The change from the colonial period to an era of free nations was so radical that we have hardly gotten over it. In the meantime, the world has changed again in an unforeseen manner from the 1980s with the fall of Berlin’s Wall. At the same time, we saw the rise of the Asian Tigers and the crises they faced. We also see the globalization of market economy and the transition of Third World countries from political to economic dependence. Asia is witnessing a tremendous population growth, often ahead of economic growth. People flock to the cities and new social tensions are born. The growth of violence, and its social acceptance, is also a trend to look into. In the religious arena, we notice a decline of Christianity in the West and the shift in the centre of gravity of Christianity to the non-Western world. There are more than 120 million Catholics in Asia today.
We notice new tensions building up, too. As the economy is being globalized, so are poverty and uneven distribution of wealth. In response, a perception of injustice grows deeper, and terrorist trends grow wider. In the face of the secularization of life and media, people seek the security ensured by exaggerated forms of religiosity and fundamentalism.
In this complex world, the Mission of Evangelization, too, has become difficult. An air of helplessness seems to come upon us as we observe humanity moving round in circles searching for an answer. However, at times it seems we keep answering questions that were asked in the past and no one is asking now; while we are deaf to those that keep arising in today’s society. We need to think anew how we may respond to today’s searcher.
There is a growing perception that the future of Christianity will not depend on the speculations of the intellectuals of the declining Churches, but on the life experiences of the growing Churches. These latter Churches have not put their perceptions, reflections and convictions into writing as yet. They have not become vocal as yet. But one day they will.
For many people in Asia, conversion to God does not take place during a brilliant lecture, but during a deep prayer-experience with a believing community. These growing communities have a vision that is clearly Christ-centred. They are dynamic; they seem to give life and energy to various ecclesial movements. All growing Churches manifested these traits in the period of their expansion.
The starting point for search is always the human situation we experience. The solutions we are searching for may arise from the insights that our culture provides. But when darkness deepens, we look for light. We will find light through Him who said: “I am the Light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life”. Did He not also say: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.”
For a believer, these are certainties. But others may be invited: “Come and see.” “Who is this Jesus about whom we have heard so much?” asks my Asian friend. Is He a healer? A wonder worker? A social activist? An exceptional guru? An insightful teacher? A great prophet? Someone who has the words of eternal life? Is He really the Son of the Living God? The Only Redeemer of humankind? If you have found Him to be Master, Saviour and Lord, you will want to tell of Him to others so that they, too, may have the same joy. That is what evangelization is all about. There is a wise pedagogy in the teaching, and graduality in the discovery. In the West, Plato spoke of the philosopher-king. In the East, our civilizations believe in the wise man, the sage, the seer, the guru, the holy man who can teach. Will the evangelizer of today rise to that great vocation?
Evangelization is a complex reality. It involves serving human needs in the varied situations of healing and teaching, organizing social assistance and inspiring social change, defending the environment and standing by weaker communities, witnessing and speaking of God and his marvellous ways among people, dialoguing and persuading.
Evangelization includes being involved in human development and living through the painful realities of social tension, bringing about reconciliation and peace, building up human communities in the context of their cultures, tapping the resources of their civilization heritage, unravelling the mysteries of human existence, accompanying people on their pilgrimage to God, wounded and constantly searching as we ourselves are. It calls for respect for people’s traditions and religious experiences and being prepared to be a co-pilgrim, a humble searcher, while offering guidance based on faith. It calls for courage; it calls for humility; it calls for daring; it calls for preparedness to offer the ultimate form of witness: death. Such persons of evangelical boldness have become icons of God’s love for His people. They are the likes of Oscar Romero, Mother Teresa and John Paul II.
Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil
Guwahati – India