances are gapped by a multiplicity of races, religions and cultures.

Three-fourths of the world's population is in Asia, a significant number of which is youth. In this way, Asia is rich in human life and human potential.

Contrasts within Asia are equally striking at the level of social organization, political life and patterns of economy and standards of life, both within the countries of Asia and between the countries themselves. Various responses point to the fact that where there is human life, the Church is present in varying ways and seeking to increase that presence in response to her mission of spreading the Gospel of life.

Religions, Cultures and Ancient Civilizations

Asia is home to the great religions of the world such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, and Islam. It is also the birthplace of other religious traditions such as Taoism, Confucianism, Zoroastrianism, Jainism, Sikhism, Shintoism, etc. Most are soteriological in character and offer interpretations of the Absolute, the universe, the human person and his existential situation as well as evil and the means of liberation. It is in this religious context that the Church in Asia lives and bears witness to Jesus Christ.

Analysis of Asian realities would be incomplete without reference to what is today called Primal Religion or Traditional Religion. Across Asia there are millions of people who belong to Traditional Religion and other Primal Religions. Some of them have accepted the Christian faith.

The religions of Asia have moulded the lives and cultures of Asian people for several millennia and continue to give meaning and direction for their lives even today. In this sense, many responses indicate that the religions of Asia are indeed living religions, permeating every aspect of the life of the individual, family and society. A deep religious nature is one of the main characteristics of the Asian people, expressed in various ways in the family and social life at critical moments through rites of passage such as birth, marriage and death. Such moments are accompanied by prayer, rituals, sacrifices, reading of the Scriptures, fasting, pilgrimages and almsgiving. These positive elements of religion in Asia readily dispose the people to the saving message of Jesus Christ.

Distinctive Characteristics and Situations

Socio-economic

From country to country, and even within countries themselves, many contrasting differences exist among peoples, cultures, and the circumstances and details of life.

Though a few countries of Asia have made considerable economic progress, a degrading and inhuman poverty, along with its consequent inequalities in many parts of Asia, is perhaps one of the most glaring and saddening phenomena of the continent. Though today's poverty can sometimes be traced back centuries, even millennia, certain injustices and other circumstances seem to be perpetuating this state of affairs. Certain responses have suggested the following: an unjust distribution of resources, unequal opportunities, unwillingness to carry out land reform, poor literacy campaigns, concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, state socialism which inevitably leads to corruption, economic waste and poor governance.

In some areas of Asia, despite rapid economic growth and development, poverty still remains the fate of whole sections of the population. In an ironic twist, in some countries of Asia where the living standard is increasing, cultural values are gradually being eroded, leading to egoism and the breakdown of family and social relationships.

Industrialization and urbanization also figure into this situation. Rapid industrialization, absence of land reform, diminishing prospects for livelihood in rural areas, the attraction of great cities and other such causes are changing the economic and demographic landscape of many Asian cities. Forced eviction of rural people to make room for mega-industries and projects. Financial and economic policies that favour the urban elite ignore the rights of the poor. Unplanned urbanization is turning some cities of Asia into large slums where human dignity is oftentimes being lost.

Introduced into the economic situation is the question of bonded labour and child labour. All across Asia there are instances of several million bonded labourers, that is, workers under bond to work even for a lifetime for debts incurred in the past. Bonded labour is prevalent mostly in the brickmaking industry, in stone quarries, the tobacco cigarette industry, the carpet industry, etc. Despite national and international legislation, and commercial and political pressure, the problems related to the socio-economic situation in many countries of Asia remain unchanged, and in some cases, are even worsening. The situation is ripe for the Church’s mission of love and service of life, her message of the inviolable dignity of each human person.

Culture

Some responses indicate that the economic state of affairs is having collateral effects. New forms of culture are resulting from an over exposure to the mass media, books, magazines, music, films and other forms of entertainment. Although the media has the potential of being a great force for good, many responses mention that what seems to be reaching the Asian market is having an opposite effect. Its images of violence, hedonism, unbridled individualism and materialism is striking at the heart of Asian cultures, at the religious character of the people, families and whole societies. Many responses lament the fact that the sacredness of marriage, the stability of family, and other traditional values are being threatened by the media and entertainment industries on the Asian continent. Such a situation is posing a serious challenges to the Church's message.

Influences from outside Asia are resulting from the movement of peoples for various reasons. Tourism, for example, is a legitimate industry and has its own cultural and educational values. However, in some countries the situation is having a devastating influence upon the moral and physical landscape of many Asian countries, manifested in prostitution and the degradation of young women, child abuse and prostitution.

In a similar way, responses indicate that migration within Asian countries, between the countries of Asia and from Asian countries to other continents, is posing increasing human and pastoral problems. Poverty, civil war, ethnic conflicts and economic factors are some of the causes of migration. Migrants, refugees and asylum seekers are often exposed to harsh treatment as well as economic and moral exploitation. Migrant foreign workers are often paid unjust wages and are sometimes required to work in inhuman conditions. They are also exposed to many health hazards and often left without the protection of law. Many call upon the Church in Asia to be sensitive to the pain and human drama caused by migration in and from Asia.

In many parts of Asia, persons belonging to ethnic groups such as tribals, indigenous peoples and minorities based on race, religion, culture, etc., are victims of the injustice of discrimination. In some countries, caste practices have isolated for centuries whole sections of populations, leaving a consequent psychological, cultural and economic trauma on the social conscience. Certain responses give attention to the particular problem created by discrimination against women and girl children. Despite recent efforts from many quarters to lessen this problem, such attitudes still prevail, affecting educational opportunities, work and wages for women. In such situations, the Church, as small as it might be in a given area, is seen as an instrumentthrough word and deedof the saving message of Christ which can lead people to a greater awareness of the dignity of each human person and thus to a greater justice and harmony between people.

There are a number of other life-threatening and destructive tendencies in Asia. There is a growing lack of respect for human rights and human life itself, abortion, drug trafficking, addiction to various kinds of drugs, spread of AIDS, criminalization. of politics, use of violence to settle disputes, depletion of natural resources, disregard for ecological balance, absence of basic health services, fundamentalism in various forms, etc.

Signs of Hope in Asia

Everywhere in Asia there is visible a new awareness carrying the Asian people to liberate themselves from the legacy of negative traditions, social evils and situations associated with the past. The ancient cultures and religions and their collective wisdom form the solid foundation on which to build the Asia of the future. Levels of literacy, education, research and technology are rising daily. Skilled workers, specialists in various sciences, technicians, researchers, inventors are on the increase. Democratic institutions are taking firm root in many countries.

Many Asian countries are regaining a sense of self-confidence. There is a growing awareness of human dignity, despite failures in some areas. People are growing in their respect for human rights and they want to demand their rights from governments and institutions of power whether national or international. Regional co-operation is on the increase, especially with continental bodies such as the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the South Asia Association of Regional Co-operation (SAARC). Disputes between countries are more and more frequently settled through negotiations rather than armed conflicts. Mutual co-operation and transnational investments within Asian countries is growing. These and similar factors provide much hope for the Asia of the future, and consequently, for the Church as well.

Ecclesial Realities of Asia

Many Churches

The ecclesial situation of Asia is as diverse and distinctive as its secular realities, as seen in the rich variety of Churches. Among the Churches of West Asia special mention must be made of the Churches of Antioch of the Syrians, Antioch of the Greek Melkites and Antioch of the Maronites as well as the Latin Church of Jerusalem. There are also the Chaldean Church of Babylonia and the Armenian Church. Today, most of these Churches live among predominantly Jewish or Islamic populations and cultures, serving their faithful who continue the Christian presence in these countries since the first centuries, and are witnesses to Jesus Christ among other religions.

Their work of evangelization is devoted mostly to works of charity and Christian witness through schools, hospitals and other apostolic works. They seek to project the image of a servant Church. While these Churches are inculturated in Islamic cultures and in the Arabic language, and hence well placed for dialogue with Islam, they are also in a region of conflicts and are threatened by religious fundamentalism.

Apostolic Churches coming from the Syrian tradition, exist also in India, i.e., the Syro-Malabar Church and the Syro-Malankara Church. Responses indicate that these Churches are well rooted in the Indian soil and are generally flourishing with a large number of vocations to the priesthood and the religious life. They have a significant presence in the field of education, social and health services and mass media. Large numbers of faithful from these Churches have migrated to many parts of India, the Gulf countries, Europe, Canada and the United States. However, certain situations related to liturgical tradition, rites, and synodal forms of Church organization and administration are still posing difficulties for these Churches.

The Latin Church extends throughout the continent in varying stages of development. For the most part, her presence has depended on the Church's missionary efforts which have taken place in the last 500 years. The work of missionaries has seen varied success in the course of the centuries. Recently, the Holy Father has established three missions sui iuris in the Central Asian Republics: Tadjikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. In Siberia the Church is happily discovering communities which have kept the faith alive despite the adverse circumstances created by the past communist regime.

A Variety of Living situations

In addition to the great number of Oriental Churches in Asia, there is a great variety of situations in which these Churches are required to live.

In some parts of Asia, the Church lives in a predominantly Hindu milieu, posing great philosophical, theological and methodological challenges to the Church's mission in Asia. At the same time, modern Hindu reformers are great admirers of the person of Jesus Christ. In some cases, theologians in India have been attempting to interpret Jesus Christ in terms of the dominant India philosophy. Some responses mention that, in this and similar situations, the Church needs to engage in a healthful dialogue and to seek to apply the principles of inculturation in her attempts at evangelization.

With the exception of Indonesia, the presence of the Church in Muslim countries is small; in some cases communities have to deal with discrimination and prejudice. Certain communities have often to live in difficult situations where the only type of evangelization which can be done is daily witnessing to the faith and charitable works. In some countries, the Church's members are being put to a real test.

In predominantly Buddhist, Confucian and Taoist countries, the Church is for the most part in the minority. Some responses mention that for the past few decades communities have been living under many restrictions to freedom of worship, missionary work, and movement, and even persecutions. Despite these obvious difficulties, in some of these countries there are signs of growth in the work of evangelization and human development. In many cases, the championing of the cause of workers and the marginalized classes as well as the example of the laity in the everyday life of the Church have contributed to a good image of the Church within society.

The Church in the Philippines, the only predominantly Catholic country in Asia, has a unique history of evangelization and growth through different periods of its 500 year-old history; this has taken place with varying cultural influences. Various events within the decade have served to assist the Church in a great movement towards renewal. As a result, the Church has a better understanding of evangelization ad intra and ad extra, with all its social and spiritual dimensions. The Catholic character of the Philippines is an important factor in the Church's work of evangelization on the Asian continent.

It is only recently that Central Asian Republics, Siberia and Mongolia, began to receive attention at the international level, especially after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. This is true also of the Church. Missionary work has started in these countries. Some responses mention that the occasion of the Special Assembly for Asia is an opportunity to give greater attention to this region and to the work for the evangelization in these countries where there is a very limited Christian presence.

In some countries the Church lives amidst civil wars, caused by ethnic, communal or ideologically inspired conflicts. The Church as a community of communion, harmony and reconciliation has a mission to people in conflict situations, providing a special opportunity for her to preach in action her message in service to life.

A special situation is created for the Church as a result of sects and other religious movements which are becoming increasingly present and active in Asia. As in other parts of the world, certain social patterns and changes are causing people, especially young people, to embark on a search for meaning in their lives, oftentimes looking to the sects and religious movements because they give an immediate sense of well-being, community feeling, and fellowship. Many responses see the great need of the Church to respond to this situation, especially in revitalising her pastoral commitment to the spiritual needs of people, strengthen Christian fellowship and education to prayer and use of the Scriptures.

The Image of the Church in Asia

In the work of evangelization, the Church in Asia is aware of the image she has among believers of other faiths and non-believers. While the Church is admired for her organizational, administrative, educational, health services and developmental works, these people often do not see the Church as totally Asian, not simply because much financial support comes from Western countries, but also because of her Western character in theology, architecture, art, etc. and her association with the past history in some sections of Asia. Therefore, some people are reluctant to accept Christianity fearing a loss of national identity and culture, Aware of this fact, the Bishops in Asia are attempting to address the matter.

With few exceptions, the Church in Asia is seen as a clerical institution, e.g., in administration, liturgy, formation, etc. Many responses mention that the laity, especially women and young people, are eager to become more actively involved in various levels of the local Churches. They also wish to take part in programmes of catechesis and ongoing formation so as to fulfill their role in the mission of the Church in Asia. A greater co-operation is sought among the various states in the Church so that the evangelizing mission of the Church might be more effective.

Christian Mission and Asian Religions

The Western Christian missionary approach to other Asian religions, popular devotions and spirituality, with the notable exception of people like Ricci and Valignano in China and Japan, and De Nobili and Beschi in India, oftentimes lacked a full appreciation of these elements. At times, there was also an inadequate regard for Asian cultures. Even though the missionaries' efforts met with many successes, it is felt that a proper understanding of these elements in the work of evangelization would have led to a greater acceptance of the faith by the people of Asia. The Church's rediscovered appreciation of other religions and cultures should find greater expression in her missionary approach.

Positive Elements and Signs of Hope

Lay Witness

There are positive elements in the particular Churches in Asia. Most of the Church faithful can be termed "practising Catholics", who for the most part give priority to a sacramental and devotional life. The fact that Asians are religious by nature seems to be of assistance in this regard. In many parts of Asia, family prayer, reading of the Scriptures and family devotions nourish the religious life of the faithful. In a particular way, Catholics put their faith in action in moments to natural calamities and communal strife.

The emergence and growth of Basic Christian Communities, charismatic movements and Basic Human Communities are also very positive elements in a number of particular Churches. Some events sponsored by charismatic movements, such as days of spiritual retreat, prayer meetings and gatherings of spiritual renewal, have attracted national interest in which several thousands of the followers of other religions have participated.

Ecclesial movements also offer an opportunity to many to enter into dialogue with the followers of other religions. Christians migrating in and outside Asia assist in spreading the faith through their regular religious practice. Moreover, missionary sisters, brothers and priests from Asia are sent to serve these people and the local Churches in several parts of the world, such as Africa, Latin America, Oceania, etc. This is a most welcome missionary phenomenon in Asia. It is estimated that several thousand priests, religious sisters and brothers, and lay persons are working as missionaries in countries other than their own in Asia and elsewhere.

In a number of particular Churches in Asia, the laity increasingly exercise their role in the life and mission of the Church, as exemplified by lay institutes in Japan and the Philippines. In some countries, the laity play an important role at the national level in politics, education, health-care, etc. There are permanent structures in many countries of Asia for the formation of the laity in theology, spirituality, and other related subjects. There are also centres where the laity, the clergy and Bishops come together for pastoral planning and work. These are very promising initiatives for the future of the Church in Asia.

Consecrated Witness

Certain parts of the Church in Asia have shown a steady increase in the number of vocations during the past decades. While many vocations go to traditional religious congregations and institutes which are Western in origin, in recent years a number of new local religious congregations have sprung up in Asia. In general, the percentage of vocations to the priesthood, the religious life, other forms of consecrated life and missionary institutes, is higher than in most other parts of the universal Church.

The Christian witness of love and service to the poor shown by Mother Theresa and her Missionaries of Charity as well as by many other religious women and men have contributed greatly to reveal to the peoples of Asia the authentic countenance of Jesus Christ and the true nature of the Church. The Church’s presence is greatly welcomed and appreciated in homes for the handicapped, orphanages, leprosaria, rural dispensaries and in movements which seek to meet the needs of the marginalized.

In many cases, this service provided by missionaries has led to martyrdom. Their testimony in the history of evangelization has enriched the life of the Church in China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam and many other countries of Asia. The witness of the martyrs of the past and the present is a great means of evangelization.

Witness in Asia has also come from a great many of the Church's religious orders and congregations who have made a major contribution to the growth of the local Churches in Asia during the last five hundred years of evangelization. Tens of thousands of religious sisters and brothers, by their love and unselfish service to those who suffer from poverty in its many forms, have contributed to nourishing the faith of many in the Church in Asia. Some of these have given an invaluable service to local Churches by establishing houses of formation, especially seminaries. They have been able to reveal the compassionate, loving and caring face of Jesus to the peoples of Asia. Religious brothers have given an outstanding service to the cause of general education, vocational training, technical education and developmental works. Contemplative religious have also made a unique contribution to the Christian mission in Asia by their prayers and their witness of complete dedication to a life of union with God.

Missionary institutes of diocesan clergy have also had a great share in the work of evangelization in Asia. Some of them have sent thousands of missionaries to Asia during the last four hundred years. Today, they are followed by several Asian-born missionary institutes. A good number of diocesan priests is volunteering for missionary work in other countries. Some of the earliest seminaries for local clergy in Asia were established by them.

Ecclesial Institutions

The Church in Asia has a large network of various kinds of institutions, despite the fact that in some places Christians form a tiny minority of the population. In some countries, where the Christian population is as low as 2%, the percentage of Church related institutions is as high as 30% of nongovernmental organizations and voluntary organizations operating in the field of social services.

The Church has a formidable instrument in its hands to bear witness to Christ's compassion, love and concern for the poor of Asia. Perhaps the greatest among these are her educational institutions, i.e., primary schools, high schools, colleges and universities. The Church also has health-care institutions, such as hospitals, medical colleges, dispensaries and other health centres. There are homes for the elderly, the handicapped, the blind and those with speech and hearing disabilities. Moreover, the Church has a good number of publishing centres for books, reviews, newspapers, weeklies, popular magazines.

Conclusion

The Asian continent is characterized by a diversity of religions, cultures and peoples as well as of ecclesial realities. Their coming together in Synod is itself a grace and an example for the peoples of Asia which can work for the welfare and progress of the continent and all its peoples. It is in this continent that God has called together Christians in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. It is in the context of the socio-economic realities, its political history and present situation, and in the context of its multi-religious traditions that the little flock of Jesus Christ must live and carry out its saving mission.

A Brief Evaluation of Catholic Mission History in Asia

The Faith and Its Impact

The Gift of Faith

From Apostolic times to the present, faith in Jesus Christ is the gift brought by the missionaries and offered to all in Asia. The term "missionary" includes not simply missionaries from outside Asia, but all native missionaries, clerical and lay, diocesan clergy and those in consecrated life, and Christian communities which witness to Jesus Christ and carry the Good News to their neighbours within the Asian continent or to far off lands. Their example of Christian charity, spirit of dedication, service and sacrifice plants the seeds of faith in the hearts of countless Asians. The fact that tens of thousands of Christians gave their lives in times of persecutions in many Asian countries, especially in Vietnam, Japan, China and Korea, is proof that the faith has taken deep root in the hearts of the Asian people. For this, the Church in Asia rejoices and expresses her gratitude to missionaries who are bringing the faith to various parts of Asia. She also rejoices in the great number of Asian missionaries at work outside their own areas and countries.

Today, in almost every Asian country a Christian presence exists; in some it is a significant number of people, in others, a small minority. By and large, the particular Churches of Asia are well established and have their local clergy and religious to carry out their pastoral and missionary duties. Thanks to missionaries, local communities were established; they were nurtured with continuing catechesis and developed ecclesial structures, a sacramental life and devotions to support their Christian life. At present, these communities have become self-supporting Churches in many ways, though not fully.

Leaven in Society

Because of the presence of the local Church in a given country, the Gospel is being announced, becoming a leaven in Asian society, even if not always acknowledged as such. The Gospel has the power to transform Asian societies. It has challenged many social systems and evils in Asian society and acted as an agent of critical judgment. As a result, a number of reform movements within several Asian countries have come about.

Though the Church was not fully involved in independence movements, indirectly she has inspired such movements. In many cases, independence movements were initiated by persons educated in Christian institutions in Asia and abroad. Several outstanding personalities at the highest levels of national life, past and present, were taught in missionary institutions.

Christian mission in general has been an agent of the advancement of culture. In fact, many missionaries were men and women outstanding as linguists, scholars, historians poets and scientists. Many Asian languages were put into writing and foundational books, such as grammars, dictionaries, etc., were done by missionaries. Besides making significant contributions to existing Asian languages, both classical and modem, missionaries also translated many Christian classics into several Asian languages, thus enriching many languages. In this way, they also gained the respect and gratitude of many non-Christians. They also became engaged in the publication of popular magazines, scientific reviews, weeklies, daily newspapers, and scholarly books. In some cases, missionaries were also the instruments and channels of introducing modern science into several countries in Asia. Some distinguished themselves as anthropologists, sociologists, and historians of tribal peoples, indigenous peoples, minorities, and marginalized sections of society. In several parts of Asia, missionaries are responsible for the establishment of libraries at the popular and scholarly levels.

In a related manner, higher rates of literacy and education have also accompanied the spread of the Gospel, particularly in Asia where in many areas education was limited to the higher classes of society. The Church has undertaken programmes to help eliminate illiteracy in Asia and increase the level of education of its people, providing educational opportunities at the elementary level as well as at higher levels of learning. In many places in Asia, girls and women, who were formally excluded from this field, are now receiving an education. Along the same lines, the Church has been instrumental in introducing and encouraging technical, professional, vocational and industrial education in several cases. It has also brought new attitudes and values to manual work and its inherent human dignity.

Human Services

Wherever the Church's mission has gone, the care of human life and service to life have followed. Missionaries, particularly religious sisters and Christian nurses, have distinguished themselves in their evangelical witness to the healing ministry of Jesus. As a result, the Asian continent can boast of hundreds of hospitals and thousands of dispensaries run by the Church, primarily in the midst of the poorer classes. Such action has led to alleviating malnutrition, the curing of various illnesses and the providing of better child care, preventive medicine, diagnostic services, etc.

Missionaries and Christians in general have been present in rescue operations and resettlement works in times of natural calamities like earthquakes, floods and drought. In times of famine they have been very generous with personnel and means. In a number of cases, Christian missionaries have been, and still are, in the forefront for the development of small scale cottage industries, employment schemes, co-operatives, rural banks, etc. By establishing cooperative and rural banks they offer assistance to persons in personal economic matters, with many families benefiting from such self-help projects.

Social Reform

The Gospel contains the seeds of human dignity, freedom and human rights. Thus, the Church has been able to show herself on the Asian continent to be a defender of human dignity and rights. In this way, the presence of Christian mission has led to reforms in several areas of social life. In a number of cases, the missionaries and their Christian followers have provided the impulse towards the formulation and application of legislation relating to prison reform, total hours of work, the health and safety of workers in mines and health-hazard industries, protection of women and children in certain industries, etc. The support given to marginalized peoples, tribals, fisherfolk, refugees and the working classes is generally acknowledged throughout the Asian continent.

Through introducing the education of girls, the Church in Asia has given a great impetus towards the emancipation of women in general and in many specific areas. It is mainly education that enables women to have an equal status in society. With the entry of religious sisters into the Asian missionary scene, the process of social emancipation of women gained a fresh momentum. In challenging a number of religious and social customs, the announcement of, the Christian Gospel has led to legislation against caste practices, permitting temple entry to the so-called untouchables (Harijans), and discouraging the practice of self-immolation by widows (satti).

Christian mission in Asia has also brought about an increase in vocations among women. They in turn have been instruments of social change through their work as teachers and other educational works, health services as teachers, nurses, dedicated to the service of the poor, the sick and the handicapped.

Critical Aspects

Where several Churches in Asia can trace their roots to Apostolic times, the spread of the Gospel in Asia has met with difficulty. The missionary efforts of the early Church towards Central Asia and China made by the Syrian Church did meet with some success. In fact, in the first eight centuries of the Church, the Gospel had reached the farthest ends of Asia, to China as far as Beijing. The Western missionary efforts of the Franciscans in the 13th century led by Giovanni da Montecorvino in China also had some limited success. Nevertheless, most of the particular Churches founded as a result of the Syrian missionary efforts and by the Franciscans were practically destroyed because of various causes, such as the Islamic invasions, difficulties in encountering ancient religious traditions, an inadequate appreciation of Asian philosophic, religious and cultural systems, etc.

Most of the present day particular Churches in Asia are the fruit of modem missionary efforts originating in the West from the 16th century. Taking advantage of the European colonial movement, the Church sent missionaries to spread the message of the Gospel. In the course of their work, these missionaries encountered ancient and highly developed philosophical systems, social organizations and religions traditions, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism, which over the centuries have developed profound religious and philosophical explanations concerning the absolute, the universe and the person, seeking to illuminate humanity's present condition, its final destiny and the ways to reach that destiny. These teachings were supported by deeply moving scriptures, liturgical rites, prayers, methods of contemplation, the practice of virtues for every stage of humanity's pilgrimage to salvation and self-realisation. Sacred art, architecture, and worship also belonged to a highly developed system.

The lives of the Asian people of today, at the individual, family and social levels, are deeply permeated by religious sentiments and practices. Popular religious practices, places of pilgrimage, centres of prayer and dialogue, myths and stories bring the philosophical religion to the level of the masses. Thus every aspect of social life is imprinted with a deep sense of religion. On the other hand, there are no compelling hierarchical structures to determine and guide religious beliefs. A wide spectrum of faith and morals is permissible. Religious authority is based not on official position, but on the religious leaders' experience of God and his ability to communicate it to others.

Asian religions propose to give an answer to man's search for the meaning of life, values, and an explanation and interpretation of the universe, his actual state of religious and moral ambivalence, his situation of brokenness, self-alienation, and evil. They also offer concrete means of liberation from the present existential predicament of evil, suffering, death, and provide spiritualities for self-realisation. Moreover, they hold to the nobility of their religious traditions, interpretations and means of liberation-salvation.

This is the context in which the present Christian mission is to take place. Therefore, the new evangelization is called upon to consider not simply the content of the Gospel message, but those to whom it is directed. This was the conviction of great missionaries like Francis Xavier and Valignano in Japan, Ricci in China, De Nobili and Beschi in India. Possible reasons why the Church’s missionaries in Asia achieved limited success in the past include a lack of proper understanding of Asian religions, their inherent values and strengths, their centuries old teachings, their inner power of self-renewal as well as a reluctance to adopt methods which were suited to the Asian mentality. The present situation is coloured by reaction to a perceived threat of Westernization, based on past experience of colonialism.

Edited from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
25 February 2000
Special Insert

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