e-mail us

Cover story

Excerpt from proposed pastoral

Since the Second Vatican Council, our brother bishops in Asia, who gather regularly as the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, have developed a pastoral approach that emphasizes a threefold dialogue: with other religions, with cultures and with the poor. Such dialogue can also be explored for its enriching fruitfulness at all levels of the church in the United States.

Dialogue with Other Religions. Like other immigrants before them, those from Asian and Pacific communities want to be companions on the faith journey with the American people. Essential to an understanding of Asian and Pacific communities is the dialogue with other religions. This means recognizing key themes of the spirituality and theology of religions, especially Buddhism, Confucianism, Islam, Taoism and some indigenous religions. In beginning the dialogue, as the Holy Father points out, several religious values exist that are of the highest significance: for example, in Islam, the centrality of the will of God; in Hinduism, the practice of meditation, contemplation, renunciation of one’s will, and the spirit of nonviolence; in Buddhism, detachment and compassion; in Confucianism, filial piety and humanitarianism; in Taoism, simplicity and humility; in other traditional religions, reverence and respect for patience. Interreligious dialogue at its deepest level is always a dialogue of salvation, because it seeks to discover, classify and understand better the signs of the age-long dialogue that God maintains with humanity. This dialogue will bring about truly inculturated theology, liturgy and spirituality among Asian- and Pacific-Americans in order to live and announce the message of Christ.

Dialogue with Cultures. For too long, Catholicism and Christianity have been seen by Asian and Pacific people as “Western.” Despite the Catholic church’s centuries-long presence and many apostolic endeavors, in many places it is still considered foreign to Asia and the Pacific Islands and is often associated in people’s minds with the colonial powers. Pope John Paul II writes:

The test of true inculturation is whether people become more committed to their Christian faith because they perceive it more clearly with the eyes of their own culture. ... [Furthermore,] through inculturation the church, for her part, becomes a more intelligible sign of what she is, and a more effective instrument of mission. … But it has a special urgency today in the multiethnic, multi-religious and multicultural situation of Asia.

In the United States, inculturation has particular significance for the Asian and Pacific immigrants who arrived in the 1800s and the early half of the 20th century, when cultural assimilation was encouraged and the criterion for acceptance by society and the church. Establishing contact with the cultural and social life of immigrants will probably remain the most serious challenge for the church in the matter of inculturation. This challenge emerges on all levels, especially on the level of parish or neighborhood, where persons of different cultural backgrounds meet.

The Holy Father points out that “it is indeed a mystery why the Savior of the world, born in Asia, has until now remained largely unknown to the people of this continent.” The Holy Father expresses his hope that -- as the church became well-established during the first millennium in Europe and the Western countries, and in the second millennium grew and flourished in Latin America and Africa -- the third millennium will see the church in Asia come into its own.

At the same time, the religious practices of some Asian and Pacific peoples must be formed by authentic biblical and ecclesial theology and not submerged in a popular religiosity that is in need of a fuller Catholic catechesis. “As a vital dimension in Catholic life, there exists in Christian communities particular expressions of the search for God and the religious life which are full of fervor and purity of intention. … This is a rich yet vulnerable reality in which the faith at its base may be in need of purification and consolidation.” For others, situations of oppression or of isolation in their homelands have sometimes prevented the dissemination of the teachings of the Second Vatican Council or of the church’s magisterial teachings and liturgical practices since the council. The characteristic loyalty and devotion of Asian and Pacific Catholics make their authentic formation in Catholic faith and piety all the more essential for their important role in the future of the church in North America. The duty of catechesis for inculturation of the faith is “to recognize a cultural dimension in the gospel itself while affirming, on the one hand, that this does not spring from some human cultural humus, and recognizing, on the other, that the gospel cannot be isolated from the cultures in which it was initially inserted and in which it has found expression through the centuries.”

Dialogue with the Poor. This framework for dialogue with our Asian and Pacific communities comes out of the reality of their homelands. While the “model minority” myth persists when referring to Asian-Americans, their reality includes disadvantaged groups. Among the poorest Asian and Pacific families are those who came as refugees challenged to compete in a society very different from the ones they left behind; those who came in the hulls of ships under irregular immigration situations, often ending up in sweat shops or being trafficked into illegal activities, and living under deplorable conditions; and those who work in jobs that take them away from their families and residences, such as seafarers, migrants and circus workers. Many are exploited, with their human rights violated. But John Paul II’s words offer the hope that “Hers [the church’s] is always the evangelical cry in defense of the world’s poor, those who are threatened and despised and whose human rights are violated.”

National Catholic Reporter, November 9, 2001