Oblates at the Synod of Bishopsfor Asia
Adam Exner OMIArchbishop of Vancouver
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Table of Contents
There were three Oblates present at the Special Assemblyof the Synod of Bishops for Asia held in Rome in the spring of 1998. OrlandoQuevedothen Archbishop of Nueva Segovia – now Archbishop of Cotabato– was part of the Philippine delegation. Adam ExnerArchbishop ofVancouverwas one of the members invited directly by the Pope. Fr AndrzejMadejecclesiastical superior of the sui juris Mission of Turkmenistanwas an ex officio member of the Synod (OMI Information June'98). The two archbishops addressed the Synod on the topic of globalizationand its effects in their respective areas. Fr Madej reported on the discreetreturn of the Catholic Church to this former Soviet Republic. OMI Documentationis happy to publish the speeches they made in Plenary Assembly. This issuealso includes an interview with Archbishop Quevedo by the InternationalFides Agency on the topic of Basic Ecclesial Communities. He proposedthem to the Synod as a means for the Churches in Asia to provide a concretecommunal response to globalization.
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First of allI want to thank youHoly Fatherforinviting me to participate in this Synod of Bishops for Asia. The experienceof this Synod provides me with the opportunity to learn more about theChurch in Asia and about Asian people. This will be most helpful to mebecause a high percentage of the people of my Archdiocese are from Asia.
The phenomenon of globalization has been frequentlymentioned in the interventions of this Synod and it is the topic I wishto address with an emphasis on globalization in so far as it is broughtabout by the migration of people from one country to another (Instrumentumlaborisno. 9).
More and more the world is becoming a global villageand more countries are becoming multicultural. This is not only true inAsia but in other parts of the world as well. Furthermoreas long asscience and technology are providing increasingly better means of communicationand transportationthe phenomenon of globalization is not likely to goaway. It is here to stay.
The Archdiocese of Vancouver is a good example of asociety that has become multicultural through immigration. A recent surveyreveals that the English language in Vancouver has become a minority language.Fifty-seven percent of the population of Vancouver does not speak Englishat home. Thirty percent speak Chinese and the rest speak a hundred andthirty-eight different languagesmost of them Asian. This multiple Asiancultural mixture is reflected in our parishes which often have parishionersfrom fifty to sixty different countries. Thushaving immigrants fromevery continent of the globe with a high percentage of AsiansVancouverhas literally become a microcosm of the world.
Some Synod Fathersas I have noted in their interventionstend to view immigration and multiculturalism with anxiety for fear ofthe potential effect of multiculturalism on the culture and the culturalvalues of the country. While this anxiety may be warranted to a degreeI want to suggest that immigration and multiculturalism also have positivevalues whichin my opinionoutweigh the negative aspects.
The multicultural experience is a very rich one in thatit provides the opportunity for mutual enrichment and contributes greatlyto the growth of better understandingfraternityharmony and peace amongpeople of different racial and cultural origins. To make multiculturalismworkimmigrants must be urged not to reject their culture when they cometo the new country. Rejection of one's culture leads to a loss of identityand to a rootlessness that has deplorable consequences. Ratherimmigrantsmust be encouraged to retain all that is truegood and beautiful in theirculture and to share their positive cultural values with others. At thesame time they must be encouraged to be open to receiving all that istruegood and beautiful in other cultures. In this way the multiculturalexperience becomes a means for cross-fertilization and mutual enrichmentand sets the stage for the emergence of a new culture rich with elementsfrom many cultures.
While our multicultural experience is a rich oneitis not without problems and challenges. Because of the multiplicity oflanguages and a frequently imperfect knowledge of Englishour workinglanguagecommunication is not always easybut patience and good willgoes a long way to solving this problem. Then toowhile we strive toserve people in their own languagein so far as possible and for as longas necessaryit becomes virtually impossible to do this for every smalllanguage group. In this regardwe need the help of foreign dioceses toprovide us with priests to serve our different language groups. I am trulygrateful for the assistance from foreign diocesesincluding Asian dioceses.Finallyin a multicultural situation such as oursinculturation becomesvery difficultif not impossible. How does one promote inculturationin a parish having parishioners from fifty or sixty different countries?
In spite of the difficulties inherent in our multiculturalsituationour local Church is very much alive and growing. This growthis due in part to immigration and in part to a significant annual growthin the number of conversions. A high percentage of our converts are Asians.Our laity are becoming increasingly involved in evangelizing and in alarge measure are responsible for the annual growth in conversions.
In preparation for the Great Jubilee and the new millenniumwe have initiated the preparation of a diocesan synod. Our hope and prayeris that this synodenriched by multicultural participation and inputwill provide the impetus and pastoral orientation needed to bring abouta new springtime of faith and Christian living as we begin the new millennium.
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This intervention relates to No. 8 of the InstrumentumLaboris (Chapter IAsian Realities)No.13 (The Image of the Church)and No. 47 (The Breadth of the Church's Evangelizing Mission).
That Asia is the vast continent of the poor is a simpleyet profound and complex truth. Asia's poverty stands in stark contrastto the richness of its various cultures.
But strangely absent from the Instrumentum Laborisis any mention of the one apparently irresistible wind of change thatis powerfully blowing across the continent of Asiabringing with it bothblessing and curse. This is the phenomenon of globalization. TheChurch in Asia must not ignore this phenomenon. It is now the overarchingall pervading reality under whose shadow all the socialeconomicpoliticaland cultural realities of Asiaincluding the religioushave to be discernedin faith.
What is this phenomenon of globalization? What impactdoes it have at present on the poor of Asia? In the light of the GoodNews of Jesus and of the Kingdom of Godwhat must the Churches say anddo about globalizationif they are to evangelize andin the Spirithelp renew the face of Asia? Where is the Spirit of Jesus leading us?
At this Synod the Church in Asia has to make a commonpastoral discernment regarding such crucial questions. In the spirit ofdialoguemay I respectfully suggest certain directions for such a discernmentleading to common pastoral action.
But already in his social encyclicalCentesimusAnnus (CA)the Holy Father made a similar observationwhen he wroteof situations "in which the rules of the earliest period of capitalismstill flourish in conditions of 'ruthlessness' in no way inferior to thedarkest moments of the first phase of industrialization" (CAno.33). He already warned us of the dangers of a "radical capitalistideology" which is "unconcerned about marginalization and theexploitation of the weak" (CAno. 42). He reminded the whole worldthat "there are many human needs which find no place in the market.It is a strict duty of justice and truth not to allow fundamental humanneeds to remain unsatisfiedand not to allow those burdened by such needsto perish" (CAno. 34).
The Church of the Poor and Globalization
We mustindeedrecognize that globalization is a phenomenonof unimaginable positive potential. Already there are vast increases inglobal incomeresulting from greater efficiency and competitionhigherrates of return on capitaland increased trade. Foreign exchange flowsin the global market amount reportedly to around one trillion dollarsdailyand transactions are done between continents in a matter of seconds– a reality that is at once awesome and terrifying.
In terms of positive valueswe also need to acknowledgethe potential of globalization. Is it possiblefor instancethat globalizationmay help realize the ural and Christian view of one family underGodof a universal recognition of human dignity and worthand of theuniversal destination of all earthly goodsas well as of responsiblestewardship of private property?
On the other handsadly do we see the many death-dealingforces that globalization is unleashing on the lives of Asia's poor. The1997 Human Development Report of the United Nations DevelopmentProgramme observes that "inequality is not inherent in globalization."Stillpoor countries and poor people tend to be pushed to the periphery.The flows of world trade and investments are skewed in favor of the morepowerfulespecially since "investments flows are often tied up withtransfers of technology." Thus"huge regions of the world arebeing left out of technological advance" (HDRp. 84). Furthermore"Developing countrieswith three quarters of the worlds' peoplewill get only a quarter to a third of the income gains generatedhardlyan equitable distribution..." (HDRp. 85). Even more pointedlythe report states: "Poor countries often lose out because the rulesof the game are biased against them – particularly those relatingto international trade." And still another conclusion: "Globalizationis thus proceeding apacebut largely for the benefit of the more dynamicand powerful countries in the North and the South.... Arguments that thebenefits will necessarily trickle down to the poorest countries are farfetched."And finally"Even less certain than globalization's benefits forpoor countries are its benefits within countries" (HDRp. 87).
Through globalization the dominance of transnationalcorporations has become all too obvious. "The 350 largest corporationsnow account for 40% of global tradeand their turnover exceeds the GDPof many countries. (The top five corporations exceed the GDP of SouthAsia and Sub-Saharan Africa)" (HDRp. 92). "Today the net wealthof the 10 richest billionaires is $133 billionmore than 1.5 times thetotal national income of all the least developed countries" (HDRp. 38).
I shall leave it to others to take up the impact ofglobalization on the cultures of Asia. For certainly a global cultureis also emerging and some of its principal characteristics are materialismconsumerismsecularism and relativism. Tragicallythese are beginningto make significant inroads on the traditional culturesincluding thereligious beliefsof Asia.
The Holy Spirit and a PropheticChurch vis-a-vis Globalization
The Spirit of God is the Spirit of unity and solidarity.But the experience of the "little peoples" of Asiaof ruralfolksof indigenous peoples or tribalsof fisherfolketc.is thattheir lives and their environments have so far been affected rather negativelyby economic globalizationthat the positive economic benefits of globalizationin terms of income increases and a better quality of life have not trickleddown to themthat the priority given to industrialization in developingcountries has resulted in a greater neglect of agriculture on which thegreatest majority of Asians dependand that the obsession of developingcountries for rapid industrialization has caused greater damage to theenvironment and the natural resources of Asian countries.
The Spirit of Jesuswho is also the Spirit of Loveincluding particularly a love of preference for the pooris urging theChurches in Asia to be prophets. We need to be prophets reminding theforces of globalization and world institutions that oversee the marketsystem such as the World Bankthe International Monetary Fundand theWorld Trade Organizationthat social justice in the world is best servedwhen policies and directives are inspired by active solidarity with thepoor.
The same Spirit of Love is the Spirit of Renewal. Weare called by the Spirit to be agents of renewal. We need to help redirectwith other peoples of good willthe forces of globalization so that thesemay truly be driven by the Spirit and thus work on behalf of the poor.By this shall the Reign of God be more palpably felt in Asia.
1) That the Churches in Asia – guided by the socialteachings of the Church regarding the centrality of the human person inintegral developmentthe option for the poorthe universal destinationof created goodsthe social dimension of private propertyand the internationaldimension of social justice – be for the poor a credible and effectivevoiceby embarking on a new way of being Church in Asiaalready concretizedin thousands of Basic Ecclesial Communities. For it is at the micro andgrassroots level of self-reliant and authentic disciple-community thatthe Churches in Asia can provide a concrete communal response to globalization.
2) That the Churches in Asia appeal to sister-Churchesin the First World to present the case of the poor of Asia effectivelyin the corridors of powerwhere economic and political decisions aremade involving market processes.
3) That the Final Message of the Synod reinforce theappeal of the Holy Fatherexpressed in his 1998 World Day of Peace message:"Globalization without marginalization; globalization in solidarity."
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1. The discreet return of the Church
Some people who still remembered that their ancestorshad been Catholic welcomed us and showed us an old photograph of a Catholicchurch built in the capital of Turkmenistan at the beginning of the 20thcentury. Someone even showed us the place where the church had stood.Unfortunatelyit shared the same fate as so many other Christian churcheswithin the borders of the Soviet empire. With the revolutionthe crossesand steeples were removed and churches were used for various purposes.
It is now six years since Turkmenistan became an independentstate. It is possibleat this timefor a Church to acquire a juridicalpersonalityon condition that 500 signatures be collected in a singlecity.
2. We are sowing the first seeds
3. A difficult freedom!
Martin Buber's words are therefore surprisingly apt:True slavery is when people forget their own freedom and no longerwant itbecause they are used to slavery.
4. The first signs of hope
We replied that for the last 2000 years the Church hasbeen asking itself the same question – full of amazement at the follyof God's love for us. That folly becomes a source of adoration and praisefor us. "Because He has loved us so much ...!"
We are very moved to know how many people are prayingfor the new mission in Turkmenistan.
We can therefore hope that one day the words of a certainwoman will be fulfilledthe words she pronounced when she heard the goodnews that the Catholic Church had returned within the borders of the Kara-kumdesert. She said: "You are a seed from which a great tree willgrow. God will bless you!"
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the key to being an Asian Church
(International Fides Service – May 1st1998– No. 4094 NE 296)
Interview with ArchbishopOrlando Quevedo of Nueva Segovia.
What are the challenges facingthe Churches in Asia?
Secondlythere is the reality of Asia as the cradleof ancient religionswhich for centuries before the coming of Christformed and enriched the civilisations of the continent and prepared itspeoples to receive the message of salvation. Hence the Church in Asiamust be a Church of dialogue. Thirdlyalthough Christ was born in Asiain many parts of the continent Christianity is seen as a "foreign"religion and in many countries Christians have difficulty with their identity.This calls for a Church which is ever more inculturatedever more Asian.The sum of these realities points to the need for triple dialogue: withthe poorwith other religions and with cultures.
How is this dialogue undertakenin concrete terms?
My brother BishopFrancisco Claver S.J.defines BECas follows: communities of believers who meet regularlyusually withlay leadersto express their faith in shared prayerand to address life'sproblems or opportunities in the light of the faith. These areif youwillan updated version of the early Christian communities describedin the Acts of the Apostles. I have found that BEC are an effective meansof evangelization and human promotion. These communities must be encouragedand assisted so they may bear abundant fruits in the Church.
Tell us more about the BEC inthe Philippines.
Whenin 1986I was given the responsibility of theNueva Segovia diocesein the northern PhilippinesI found a totallydifferent situation. That of Viganthe see of the diocesewhere theChurch is as sound as its Cathedraland proud of a 400 year tradition.Certainlycompared to Kidapawan this Church is more ritualmore ceremonial.Hereas in all the dioceses of Luzonten years ago the faith was notinvolved in the social dimension envisaged by the Gospel of Jesus.
Priests conferred the Sacramentsorganised religiouseventsand the life of the diocese revolved around traditions which involvedmostly the richer peoplein a way neglecting non-memberswho were mostlypoor.
The beginning was not easy. I insisted that the poorbe invited to take part in pastoral meetings. It was not easy to organisemeetings with peasantsfishermen and housewives. For the community tobe a community of the entire dioceseit was necessary for problems andexperience to be shared by allthe clergy and the lay people. After initialand understandable perplexitythe clergy began to appreciate this newway of being leaders and servants of the people and now we have 1200BEC in the 36 parishes of the archdiocese. I would say that in the Philippinesthere are as many as 47000 BEC and BHC.
Do you think this experiencecan be used with success throughout Asia?
Note: The fifth Plenary Assemblyof the FABC in 1990highlighted the task for the Church to build communionamong all peoples as a response of being Church: "A communion ofcommunities where laityreligious and clergy recognise and accept eachother as sisters and brothers. They are called together by the Word ofGod whichregarded as a quasi-sacramental presence of the Risen Lordleads them to form Small Christian Communities" (FABC 8). After seriousstudy and experiencespecific courses for training have been evolvedand introduced in 13 countries through the services of the FABC Officeof Laity. In six Asian countriesnational teams are in place to buildup Small Christian Communities. Texts have been developed and translatedinto more than 10 Asian languages. (FidesMay lst 1998)
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