1. Asia: diversity of religions and cultures
Asia is a very diverse part of the world, where there are large differences between religions and cultures, where almost two-thirds of the world population lives. The characteristics that I will relate especially point out to India and I think they are generally valid for Indonesia. The Philippines has different characteristics in many points, since it is the only Asian country where the Catholics are majority.
– A multicultural and multi-religious reality: The population generally lives with strong adherence to their own religion: Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity (Protestantism and Catholicism), Confucianism, and not forgetting the tribal people who still practice their traditional religions. In the same country we find very different cultures and languages as each nation is formed by a conglomerate of peoples who have lived separate and apart for millennia. Its group as states is relatively recent.
– Big social differences: a rich and intellectually cultivated minority, in possession of political and economic power, and a poor majority and poorly educated, with groups within it especially marginalized and needy.
– They are making a big effort to stay together and live in harmony, but not finding it easy. There is a tendency to increasing dominance of the Hindu majority (India) or Islamic (Indonesia) on the minority without enough respect for the minority many times.There are also independence movements in the political and fundamentalists in the religious.There are very active guerrilla groups and more or less veiled religious persecution in many places.
– The Church is well structured at local and national level.It has well organized episcopal conferences.Its influence is far greater than could indicate the small number of Catholics. It projects its action in many social work and human development on the entire population and not just the Catholic.But sometimes some common defects on it as in the society such as the caste system and the influence of various groups of power that threatens the dimension of communion that in the Church must be essential.Virtually all religious are indigenous and foreign missionaries are very few and have many difficulties for the government to enter, stay and make a direct apostolic work.
2. Current challenges and response from our charism
1. Need for interreligious dialogue and inculturation
The Christians in Asia are living in minority amid a predominantly Hindu (India) or Muslim (Indonesia) population. This has important philosophical, theological, social and political challenges for the mission of the Church. Theologians need to engage in a healthy dialogue with the thinkers of other religions and other cultures in an attempt to find the truth that exists beneath the differences, and in a climate of mutual respect and tolerance. The person of Christ is not an obstacle but an attractive figure in Asia. The heart of Asia will not rest until finding its peace in Christ: “Contemplating Jesus in his human nature, the peoples of Asia found in him their deepest questions answered, their hopes fulfilled, their dignity recognized and their despair overcome” (Ecclesia in Asia 14).
The difficulties come from other fields such as the memory of colonial history with its wounds still unhealed in which Christianity was the religion of the colonizers or the damage of casualties caused by certain countries considered as Christian.
In this context, the Nazarene charisma focused on the mystery of the incarnation of Jesus and the example of communities of the Brothers of the Holy Family living inculturated in the place where they are found, they will be a great example to help the peaceful and fraternal coexistence.
2. Urgency of New Evangelization
As in other parts of the world, the pressure from political power (i.e. economic discrimination for Christian “dalits”), the passage from rural to urban, the attempt of sects and other groups to attract followers… constitute a temptation to leave the Christian Religion. It is urgent to revitalize the faith of Catholics as a requirement of the mission of the Church. The main purpose of the Pastoral Plan is to strengthen the following of Jesus Christ and forming Catholics in prayer and the use of Scripture with the intention of helping them live their faith and that they may present it to others. Our Sa-Fa charism, which offers primary attention to catechesis, has a great scope to help Christians deepen their faith and to “give a reason for their hope.”
3. Promotion of the laity
Many Christians have very little knowledge of Religion.In many parishes, catechesis is reduced, and usually short and superficial, to preparation for First Communion.
With some exceptions, the Church in Asia is seen as a predominantly clerical institution: in the administration, liturgy, formation, etc.The more aware laity and especially women and young people are more willing to engage in the local church.It is desirable greater cooperation between statuses in the Church (priests, religious and laity) for the evangelizing mission to be more effective. The vocation of a religious Brother who is both consecrated and lay person at the same time can be a good bridge binding.
4. Increase of persecutions and anti-conversion laws
In democratic countries in Asia it is officially recognized freedom of religion. In India, for example, Article 15 of the Constitution proclaims it: “Every Indian citizen has the right to practice and promote his religion peacefully.” However it is increasing religious intolerance which results increasing violence against Christians. And this sometimes promoted or tolerated from areas close to power. Some states prohibit conversion to Christianity. The Church in India lives, on the one hand, in a context of cultural richness and religious plurality and, on the other hand, is a victim of religious fundamentalism with added social challenges such as corruption, violation of human rights, poverty, caste system, marginalization of women… Amidst these challenges, the Church seeks to fulfil its mission, avoiding the double temptation of flight or inhibition.
The Final Message of the Synod on the New Evangelization recognizes this harsh reality and encourages Christians to be strong in Asia: “Your presence, despite being a small minority, is a deep seed entrusted to the power of the Spirit that grows in dialogue with different cultures, with ancient religions and many poor.Although sometimes lies outside social life and even persecuted in various places, the Church of Asia, with its strong faith, is a precious presence of the Gospel of Christ announcing justice, life and harmony” (no. 13).
Our congregational motto invites us to work, to strive, to commit ourselves even amid difficulties (labore) to achieve peace (pax), (caritate).This should be a good tool to answer these challenges.
3. Aspects of the Asian culture which may enrich the Sa-Fa charism
Just we have named the main challenges facing Asia right now.We have shown how our Sa-Fa charism can and should contribute to give adequate response.Let us note how our charism can be refreshed and deepened in this context.
1. To strengthen the spirit of family
We know this is an essential element of our style of life and action. We should pay attention to the following aspects:
– Whispering the Gospel to the soul of Asia. Do not use aggressive language or violent postures. Be attentive to the ancient sigh of millions of Asians and, at the same time, being open to new valid ideas today from anywhere in the world. Bridging ideologies, philosophies and civilizations without particular interests, promoting harmony and mutual understanding.
– Talking to the common people not only to the elite. To pay attention not only to the cultures of the dominant castes that have marginalized for centuries the “Dalit” population, the tribal people and the regional cultures. These humble communities make up 85% of the current Indian society. To them belong the majority of Christians in India and almost all the people we usually interact. Nazareth is to serve the common people chosen by God to “do great works.”
– Talking to humans of “flesh and blood”, not just theories and ideas. Man does not live only in the brain but also in the heart and life experience. Nazareth is the Incarnation of the Word in a particular human being: Jesus, in a given context.
2. To irradiate Fraternity
Our Communities, integrated by members of different states, languages and cultures, serving with love students, formees and adult people, belonging to different religions and cultures, constitute a great stimulus to overcome separation barriers and to build bridges of tolerance and cooperation. Driven by the need to be a promoter of this new humanity of solidarity and brotherhood, our charism can be “re-founded” deepening creatively our identity of Brother and offering a space where one can live thoroughly the Nazarene virtues as welcoming kindness, mutual trust, generous reconciliation, humble simplicity, selfless service, sincere communication, shared joy, etc.
3. To favour the eloquence of the witness
Jesus lived in his hidden life for thirty years what would later proclaim in his public life for three. This speaks of the importance of the example of coherence between life and truth to be transmitted. Many people in Asia are looking for a vital message, something more than mere entertainment or empty rhetoric. They pursue a truth for which one can live and die. And this can only be transmitted by witnesses, people whose lifestyle suits this message. “Each man should give unique testimony so that the Gospel can come across the existence of so many people. So, we are required a life of holiness” (Synod 3). “Every situation is an opportunity for Christians to show forth the power that the truth of Christ has acquired in their lives” (Ecclesia in Asia 42). This is mainly projected in the love made generous service.
4. To promote an integral and integrating education
One of the preferring areas of our mission has been and remains even today the education. In great part of Asia, the school has been a privileged means for the first evangelization and also for the present. Thus it proclaims the experience made by the first missionaries and their followers, it is recognized in the Episcopal Conferences in their pastoral plans and in the practical terms in the many schools that they have created and currently run. A Christian school opens and attends the surrounding population irrespective of their creed, and they live harmoniously, they know the Gospel values and they are satisfied with the service offered by the school. For students further away in hidden places with difficult access to education, they are created student hostels. In Asia, the Sa-Fa school may be a valid means of promoting human and Christian education, which responds to a strong social demand and an evangelizing requirement.
5. To encourage a catechesis of the experience
Let us remember Venerable Brother Gabriel, his experience as a catechist and his insistence on the importance of education in the Faith of children and youth. We recall his advice to get the reach of the children. We check the need that Asians have to cultivate their faith in the catechesis and willingness and we think: The union of supply and demand predicts a promising future. We have to pay attention to the Gospel but also to the receivers. We have to plant and water the seed that transforms from within the minds and hearts of Asian children and young, without neglecting attention to the education of the faith of the adults and the family ministry. The future creation and development of the Nazarene Fraternities, catechists, teachers and other groups of the Sa-Fa Family will hasten major steps in the objectives.
6. To celebrate the Liturgy highlighting its beauty and sense of adoration
For our Founder, the school, catechesis and liturgical celebration are closely related. With the Synod on the New Evangelization, we recognize that “faith is decided primarily on the relationship we establish with the person of Jesus, who comes to us” and that “the beauty of faith must shine, especially, in the sacred liturgy, above all, in the Sunday Eucharist” (Final Message 3). In Asia, it is of great importance every Sunday Mass, which is celebrated slowly, taking care of all its elements from the songs of the assembly with their rhythms and own instruments up to the deep sense of adoration that permeates everything. Also, the artistic framework in which the celebration is carried out must be in accordance with the Asian aesthetic sensibility: temples, pictures, ornaments, etc.
They are also very important the processions and pilgrimages to shrines in which people participate frequently and with collective enthusiasm. It is there that our charism may have own expression, as in other parts of the world, with Brothers attending the pilgrims and serving in the pilgrimage centres.
If for our Congregation the XIX century was the beginning in Europe and the first projection in South America, the XX century was the expansion in Africa, the XXI century may be the openness to Asia, without detriment to its presence in other parts of the world. This will require a fruitful dialogue between Asians and the Sa-Fa charism.
May the Holy Family, who lived on this continent, and our Venerable Br Gabriel Taborin, a missionary soul who dreamed of a world without borders, help us to incarnate this hope that is beginning to be a promising reality.
Br. Justo Rubio