The Church in Asia: An OverviewPresented by: Ajith and Joby JosephDate: 19/03/13
The church of Christ is universal. It is meant for people of all nations and of all cultures. For the past nineteen hundred years, Christianity has been the religion of Europe and has been shaped and conditioned by the religious genius of the West. St. Paul tells us that the whole world was created through Christ and for him (Col 1: 16). Since the Spirit of God was at work in all nations preparing men’s minds for Christ, it is not surprising that people in various countries were led to Christ by what is best in their cultures. Saintly Christians in Greece found that Greek philosophy was for them a guide to Christ. Lou Tseng Tsiang in China found that the teaching of Confucius had prepared him for Christ.
As a sacrament of the Kingdom of God, the Church continues the mission of Jesus Christ, promoting unity and solidarity among all peoples through the service of life. In the midst of the great religious traditions, diverse cultures, and multitudes of impoverished peoples in Asia, proclamation of Jesus Christ calls for Christ-like deeds and dialogue. The proclamation of Jesus Christ calls humanity to the values of the Kingdom of God, establishing harmony and communion among all creation with the Creator.
Largest continent and home to nearly two-third of the world population Most striking feature is the variety of its peoples who are ―heirs of ancient cultures, religions and traditions.‖ Cradle of world’s major religions – Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Hinduism. Birthplace of many other spiritual traditions such as Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Zoroastrianism, Jainism, Sikh ism and Shintoism and millions of traditional or tribal religions. People of Asia take pride in their religious and cultural values such as love of silence and contemplation, simplicity, harmony, detachment, non- violence, the spirit of hard work, discipline, frugal living, the thirst for learning and philosophical enquiry.
Situations on the Asian continent are very diverse. Some countries are highly developed, others are developing through effective economic policies, and others still find themselves in abject poverty, indeed among the poorest nations on earth. In the process of development, materialism, and secularism are gaining ground especially in urban areas- damages traditional, social and religious values of Asia. Several Asian countries are affected by population. Realities of poverty and exploitation of people are matters of urgent concern. Female illiteracy is much higher than that of males.
Political panorama is highly complex, displaying and array of ideologies ranging from democratic forms of government to theocratic ones. Military dictatorships and atheistic ideologies are very much present. Some countries recognize an official religion that allows little or no religious freedom to minorities and the followers of other religions. In some places Christians are not allowed to practise their faith freely and proclaim Jesus Christ to others. Widespread corruption existing at various levels of both government and society.
History of the Church in Asia is as old as the Church herself. It was in Asia that Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit upon his disciples and sent them to the ends of the earth to proclaim the good news. As father has sent me, even so I send you From Jerusalem, the Church spread to Antioch, to Rome beyond. Reached Ethiopia in the south, Scythia in the north and India in the east, where the tradition has it that Saint Thomas the Apostle went in the year 52AD and founded the churches in South India(the first Catholic in Asia.)
The missionary spirit of the East Syrian community in the third and fourth centuries, with its centre at Edessa, was remarkable. The ascetic communities of Syria were a major force of evangelization in Asia from the 3rd century onwards. They provided spiritual energy especially during the times of persecution At the end of the 3rd century Armenia was the first nation as a whole to embrace Christianity. By the end of the5th century, the Christian message had reached the Arab Kingdoms, but for many reasons, including the division among Christians, failed to take root among these peoples.
Persian merchants took the good news to china in the 5th century. The first Christian Church was built there at the beginning of the seventh century. During the T’ang dynasty (618-907 AD) the Church flourished for nearly two centuries. In the 13th century the good news was announced to the Mongols and the Turks and to the Chinese once more by Franciscan missionaries in the Mongol Yuan dynasty. But Christianity almost vanished in these regions for a number of reasons, among them is the rise of Islam, geographical isolation, the absence of an appropriate adaptation to local cultures, and perhaps above all a lack of preparedness to encounter the great religions of Asia. The end of the 14th century saw the drastic diminution of the Church in Asia, except for the isolated community in south India.
the first European missionaries of the 16th and 17th centuries had far higher hopes for the Catholic church in Japan than in India. When they compared the two peoples and their cultures at that time, they expected more from Japan. After 400 years, however, India exhibits many more visible results. Korea is distinguished by being the only nation of Asia where the Catholic Church did not arrive with western missionaries. Instead, learned Korean laymen first experienced the faith when visiting China; then they themselves returned home with the good news for their fellow citizens. Even the first Catholic priest in Korea was Chinese.
The apostolic labours of St. Fracis Xavier, the founding of the congregation of Propaganda Fide by Pope Gregory XV, and the directives for missionaries to respect and appreciate local cultures all contributed to achieving more positive results in the course of the 16th and 17th centuries. Mateo Ricci, a Jesuit Italian missionary in 17th century studied classical Chinese language and did not explain Catholic faith as something foreign or new, instead, he said that the Chinese culture and people always believed in God, and that Christianity is simply the most perfect manifestation of their faith. Again in the 19th century there was a revival of missionary activity. Greater emphasis was placed on building up the local churches. Educational and charitable works went hand in hand with the preaching of the gospel.
In china, foreign missionaries were expelled from the country after the communists under Mao Zedong had won the civil war against the forces of the Guomindang (Chinese nationalist party) under Jiang Jieshi in 1949. the Catholic Church in China became isolated after its ties with Rome and the Pope were interrupted. No Chinese bishops from the main land was allowed to take part in the preparations and in the actual sessions of the council. The catholics in mainland china had to wait until the beginning of the 1990s, before they got opportunity to learn about the many changes Vatican II had brought. It was only then that they stopped having the liturgy of the Mass in Latin and began using Chinese as liturgical language.
During the Korean civil war (1950-1953) the Catholic Church in the North was completely destroyed, whereas the number of Christians, both Protestant and Catholics, dramatically grew in the south. Vietnam became involved in a civil war during which most Catholics fled the communist-ruled North and settled in the South, where the Catholic Church under the leadership of the Catholic president Ngo Dinh Diem (1955-1963) maintained a strong position. This was the situation on the eve of the second Vatican Council.
A survey of the Catholic communities in Asia shows a splendid variety by reason of their origin and historical development, and the diverse spiritual and liturgical traditions of the various Rites. Yet all are united in proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ, through Christian witness, works of charity and human solidarity. While some particular Churches carry out their mission in peace and freedom, others find themselves in situations of violence and conflict, or feel threatened by other groups, for religious or other reasons. In the vastly diversified cultural world of Asia, the Church faces multiple philosophical, theological and pastoral challenges. Her task is made more difficult by the fact of her being a minority, with the only exception the Philippines, where Catholics are in the majority(3rd largest Catholic country after Brazil and Mexico).
IMAGE OF BEING A ―FOREIGN IMPORT‖ Asian churches are the result of missionary activity originating from Europe or the United states. The missionary enterprise was at its height during the colonial and imperialistic expansion of western powers in several Asian countries during the 19th century. Some of these missionaries were rather close or even in connivance with the colonial powers (admitted by Pope John Paul II). Until today the Catholic churches in some Asian countries—e.g., in the Peoples Republic of China (PRC), in Vietnam, and in India—are burdened with this colonial mortgage. This became obvious, when the pope canonized some of the martyrs who had lost their lives in Vietnam and in China during anti- colonial uprisings in the 18th-19th centuries.
There are another ―foreignness‖ to be observed in some Asian countries where the majority of Catholics do not belong to the indigenous population of the country, but recruits themselves from immigrants from neibouring countries. For eg: in Thailand, the majority of Catholics are of Chinese or Vietnamese origin. In Malaysia, the strongest ethnic group among the Catholics is of Chinese descent. The Church in Cambodia consists mostly of Vietnamese immigrants who live in the country as old or new immigrants. In recent years, the Catholic Church in Japan experienced a vast influx of foreign Catholics who have come from Brazil, the Philippines, and other countries as ―overseas workers.‖ at present the number of foreign Catholics has outnumbered that of the native Japanese Catholics.
CATHOLIC COMMUNITIES: SMALL MINORITY Asian Catholics are relatively few, about 2.4% of the total population In Asia, the Catholic communities are small minorities, living and operating within multi-cultural and multi-religious societies. The only exceptions are the Philippines and East Timor. Asian Christians, therefore, have a special responsibility to develop new forms of living together with sisters and brothers of other religious traditions.
DIVISIONS WITHIN CHRISTIANITY: A STRONG OBSTACLE In Asia, the divisions within Christianity are strongly felt to be obstacles for giving a credible witness to the gospel. The denominationally divided missionary enterprise of the Christian churches resulted de facto in an "export of divisions," perpetuating and multiplying the scandal of the division within Christianity, which happened in the 16th century, but operative till today.
DEPENDENCE ON THE MOTHER CHURCH What is common to all the Asian churches is that they are still, in various ways, dependent on the mother churches in Europe. There is the financial dependency on yearly subsidies to run different institutions and functions. Even more important is the dependency on the Roman authorities, who control most church activities, and insist on uniform ways of operating according to the centralist rules and regulations set by the Curia which became a strongest obstacle in the field of interreligious dialogue and ecumenism in Asia.
DEPENDENCY ON INSTITUTIONS Another reality of the Catholic Church in Asia is its high dependency on institutions such as schools, hospitals, orphanages, and social stations. In the eyes of Hindus and Buddhists the emphasis on social activities in the Christian churches has led to questions as to whether Christianity is really a religion or rather a social movement
INCULTURATION theologians need to develop an inculturated theology. Theological work must always be guided by respect for the sensibilities of Christians, so that by a gradual growth into inculturated forms of expressing the faith, people are neither confused nor scandalized. In every case inculturation must be guided by compatibility with the gospel and communion with the faith of the Universal Church. 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.
INCULTURATION: AREA OF LITURGY the liturgy is the source and summit of all Christian life and mission. it is a decisive means of evangelization, especially in Asia, where the followers of different religions are so drawn to worship, religious festivals and popular devotions. The liturgy of the oriental churches had for the most part been successfully inculturated through centuries of interaction with the surrounding culture, but the Roman rite need to ensure that the liturgy becomes an ever greater source of nourishment for their peoples through a wise and effective use of elements drawn from the local cultures. It should include the needs of the poor, migrants, refugees, youth and women which should overlook in any genuine liturgical inculturation in Asia.
INCULTURATION: IMPORTANCE OF BIBLICAL WORD The second Vatican synod fathers stressed the importance of the biblical word in passing the message of salvation to the peoples of Asia, where the transmitted word is so important in preserving and communicating religious experience. Effective biblical apostolate needs to be developed in order to ensure that the sacred text may be more widely diffused and more intensively and prayerfully used among the members of the Church in Asia. Efforts to translate the bible into local languages need to be encouraged and supported. Pastorally oriented courses on bible, with due emphasis on applying its teachings to the complex realities of asian life, ought to be incorporated into formation programmes for the clergy, for consecrated persons and for the laity. The sacred scriptures should be made known among the followers of other religions.
INCULTURATION: THE FORMATION OF EVANGELIZERS In the past, formation often followed the style, methods and programmes imported from the west. A positive development made in recent times to adapt the formation of evangelizers to the cultural context of Asia. On the basis of this development, Asian Church will benefit from contact with Asian philosophical and religious traditions. The professors are encouraged to seek a profound understanding of the elements of spirituality and prayer akin to the Asian soul and to involve themselves more deeply in the Asian people’s search for a fuller life.
Contact, dialogue and cooperation with the followers of other religions is a task which the second Vatican council bequeathed to the whole Church as a duty and challenge (Nostra Aetate). The local churches in Asia are like scattered islands surrounded y the seas of other religions. Hinduism predominates in India and surrounding countries, Buddhism in Mongoloid countries and Sri Lanka, Islam in western Asia and other countries. The Church has to show the deepest respect for these traditions and seeks to engage in sincere dialogue with their followers.
Interreligious dialogue is more than a way of fostering mutual knowledge and enrichment; it is a part of Church’s evangelizing mission, an expression of the mission. Christians bring to interreligious dialogue the firm belief that the fullness of salvation comes from Christ alone. ―There must be no abandonment of principles but instead a witness given and received for mutual advancement on the road of religious inquiry and experience, and at the same time for the elimination of prejudice, intolerance and misunderstandings.‖ (Redemptoris Missio) Interreligious relations are best developed in a context of openness to other believers, a willingness to listen and desire to respect and understand others in their differences. For all this, love of others is indispensable. This should result in collaboration, harmony and mutual enrichment.
Ecumenical dialogue is a challenge and a call to conversion for the whole Church, especially for the Church of Asia where people expect from Christians a clearer sign of unity. The scandal of a divided Christianity is a great obstacle for evangelization in Asia. The Catholic Church in Asia feels especially impelled to work for unity with other Christians, realizing that the search for full communion demands from everyone charity, discernment, courage and hope. On the practical level, the Catholic Church in Asia has to join in a process of prayer and consultation with other churches in order to explore the possibilities of new ecumenical structures and associations to promote Christian unity.
It examines the matrix of ecclesiological models proposed by FABC as a new way of being Church in Asia. In 1982, FABC devoted the entire 3rd plenary assembly to reflect up on the theme ―Church - a community of faith in Asia.‖ They did not develop a systematic ecclesiology but generally crafted to address the challenges facing the Churches in Asia.
It focuses on the Church ―as a community realizing its communion and mission in its own being and life and in relations to other communities.‖ Its purpose is to develop a deeper understanding of the mystery of the Church from a Trinitarian perspective and its application on the local and communitarian level. Its pastoral aim is ―to make local communities more and more authentic communities of faith‖
The primary definition of Church made by the FABC is ―a community of faith in Asia‖ which is very significant. The emphasis is placed on a particular local Church in communion with the universal Church and other local churches and rooted in the concrete, existential, and historical realities of Asian settings of life. This community is united by faith, ―the first single and shared reality by which the Church exists.‖ By this interpretation, the FABC appears to adapt the older New Testament understanding of ekklesia as a local assembly rather than referring to Church as the universal Church.
It is expressed in four ecclesiological understandings:◦ Church as communion in mission◦ community of dialogue and solidarity◦ Community of disciples◦ Basic ecclesial communitiesThese understanding do not destroy or reduce but clarify and complement its primary definition of the Church as a community of faith by relating or re-ordering the reality of the Church to the faith experience and the pastoral and missionary needs of Asian Christians.Summarized in an architectural model to highlight their interaction and interdependence.
EvangelizationMission Church as ato the c bbb community of Tripleworld faith in Asia dialogue Building up the kingdom of God
The Church as a community of faith in Asia, the Asian bishops combined a theological construct and a sociological category to express the vertical and horizontal, divine and human aspects of the Church. By proposing these forms of ecclesiality, or new ways of being Church, the FABC has implicitly adopted an analogical rather than dichotomous (either/ or) approach. It is primarily contextual, theologically consistent, and pastorally faithful to the vision of the Church. it is Christological, Pneumatological, and Trinitarian basis.
The Christological and Pneumatological basis of the ecclesiology underlines its contextual character, by a constant reference to the gospel and emphasis on the social context coupled with a reading of the signs of the times discerned as prompting and movements of the Holy Spirit. The Trinitarian dimension highlights its relational aspect by stressing the theme of the Church as a community of faith rooted in the perfect communion of the three persons
From below and from within Reflects a turn to human experience and reliance on sociological analysis Begins in the faith experience of the local communities and the challenges of Asian societies. It is a liberation ecclesiology: contextual and historical. It is a ―faith seeking life, love, justice and freedom.‖ Emphasis is on the basic ecclesial communities: members are motivated by love and see things from the perspective of the poor.
Strength Developed from the concrete, existential, and historical situations of Asia Its emphasis on the relational character of the Church: communion of TrinityLimitations Several theological difficulties relates to ―the relationship between the way we understand God’s nature and the way we understand the nature of the Church.‖
Ambiguity in the relationship between the local Church and the universal Church The Asian bishops almost ignore the Marian dimension No deeper exploration of the immanent aspect of the Trinitarian theology
Austin Flanney, O.P., ed., Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post- Counciliar Documents: (Bandra, Bombay: St. Paul, 1965) Guadium et Spes, 7 December, 1965Pope John Paul II,