Two great religious leaders and supreme pastors of the Catholic Church namely; Blessed Pope John XXIII and Blessed Pope John Paul II have a great historical significance for the Church in the modern world. They enjoy great respect in the hearts and minds of the Catholics. All other Christian denominations and believers of different religions have also paid rich tribute to their tremendous leadership. Pope John XXIII set a tone and agenda for the 20th century and how to read the signs of the time and how Church should respond to the challenges it is confronted with in the modern world. The invocation of the Vatican Council II by Pope John was a clear sign that how the Church can respond to the challenges in the modern world and how to make message of Christ relevant. Although he died in the year 1963 his vision, mission and inspiration is strongly reflected in the 16 documents of the Vatican Council II, which respond to the situation of the Church in the age lived, whether it is religious freedom laity, religious life, evangelization mission, proclamation, dialogue, and Church in the modern world. These documents have renewed the approach of the Church to its members and people of all religions. These have great significance for the Christians in Asia as well.
Pope John Paul II being supreme pastor of the Church led his flock for 26 years. He took us from the second millennium to the third millennium as a great dynamic leader. He left remarkable and very significant impact not only on the Church but also upon the people of all religions and political states as well. He was respected by all whether Christians or non-Christians; Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Zoroastrians and people of different spiritualities. He was the most travelled Pope ñ Supreme Pastor of the Catholic Church. He travelled around the globe and lefts lasting marks upon humanity. He was very humble, dynamic, open to the people of other religions and great promote of interreligious dialogue and ecumenism. He also made pastoral visits to several Asia countries such as: Pakistan, India, Singapore, Philippines, Hong Kong and South Korea etc. He was very warmly welcome by the inhabitants of these countries and has left lasting marks upon us ñ the Asian inhabitants.
The cradle of all major religions
Asia is the cradle of all major religions; Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Zoroastrianism, Jainism, Islam, Shintoism and Sikhism. God sent his Prophets and revealed holy books upon them. It is the dwelling place of two third of the world population. The land of Asia manifests the plan of salvation of the entire world. God revealed himself through the Hebrew Scripture (Old Testament) and finally through his only son Jesus Christ ñ so that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.
While on the other side we find that Asia is confronted with many crises and challenges such as of; poverty, illiteracy, injustice, child labor, discrimination on the basis of caste, creed and gender is very commons in Asia. There are millions of people who are living below poverty level. They do not have enough to eat, clothe or have shelter to live in. There is also a strong wave of terrorism, fanaticism, fundamentalism. In some countries terrorist attacks and suicide bombing have become very common. There is a lack of cleaning water. Millions of people have died of religiously motivated violence. There are problems faced by women as they are not given just rights and status in the society. There is a grave issue of law and order. There is a grave need of interfaith harmony, peace, acceptance and respect of one another. There is grave need to freedom of religion and its expressions.
In such a scenario I find that Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II have great significance to bring a positive change in the society. Both left lasting impact and significance upon the Church in Asia. It is a reality that in Asia ñ the place where Jesus Christ was born- Church remains a tiny minority of about 3%. The continent of Asia is most populated. Two third of the world populations lives here and most of the people belong to other religions. They are either, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Zoroastrians, Jains, and Sikhs etc. Christians remain a tiny minority. The Church in Asia is ‘Salt of the earth and light of he world’. (Matt. 5. 12-13)
In our Asian situation the encyclical of Pope John XXIII Pacim in Terris is of prime importance. It can influence immensely for the struggles of Asian people on how to addressed many challenges we are confronted with as well the challenge of dialogue among people of different religions and especially between Muslims and Christians. It also poses many challenges to us as well. Pacim in Terris has set before men and women of good will an immense task for all, especially for us living in Asia. For example, in number 163 of the encyclical, we read: ‘Hence among the very serious obligations incumbent upon men of high principles, we must include the task of establishing new relationships in human society, under the mastery and guidance of truth, justice, charity and freedom ñ relations between individual citizens, between citizens and their respective states, between states, and finally between individuals, families, intermediate associations and states on the one hand, and the world community on the other. There is surely no one who will not consider this a most exalted task, for it is one which is able to bring about true peace in accordance with the divinely established order.’
Although this encyclical was written 51 years ago, it is very significant for our times as well. Its importance in Asia is even more relevant, and it poses for us great challenges in overcoming the crises we are faced with and establishing lasting peace in this continent. This encyclical has established principles that are featured in some of the documents of the Vatican Council II is wonderful to know that Pacem in Terris was the first encyclical that the Pope did not address to Catholics only, but to ‘all men of good will’. So it is for all the people of Asia, for Christians and Muslims, and people of all other religions. It encourages and inspires us to do what is good based on truth, justice and charity to bring peace and harmony to our society. Peace is an ongoing process, not just an absence of armed conflict.
In this encyclical Pope John laid great emphasis on basic human rights, in this order: the right to life, bodily integrity, food, clothing, shelter, rest, medical care and necessary social services (a.11), the right to respect for one’s person, a good reputation, freedom to search for the truth, freedom of speech and freedom of information (a.12), the right to worship (a.14), freedom to choose one’s state of life and to form a family (a.15), freedom of initiative in the economic field, the right to work (a.18), the right to adequate working conditions (a.19), a proper wage (a.20), private property (a.21), freedom of assembly and association (23), the right to the juridical protection of rights (a.27) and the right to act freely and responsibly (a.34). This is what we want to see realized in Asia.
Pope John Paul II has left a great inspiration for the people of Asia. He was a great religious leader. He was for the freedom of religion. He was for ecumenical and interreligious dialogue. He was reached out to meet and welcome people of different religions both in the Vatican and to which ever country he went. He gave boost to the Christians in Asia in his encyclical letters. In particular his encyclical Ecclesia in Asia, offers us ongoing inspiration and great courage to be proud to be Asian Christians. It serves as a remarkable guide for preaching, proclaiming Christ to the people around us and thus for the expansion of the Church. The document stated that ‘just as in the first millennium the Cross was planted on the soil of Europe, and in the second on the that of the America and Africa, we can pray that in the Third Christian Millennium a great harvest of faith will be reaped in this vast and vital continent of Asia’ (AE 1). So the mission of proclamation is entrusted to it. The same encyclical Pope John Paul acknowledges of the ‘importance of dialogue as a characteristics mode of the Church’s life in Asia’ (AE 3) He explains that dialogue ‘ is not simply strategy for peaceful coexistence among peoples; it is an essential part of the Church’s missionÖ. A veritable vocation for the Church.’ (EA 31). Dialogue is ‘more than a way of fostering mutual knowledge and enrichment; it is a part of the Church’s evangelization mission, an expression of the mission ad gentes’ (EA). This dialogue is linked with evangelization. So both dimension of the mission of the Church are of prime importance in Asia. There is also great emphasis on ecumenism. All these dimensions of the mission of the Church are of prime importance for us in Asia.
Therefore, it is really wonderful that both of the great popes will be canonized. Their life and teachings will remain a great inspiration for the people of Asia. It will help us in our mission of evangelization, interreligious dialogue, ecumenism, of speaking for human rights, equality, justice, freedom of thought and freedom of religion and expression of religious practices. Their lives help to keep on struggling equal right of all, for collaboration among nations and religions. To speak for the rights of the oppressed, minorities and marginalized. They also inspire us to be firm in our faith, no matter how many difficulties or challenges come on our way as Christians. We must keep Christ in front of us to suffered, died and rose on the third day for us and for our salvation. Let us be proud as Christians, the followers of Christ and as Asian as Christ ñ the Word of God ñ was incarnated in Asia.
Director of the Peace Center of the Dominican Order in Pakistan.