The Church in Asia must be a missionary church through dialogue with culture, religions and the poor. The Archbishop of Manila, Luis Antonio Tagle’s opinion.
The Christian community in Asia, the most populous continent in the world, is a tiny minority, just a small flock. Half of the Christian population of Asia is concentrated in the Philippines. Christianity is widely perceived as an extraneous or Western religion in the Asian continent, and often associated with colonialism. How can a numerically insignificant community such as the Christian one in Asia carry out its missionary task among peoples of ancient civilizations and spiritual traditions? This was the basic question to which the first FABC (First Plenary Assembly of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences) held in Taipei in 1974, tried to give an answer.
The bishops stated that the Church in Asia had to be first and foremost a missionary Church, in communion with the universal Church. The Church, in fact, is such, only when it is missionary. Evangelization is at the heart of the Church, and it means proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ through word, action, relationships and social commitment. The archbishops at the Taipei conference in 1974, therefore, concluded that dialogue was the key word in order to ground the work of mission in Asia.
The dialogue is based on the principle of Incarnation. Just like the Word of God became human, assuming a human nature, except for sin, the Church in Asia must incarnate in people through dialogue with all the life-realities of the Asian people.
The result of this dialogue is a local church, a true Church and a truly Asian one. Dialogue also implies listening and learning while preaching, teaching and giving. Dialogue is not opposed to the Gospel message. Bishops have never interpreted dialogue as separated from the proclamation of the Gospel or as an excuse to avoid it. It is just a way to spread the Word of God in Asia. The bishops at the Taipei conference identified three ways to carry out evangelization in that continent: the dialogue with cultures (inculturation), the dialogue with other religions (religious meeting) and the dialogue with the poor (human development).
The first aspect of evangelization is the dialogue with the cultures of Asia. Asia is home to many ancient civilizations, some of which are prior to Christianity. These cultures are solidly shaped by hierarchies of values and social hierarchies. As stated by the Vatican, there are elements of truth and goodness in these cultures that can be considered ‘seeds’ of the Gospel. Through a living dialogue, the Church offers the healing and the richness of the Gospel and at the same time it also assimilates those elements of the Asian culture that can be recognized as licit Asian expressions (the Asian Faces of Christ) of the only one Gospel.
The second aspect of the missionary dialogue concerns religions. Asia is the cradle of ancient religious and philosophical traditions of the world including Christianity. Dialogue with cultures implies dialogue with religions, since most Asian cultures have religious roots. The Church must cohabit, with humility and respect, like a good neighbour with the other religious communities. The Church acknowledges that these religions have satisfied the deep spiritual hunger of the Asian peoples for centuries. In this ‘meeting of hearts’, the Church discovers the vast spiritual riches that it also shares with the other religions, while also offering what distinguishes the Gospel of Jesus. The third mode of mission is the dialogue with the poor. Asia is home to some among the richest people in the world, as well as the poorest.
The Gospel of the Son of God who renounced glory, to become poor as a human being, choosing to be identified with the poor and the humble, pushes the Church in Asia to share its life with the masses of the poor. The Church shares its idea of human dignity through solidarity, which includes the opening of its educational, medical and social assistance services to non-Christians also.