the Synod for Asia
Note: During the synod's first phase, each
bishop was allowed eight minutes to address the gathering with the Holy
Father present for each session. I thought to give you a better feel
for a session that I would share with you some press summaries,
in this instance the summaries of interventions of Monday, April 27.
It was the 11th general congregation. On this day Christian-Islamic
relations was a dominant issue. But many other considerations also
For some of the Japanese bishops poignant interventions, see below.
-- NCR Publisher Thomas C. Fox
Bishop Jean-Baptiste Bui Tuan of Long Xuyen, Vietnam:
I was sent on a mission during a period when the socialist
revolution wanted to assert its victorious force. And the place I was
sent to was a place where the greater part of the population was made
up of very faithful Buddhist adepts, Hoà Hao.
This was a challenge for me. Faced with these difficulties, I deemed
it necessary to start by developing the Good News, not religion. After
23 years, reality shows that the Good News can be marvelously
developed, and the Catholic Church is well respected. To find the
reason for this development, I would like to confirm that the
principal agent is God-Love, full of mercy, very close. The Good News
changed the hearts. I feel this at the bottom of my heart.
If we needed to specify our way of collaborating with Christ, I
could enumerate the main attitudes:
- The humility of recognizing that humanity needs to be saved. We,
personally, wish to be saved no matter what.
- Simple contribution to the economy of the salvation of christ
through love, a very sincere love that is at the same time a gift to
others and reception of the Holy Spirit.
- Sincere acceptance of the crosses that often accompany saving
love. To accept taking up the cross and gathering its wisdom,
especially in renouncing of ourselves, for love and service, thus is
our daily vocation.
Through experience, I am certain that to achieve a well-prepared
collaboration with Christ, our savior, the disciples of Christ must
take to heart a contemplative, ascetic, humble and charitable
spirituality, concentrating on good examples and the words of Christ.
A profound spirituality is considered a necessary condition in the
mission. Because with Christ, we must fight against a great system of
sins that are individual, collective and structural, and against a
very strong force, i.e. Satan, the untiring destroyer of the kingdom.
They must also be alert and vigilant and know how to receive the
novelties of the Good News that the Holy Spirit presents us with
through the history of the church and the signs of the times.
By bearing witness to these, I believe that the encounter with
Christ is the definitive element for development of the Good News.
This encounter must be a living, personal and welcoming one, led by
the Holy Spirit. This encounter will grant us the grace for conversion
of liberty and love.
Bishop Joseph Coutts of Hyderabad, Pakistan:
In the Instrumentum laboris no. 12, it is mentioned that "certain
communities have to live in difficult situations" in Islamic
countries. This is a true statement of the situation but all too vague
and inadequate. More specifically, it is Islam that is creating -- and
will continue to create -- more difficult situations for the hurch in
Asia. While communion is waning, Islam is waxing strong and spreading
Looking at the situation from this perspective:
- From west Asia and the Middle East to the central-Asian
republics, down to south Asia, eastwards to Malaysia and Indonesia,
the church is a small minority in well over a dozen large Asian
countries -- all Muslim.
- Islam cannot and should not be put in the same category as
Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism, etc. Islam is very different. It is a
force, a religio-political force with expansionist tendencies that
have special consequences for the church in Asia.
- Even for dialogue, Islam presents greater challenges than other
religions. This has been adequately pointed out in many
- While many good Muslims can dialogue easily with us because of
their idea of us as ahl al-kitab ("people of the book"),
this is, unfortunately not the general attitude. The attitude that
is gaining ground in the Islamic countries is that Christians are
nothing but dhimmi (subjugated people) in their countries.
- There is a growing militancy and intolerance visible in Islam. In
the old Christian communities of west Asia and Middle Eastern Asia,
the Christians are decreasing, mainly due to emigration and escape
from such an atmosphere. In Turkey, the church has been reduced to
minimal existence. The Islamic revolution in Iran has had its
effect. In Pakistan, the atmosphere becomes more and more intolerant
and repressive. Even in Indonesia (the largest Muslim country) the
liberal base of Panchacila is being eroded by the corrosive current
of militant Islam.
- And in countries where Muslims are in the minority, the
Philippines, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, etc., they are becoming a force to
be reckoned with.
In short, Islam is a growing force in Asia and cannot be dismissed
lightly. We have to properly study this phenomenon and be better
prepared to face it.
While continuing to dialogue with Islam with Christian love and
understanding, we should not fail to speak out and condemn the rising
tide of intolerant, militant and oppressive Islam that is making many
Asian churches suffer.
Bishop Lawrence Thienchai Samanchit of Chanthaburi, Thailand:
My intervention refers to the Instrumentum laboris No. 45.
The church in Asia is presently involved in a synodal journey, a
journey that hopefully will lead to internal renewal and a
revitalization of the commitment to proclaim Jesus Christ, the savior,
and his mission of love and service in Asia through a new
evangelization. I would like to draw the attention of the synodal
fathers and the church in Asia to this renewal for the great jubilee
of the year 2000 for a new Pentecost in Asia through the pastoral care
for family in the Holy Spirit. "The future of humanity passes by
way of the family. The family is the fundamental cell of the society,"
said the Holy Father in "Familiaris consortio." In
Asian society many tendencies are threatening the family with
disintegration, e.g. mass migration, search for work and absence of
parental presence where both parents are working. Such situations as
poverty, exploitation and degradation of women, children forced into
hard labor, a growing number of divorces, unwed mothers, prostitution,
child abuse, abortion, marriages of different religious couples, etc.
are threatening the very foundation of family life in Asia. The Asian
family is in crisis. Hence, the family must be the object of very
special pastoral care. Since the family is at the heart of all Asian
cultures, in the family, religious and human values are transmitted by
the parents, who are the first teachers. The Christian family is not
only the object of pastoral care; it is an agent of evangelization.
The family is the first place for catechesis. The parents are the
first catechists. The family is the "domestic church." The
first witness to Jesus Christ is given by the Christian family. It is
also the first missionary church among the non-Christians of the
neighborhood. The apostolate of the family and the apostolate by the
Christian family assumes a great significance for the future of the
Church mission of love and service in Asia. Such a mission should also
be mindful of the many positive values in Asian society, values
cherished by long-standing traditions, e.g. filial piety, love and
care for the aged and sick, etc. Some note that the generous service
of families is the source of the abundance of vocations in Asia. The
Lord said, "A sound tree produces good fruits" (Mt 7,17).
Church and society have the common mission and co-responsibility to
prepare sound parents. We therefore need pastoral care for the young
in order to have good parents, priests and religious in the future,
helping youth discover the beauty and grandeur of the vocation to love
and the service of life. The church must accompany the Christian
family on its journey through life. The family needs support from
other families. Hence there are Christian family movements, Couples
for Christ, etc. May the church as Christ the Lord be present in every
Christian home as he was at Cana, bestowing light, joy, serenity,
strength and hope.
Cardinal Achille S. Ilvestrini, prefect of the Congregation for
the Oriental Churches:
Each synod of bishops is a privileged time of ecclesial communion
and episcopal collegiality. We give thanks for this providential
opportunity that is the Synod for Asia. Your continent was the first
one to receive the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ the Lord, at
the threshold of the first millennium. Today, on the threshold of the
third millennium, the eyes of all those in the church are turned
towards us, the bishops, priests, religious men and women, lay
persons, reunited here to pray together, to listen to one another, to
share sufferings, worries, joys and hopes, to better listen to what
the Spirit tells the Church.
Almost all the ancient Oriental churches are represented here, with
their patrimony, which enriches, by their great diversity, the
Catholic church in the union with faith. With emotion, they listen to
the history of your martyrs and your missionary impulse. And, they
offer in return the witness of an ancient experience of faith. This "exchange
of gifts" between sister churches will already be a spiritual
outcome of this synod.
On the lines of the Working Document, I would like to emphasize four
sectors in which the Oriental Catholic churches could offer their
gifts to the younger churches of Asia.
- Spirituality. Monastic life is considered, by the Oriental
churches, the deepest heart of their existence before God and of
their witness before the world. Renunciation, brotherly love,
simplicity, joy, humility, contemplative silence, continuous prayer
and universal compassion are the way of Christian ascesis. After
having purified it of sin, the Holy Spirit inflames the heart of the
monk for Jesus Christ, for the neighbor and for all of creation. At
the same time, this spirituality draws its strength from the
sacraments of salvation: Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist.
The Christian Orient contributed a great number of saints and
mystics, equal to that of the Latin West. Through theology, poetry,
care for the poor and pilgrims or through the means of silent
prayer, the monks were those who rooted faith in the culture of
peoples, because they spoke the language of the heart, accessible to
the simple and to the wise. Their "sequela Christi"
can certainly inspire, still today, the birth of an authentic
Christian ascetic and contemplative spirituality, which the Asian
Churches need vitally.
- Episcopal collegiality. The Oriental Catholic churches, within
the patriarchates or the "sui juris" churches,
have a long experience in the synodal experience of the episcopal
ministry. The jealous fidelity of the episcopacy to their own
liturgical and canonical traditions gave them the strength to live
and transmit their repository of faith in very difficult situations.
At the same time, they are conscious of the true value of their
communion with the church of Rome, which has the mission of
presiding in love. This delicate equilibrium between a correct
autonomy and universal communion, which has not often been without
suffering, requires ulterior refinement. The Oriental Catholic
churches can bring an important contribution to the synod on this
- Ecumenism. Because of the common origin and their history, the
Oriental Catholic churches feel the pain of separation from the
Orthodox sister churches. This feeling explains why sometimes
someone is urged to taking even isolated initiatives for the
re-composition of the unity, but it is obvious that ecumenism is the
way of the entire Catholic church. Certainly, the Christian churches
cannot face the challenge of the universal mission without obeying
Jesus Christ's most intimate desire of their being one sole thing "that
the world may believe". The Christians of the Orient do not
forget that the division between the churches is one of the main
reasons for the birth of Islam. This is also one of the most painful
aspects of Islamic-Christian dialogue, and perhaps a preliminary
condition for its progress.
- The Diaspora. All the Oriental churches experience a strong
emigration from their lands of origin. The phenomenon is not new.
What is new, from the Middle East to India, is the breadth of this
emigration. Some of these churches feel endangered in their own
existence. The questions that the presence of Oriental Christians
ask the Latin churches are delicate. But beyond the difficulties of
every type, even if comprehensible ones, Vatican Council II gave
clear indications for the preservation and strengthening of the
Oriental identity of these Christians, guaranteeing all the specific
pastoral care, which they need and have a right to, to them. Only
the dialogue of charity can find the rightful solutions for each
case. We can be certain that this will bring greater good to the
church and to ecclesial communion. Is this not communion, the gift
of the Holy Spirit, the most beautiful witness of the truth of the
Gospel that the church can bear at the dawn of the third millennium?
Bishop Gratian Mundadan, CMI, of Bijnor of the Syro-Malabars:
The early church had tremendous appeal to the people of Asia,
because it was a Spirit-filled community. The power of the Spirit
enabled them to experience God in Christ. They translated this
God-experience into their life and thus grew in fellowship and
communion. This accounts for the success of missionary efforts of the
early Apostolic churches.
Present day church projects a different image -- one of power and
strength, competency and human efficiency, where the power of the
Spirit is not experienced. Asian soul is drawn to power coming from
spiritual or religious sources. For such people, mere doctrinal, legal
and institutional power does not appeal. Further, such a power is
looked on as a threat.
There is an urgency to change this image to make the church
appealing to Asians. It means a new way of being church. Following the
way of Christ, the church in Asia has to assume the way of kenosis, of
self-emptying, of the cross, of loving and self-giving service. This
means a return to the source. Jubilee 2000 means this. This was also
the call of Vatican II. In this process of return to the sources, two
points are to be emphasized:
- Enough freedom for the local churches to grow in a manner suited
and appealing to local people.
- All restrictions imposed on individual churches, like the
Syro-Malabar church, be removed to facilitate their growth and the
evangelization of Asia.
Bishop Leo Laba Ladjar, OFM, of Jayapura, Indonesia:
Christianity remains a very small minority. How do we react to this
state of affairs? A spirit of competition among religions has not yet
been overcome. In Indonesia, we were once proud that we owned the best
schools and hospitals, the largest newspaper, etc. However, we remain,
and shall remain, a minority.
Reactions of some radical Muslim groups over the past few years make
us ask how we have been going about evangelization and being church. A
superior attitude has long humiliated the Muslim majority. It is
taking over the leading role in every sector of society. Christian
institutions have been edged out. We are being forced to reflect anew
on ourselves as a small minority. We have to accept ourselves as a
minority. Competition is not the Christian way. It does not create
peace and harmony.
Our master says that we are (and I think we shall remain) a very
small flock, "pusillus grex" (Lk 12,32). But he
convinces us that we need not be afraid or feel inferior! He himself
will be with us always. He is present as the servant of God who
emptied his self and humbled himself as low as possible.
To be capable of that, we have first of all to have a living
experience of the humble Jesus. A personal encounter with Jesus Christ
should inspire the way we are church and the way we evangelize. If we
adopt a personal approach, just as Jesus Christ himself approaches us
personally, then we can surely touch the hearts of others.
I would like to quote from the exhortation of St. Francis of Assisi
concerning the way to live among Muslims. "The brothers who go
among the Muslims can live spiritually (among Saracens and
non-believers) in two ways: One way is not to engage in arguments or
disputes, but to be subjects to every human creature for God's sake (1
P 2,13) and to acknowledge that they are Christians. Another way is to
proclaim the Word of God when they see that it pleases the Lord, so
that they believe in the all-powerful God -- Father, Son and Holy
Spirit -- the creator of all, in the Son, who is the Redeemer and
Savior" (Francis of Assisi, Earlier Rule, XVI, 6-7).
Anthony Francis Sharma, SJ, superior of the mission sui
iuris of Nepal:
- The church is deeply convinced that only through the Gospel can
marriage and family life be fulfilled. In the act of creation, God
willed marriage and family life. Since the family is exposed to many
forces that threaten to destroy it, the church is compelled to
proclaim to all people the plan of God for marriage and the family
(cf. Familiaris consortio).
- Families in the modern world are faced with many rapid and
serious changes. The church wishes to minister to families and to
help young people discover the beauty of marriage.
- The church in Asia finds herself in a multi-religious context,
and more and more families are becoming inter-faith families. Manyof
these families, despite the spouses' professing different religions,
do live harmoniously.
- In a society like that of Nepal, where Christians form less than
one percent of the population, several of our families are
inter-religious. Looking at the statistics for the past 10 years,
53% of the marriages held in church were inter-faith.
- Marriage and family are sacred to all religions and are willed by
the creator (cf. Gen. 1-2). The Catholic church rejects nothing true
and holy in other religions. She looks with sincere respect upon
those ways of conduct and life, those rules and teachings which,
though differing in many particulars from what she holds and sets
- In multi-religious societies, where marriages and families face
many and varied challenges, the solutions sought and suggestions
made need to be adapted to inter-faith families.
- The possibilities of collaboration with other religions in
finding common solutions to needs are to be explored and cooperation
sought. Families should be encouraged to become a place of religious
harmony rather than dispute. We need to recognize the dialogue of
life that can and does take place in inter-faith families and see it
as integral to evangelization in multi-religious societies.
- This also requires a sound pastoral theology for a fruitful
ministry to these families.
Bishop Boutros Marayati of Alep of the Armenians (in Syria):
- Churches of the Near East:
The Working Document employs the term "Western Asia"
several times. It would be better to use the traditional term "Near
East" or "Middle East" so as not to create
misunderstandings. How is it in fact possible to speak about Eastern
churches in a "Western Asia"? We are already accused, as
Oriental Catholic churches, of being "westernized" or even
"latinized". Refusing westernization does not mean
forgetting all the good things we have received from the West. Our
gratefulness goes to the pontifical organizations of solidarity, the
Western religious congregations and the apostolical and spiritual
movements originating in the West, as long as they safeguard the
Oriental soul and respect local traditions.
- Darkness and light in ecumenical dialogue:
Can it be that the word "ecumenism" is not mentioned in
the Working Document? In Syria, we live an existential ecumenism
that is made concrete in three domains: spiritual sharing, pastoral
concordance and charitable collaboration. Unfortunately, theological
dialogue does not exist and the date for Easter has always divided
us. As the Armenian Catholic church, we are waiting for the day when
a theological dialogue with the Apostolic Armenian church will be
established. On the threshold of the Third Millennium, we are called
upon to re-read our ecclesiastical history, and to the purification
of the memory and, why not, to a revision of theological
formulations. In this ecumenical light, our Armenian Synod has asked
the Holy Father for the beatification of the martyrs of the 1915
Armenian genocide on the occasion of Jubilee 2000 and the
proclamation of Saint Nerses Shnorhali as "Doctor of the Church"
on the occasion of the 17th centenary of the Baptism of
Armenia, which will take place in 2001.
- Fraternal relationships with the Muslims:
In Syria we live in a good neighborly way with the Muslims, in
mutual respect, without discrimination. We share the same history
and we confront together the problems of the present and the
challenges of the future. Our Churches, apart from the freedom of
cult and personal statutes, also benefit from several prerogatives.
Can we ask the Pontifical Council for the publication of an official
document on the relationship between Christianity and Islam?
- Open your gates, Jerusalem.
The essential problem for Christians of the Arab world is the
distinction between the spiritual meaning of the word Israël
and the political meaning of the word Israël as a
state. The confusion between the two meanings leads to inappropriate
interpretations and restraining tensions. We wish the nuances to be
clear. We pray for peace, "the fruit of justice," so that
the gates of Jerusalem may be reopened to all the Christians of the
Middle East. We also pray that the Holy Father's wish be achieved by
a biblical pilgrimage of faith and peace in Abraham's steps,
departing from Ur in Mesopotamia up to Mount Sinai, passing through
the fertile Crescent of Syria, Alep, Damas, Jordan, Bethlehem and
Jerusalem. We hope "against all hopes," because God is
always faithful to his promises, and nothing is impossible for him.
Apostolic Administrator Varkey Vithayathil, CSSR, of
Ernakulam-Angamaly of the Syro-Malabars:
"The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few." I
speak about Gospel workers, to whom the Instrumentum laboris
makes only a passing reference in chapter 7. The first thing we are
asked by the Lord himself is to pray for missionary vocations in the
churches of Asia. The Syro-Malabar church is proud of its apostolic
lineage, tracing as it does its origin to St. Thomas the Apostle, who
had a unique experience of the risen Lord. He came to teach Indians
the true way and the only way to God. However, even after 2000 years,
the way of Christ is openly followed in India only by a tiny minority
of 2.4%. In 1896, the Syro-Malabar church got bishops of its own rite
and nationality. Since then it has made marvelous progress.
Note: Some of the most interesting speeches given in the synod's
early days came from members of the Japanese bishops' conference. To
get a better feel for some of the ideas being shared at the synod I
gathered summaries of the several Japanese "interventions,"
written as these summaries were shared with the media. Full texts are
missing, but the ideas come clearly. Here are four Japanese bishops,
speaking on the needs and concerns of their local church. -- TCF
Archbishop Leo Jun Ikenaga, SJ, of Osaka:
I address the issue of evangelization in East Asia. Missionaries
have labored in their field for centuries. In India, which is, of
course, west Asia, missionary work, we are told, goes back to
apostolic times. Yet, to this day, evangelization had taken but a few
small steps forward. Baptisms are few, and perhaps more important,
Christian thinking has not entered into the mainstream of Asian
society. The cause is not just cultural variances but also differences
in the human heart. Nurtured in Europe, Western Christianity makes a
clear division between God and the universe, Heaven and Hell. It
stresses the paternal aspect of God. The peoples of East Asia have a
pantheistic mindset, believe in the transmigration of souls, are drawn
to the thought of the embracing mercy of God. Let us therefore stress
the maternal traits of God in our religious art and teaching. In this
way Christianity will take on a warmer, more approachable face --
something that invites intimacy. Our catechetical instruction is not
only something intellectual, studying the article of faith in greater
depth. We must follow the example of Jesus, who did not neglect life,
the human body, the practical, when he spoke of the Kingdom of God.
Thus we can have real hope that Christianity will sink roots in East
Bishop Augustine Jun-ichi Nomura of Nagoya:
- We have in Asia today a very committed search for integration of
faith and life, for harmony of soul, heart and body, for a living
incorporation of our spiritual heritage.
- In Japan, like in the rest of Asia, the eyes have a more central
role than the ears in the process of insight and conversion. In
recent meetings the Asian Bishops have stated that Asian peoples,
more possibly than others, are convinced more by witnessing than by
teaching. And that they appreciate the contemplative dimension,
detachment, humility, simplicity and silence. Therefore a Gospel
that is embodied in our own lives carries much more credibility and
power of conviction than a Gospel that has only been wrapped up in
beautiful words, teachings and moral injunctions.
- Today, more than ever, in the middle of a consumeristic
lifestyle, people are looking for other, alternative ways of life in
solidarity, simplicity, service and communion. They expect from
Christianity a credible living answer.
- When presenting Jesus Christ to Japanese (or Asian) people we
should present him as the spiritual master who opens for us a way to
real freedom in detachment, simplicity and forgiveness and to full
communion in solidarity, compassion and peace. These universal
virtues are particularly attuned to the Asian ethos and spiritual
life. Jesus is the guide on the way, but such a guide that
eventually he becomes the way himself, because in him and with him
we reach the communion and intimacy with God, the Father, and with
his wonderful creation.
- Evangelization with spirituality will always produce abundance of
fruits. On the other hand, evangelization without spirituality will
only increase the burdens of the Christian faithful and scandalize
those who are not.
- We need a spirituality that is rooted in Asia, that is made alive
by the spirit of Jesus Christ and that flows freely from the heart
of the believer (Cfr. Jn 7:38). Then our Christian communities will
(a) overcome human and ethical ambiguities and
relativism of Asia;
(b) deepen the meaning and value of the human
person and rights of all;
(c) make more credible our message that all
peoples are God's children;
(d) intensify the process of restoring women to
their rightful dignity and position in the church and society; and
(e) educate among all a living concern for
justice, for active peace and a life-giving harmony with the whole
Bishop Stephen Fumio Hamao of Yokohama:
When the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in
August 1945, hundreds of thousands of lives were snuffed out in an
instant. We Japanese are victims of the war, but at the same time we
were also the aggressors who trampled on the lives of people in many
areas of Asia and the Pacific. We must admit that the church of Japan
failed to realize and courageously proclaim how inhuman and out of
harmony with the Gospel values were the elements of that war. The
church failed in her prophetic role of witnessing to the will of God
in protecting human life. Today we live in a "global village",
an interrelated network of nations, cultures, ethnic groups,
traditions and religious families. This is true especially of Asia.
Peace cannot be attained unless it cuts across these multi-cultural,
multi-religious nations. Peace is a gift, the fruit of a healthy human
community. Peace is the final gift, the result of a harmonious and
mature integration of fairness, justice, love, truth, liberty and
respect for all. It must include mercy (compassion) towards the weak
and powerless, tolerance and a patient waiting for growth. Peace never
occurs in isolation. It is the fruition of a good life for all. For
that reason, working for peace is considered to be a highly esteemed
spiritual value. Peace is the greatest blessing of God to a people.
Working for peace should be a central concern of the church.
Ecological concerns are also very important elements in the
evangelization conducted by the church. Environmental concerns are not
just for the benefit of future generations, but all creatures and
nature itself are "our brothers and sisters" as St. Francis
called them, and they are our companions on this earth with which we
must strive to live in harmony. This concern for living in harmony
with all nature is an important element in procuring peace and is
highly valued among Asian peoples. The church, therefore, should be
much more concerned with promoting peace and harmony on all levels of
existence, and not concern itself with reasons which would justify
war. There are very few things to which the church can dedicate its
labors with a more detached and evangelical heart than to the service
of peace. It is our earnest desire, and that of the bishops of Japan,
that this synod puts peace at the center of our evangelization and
mission in Asia today. Our Lord said: "Blessed are the
peacemakers; they shall be recognized as children of God" (Mt
Bishop Berard Toshio Oshikawa, OFM CONV., of Naha:
- My concern here is mostly pastoral. We do not have to go far in
order to find some of the reasons why Christianity does not grow in
Japan. Notwithstanding the frequent exhortations for inculturation,
it seems to me that the norm for Christian life, for church
discipline, for liturgical expression and theological orthodoxy
continues to be that of the Western church.
- This fact may be natural, and good for the West. However, when it
also becomes the operating norm for the churches of the East, and,
concretely, for Japan, it unfortunately becomes a very effective
block to any pastoral effort to open for our young and minority
churches a meaningful and realistic process of growth in faith,
spirituality and moral life.
- In spite of the valiant efforts of both local and foreign agents
of the Gospel, the engrained westernization of the language of our
theology, the rhythm and structure of our liturgies, the programs of
our catechesis fail to touch the hearts of those who come searching.
The fact that "some particularly gifted" ministers have
had a certain success only underlines the basic problem, where our
own human limitations are not helped by the requirements of the
- The "Principle of Graduality" proclaimed and
recommended by John Paul II should be a leading principle in the
relationships between the Roman Curia, the Western churches in the
South, and the East.
- Graduality means (1) above all, that we Asian Christians take the
responsibility to grow into Christ and all that this implies for our
Christian faith. We must do this in, out of and through our own
culture in an ongoing re-reading and contemplation of the Gospel and
in the midst of the pains, struggles and hopes of our societies. In
an Asian religious context the "Way" is a central and most
inspiring image of growth in God's love and wisdom. We must make
this process of faith a real journey, an experience of growth rather
than a mental "Introduction to Christianity" as is often
- Graduality also means (2) that other churches respect and support
these local processes that take place under the guidance of the
bishops of Asia. In a world that is becoming more and more
international and more globally interacting, it is more important
than ever to nurture and support the diversity and peculiarities of
the different cultures and churches. Now is the time to learn from
our past mistakes and make sure that no imposition of any kind
hinders the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives and minds of people
who in the wonderful variety of histories and cultures look for God
with a sincere heart.
- Graduality means (3) that the Holy See redefines its role and
mediates with prudence, flexibility, trust and courage a new
dialogue of all the churches in the common pilgrimage to the
fullness of Christ. This will mean moving away from a single and
uniform abstract norm that stifles genuine spirituality, Asian
liturgical expression, earnest Asian theological search and real
growth in maturity. Together we must move to a more spiritual and
creative position of working for a new harmony where the gifts of
the Spirit to the churches become the new treasure of the whole
church, into which all others, Christian and non-Christian alike,
can be invited to share in the abundance of God's life.
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