07/28/2009, 00.00
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Churches in Asia renew their commitment to indigenous peoples

by Nirmala Carvalho
A seminar of the Federation of Episcopal Conferences of the continent has as it’s theme the preservation and promotion of indigenous peoples in Asia. Fr. Mascarenhas, in charge of the Asian section of the Pontifical Council for Culture, explains to AsiaNews the value and the reasons for this commitment of the Church which has lasted for centuries.

Pattaya (AsiaNews) - To protect indigenous peoples, affirming the dignity of the persons concerned, promote social development and safeguard against discrimination arising from unchecked globalization. These the concerns and objectives of the Church in Asia were the focus of a meeting organized by the Federation of the continent's bishops' conferences that took place in Pattaya, Thailand, from July 19-23.  

Fr. Theodore Mascarenhas, an Indian priest who is in charge of the Asian section of the Pontifical Council for Culture, explains to AsiaNews that the focus and the relationship of the Church with indigenous peoples, particularly in Asia, has a historical foundation going back centuries. "They were and still are the foundation of the Church in most countries. Due to their authenticity and simple lifestyle and their bonds with traditions, indigenous peoples have been open to the Gospel without preconceptions and have gained immediate benefit for their development. Today in Asia there are millions of lay Christians who belong to indigenous groups, hundreds of priests and religious, dozens of bishops and cardinals”.

Speaking at the meeting in Pattaya, Fr. Mascarenhas recalled the battles supported by the Church on the side of indigenous peoples and retraced the Church teaching, starting from pontifical documents such as the papal bulls Sicut Dudum of 1435 by Eugene IV, and Sublimus Dei by Paul III, in 1537, which are still relevant today. Fr. Mascarenhas stressed the attention and commitment of the Church to the reality of the indigenous through Vatican II to current times. In his latest encyclical Caritas in Veritate, says the Indian priest, Benedict XVI "calls for the protection and safeguarding of the local populations and their identity" and denounces "the unjust economic policies that affect them, harming the young nations and their traditional cultures”.

Fr. Mascarenhas says that the experience of encounter over the centuries between the missionary Church and indigenous peoples is an important asset for dialogue between cultures in the era of globalization. "The preservation of different identities", "dialogue and respect for others in his tradition”, the desire to “foster relationships through local cultures” are in recurrent elements in the encounter between Christianity and indigenous peoples from the first evangelization of Asia and beyond. The spirit that animated the first missionaries is still needed in a global reality in which "the risk of abuse and discrimination towards the local population” - says Fr Mascarenhas – “is now more than ever before present”

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