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  • » 06/16/2012, 00.00


    Evangelizing Asia, priority of the Church

    Theodore Mascarenhas

    Fr. Theodore Mascarenhas, responsible for Asia, Africa and Oceania at the Pontifical Council for Culture, closed the Dublin Theological Symposium (6-9 June) in an intervention about mission in Asia. Tomorrow the 50th International Eucharistic Congress will close inthe Irish capital.

    Dublin (AsiaNews) - The 50th International Eucharistic Congress (10-17 June), which ends tomorrow, has seen gather in Dublin (Ireland) lay and religious Catholics from around the world. This year's theme was "The Eucharist: Communion with Christ and with one another." The Congress was preceded by a theological Symposium (6-9 June), in which experts and scholars reflected on the ecclesiology of communion in 50 years since Vatican II. The last presentation was given by Fr.. Theodore Mascarenhas sfx, responsible for Asia, Africa and Oceania at the Pontifical Council for Culture, who spoke of "Communion with Christ: Mission and Evangelism in Asia." Below are some excerpts of his speech.

    " And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd"

    These words of Jesus in the Gospel of John come to our mind, the moment we think of Asia and the huge task of evangelization before us in this great and Vast continent.  As we know, this is the largest continent that is home to nearly 60 % of the world's population. Christianity was born in Asia but today Christianity is the predominant faith only in four Countries: Philippines and East Timor, which are  majority Catholic countries, and Armenia and Georgia which are majority Christian (not Catholic ) nations. Christianity does exist throughout the continent with  very active communities found in Lebanon, South Korea, India, Pakistan, Iraq, Jordan, Israel, China, Taiwan, Japan, Singapore, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Syria, Kazakhstan, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. Remembering the Asian roots of Christianity, Pope John Paul II called it "Jesus' little flock on this immense continent"[1].  But this is also a continent with a deep seated religiosity, where hunger and thirst for God pervades all facets of life. As the same Blessed John Paul speaking to the Sixth Plenary Assembly of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences, in Manila, the Philippines, during the memorable Tenth World Youth Day celebrations, reminded the Bishops: "If the Church in Asia is to fulfill its providential destiny, evangelization as the joyful, patient and progressive preaching of the saving Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ must be your absolute priority" [2] The Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Asia  is perhaps the Document that perhaps speaks most comprehensively of Asia and its Evangelization. Therefore please pardon me if I keep taking frequent recourse to this important Magisterial document. I congratulate the organizers for holding this Symposium and thank them for giving me the opportunity to speak on Communion with Christ: Mission and Evangelization in Asia. When we talk of evangelization, I would like to think of it in the terms of the call given by John Paul Second, "open wide to Christ the doors of Asia".[3] The beginning and the endpoint of 'opening wide the doors to Christ" is Communion with him. This vast continent with its plethora of religions, multiplicity of cultures, diversity of ways of life, with its thirst for the truth and for God is ripe for evangelization and can yield a huge harvest for Christ.


    In the evangelization of Asia, the witness of the Eucharist as a meal of love would be a powerful proclamation. The same Eucharist celebrated without compassion for the poor and imbedded in divisions could be the greatest counter witness to the spread of the Gospel. St. Paul was very severe on Eucharistic celebrations that manifested divisions and conflicts. He tells the Corinthians in the passage in which he teaches them about the Eucharistic meal: "So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord's Supper you eat,  for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk.  Don't you have homes to eat and drink in?" [4]

    Pope John Paul calls us in Asia to a real communion of love when he quotes Saint John Chrysostom to make his point: "Do you wish to honour the body of Christ? Then do not ignore him when he is naked. Do not pay him silken honours in the temple only then to neglect him when he goes cold and naked outside. He who said; 'This is my body' is the One who also said, 'You saw me hungry and you gave me no food'... What good is it if the Eucharistic Table groans under the weight of golden chalices, when Christ is dying of hunger? Start by satisfying his hunger, and then with what remains you may adorn the altar as well!"[5]

    The Catholic Church and its missionaries have been wonderful apostles of compassion and mercy specially through its huge network of schools, hospitals and other social works. But the real leaven will be introduced into the evangelizing task when the Eucharistic communion that we are called to celebrate becomes a witness of love. Many people recognize Christian teachings in the witness of love. Mahatma Gandhi once described Jesus as "the highest example of one who wished to give everything, asking nothing in return, and not caring what creed might happen to be professed by the recipient. I am sure that if he were living here now among men, he would bless the lives of many who perhaps have never even heard his name, if only their lives embodied the virtues of which he was a living example on earth; the virtues of loving one's neighbour as oneself and of doing good and charitable works among one's fellowmen."[6] Our works among peoples will have the authenticity when they emanate from the Eucharistic communion.


    One of the FABC's papers says, "We see the Church as a communion of ecclesial communities participating in the mission and ministry of Jesus." In the message of the FABC  9th Plenary Assembly the Asian Bishops wrote "Asian celebrations are marked by joy, simplicity and participation. Asian heart is energized by contemplating beauty in nature. Our Eucharistic celebrations need to touch the hearts of Asians who love colour, flowers, symbols, music and contemplation. Asian symbols, Asian melodies, and even more Asian values, should make our celebrations create a resonance in the depths of Asia's heart. How great a witness of our faith - Christ has come not destroy but to perfect-would such a celebration of the Eucharist be! The appeal of Pope John Paul II to show forth the Asian faceoff Jesus to our brothers and sisters echoes afresh in our ears.(Ecclesia in Asia) We are convinced that meaningful, contemplative, experiential and prayerful celebration of the Eucharist has the potential to render the Christian communities of Asia powerful witnesses of Jesus, witnesses who are bearers of his presence, his love, and his healing power. The celebration of the Eucharist end with the call to mission: "Go, you are sent forth." The Eucharist must be lived by becoming communities of loving concern, hospitality, selfless service to the poor, the excluded, and downtrodden. The breaking of the Bread must continue. That is the sign that we live the Eucharist (Jn 13:1-17)."[7]

    In Asia dialogue forms a constituent and indispensible aspect of the evangelizing effort. The FABC has since long given a call for a triple dialogue:  Dialogue with Asian Cultures, Dialogue with Asian Religions, Dialogue with the Poor. The Eucharist is the great dialogue of love between God and his people, a dialogue that climaxes into a communion. It is from the Eucharist that the dialogue can move to other peoples and end up in their communion with the Church.

    Finally, the Eucharist has also been the strength of the martyrs and the suffering men and women of the Church in Asia. It is the witness of these courageous men and women that has been a great boost to evangelization. "The Synod Fathers were moved by reports of the heroic witness, unshaken perseverance and steady growth of the Catholic Church in China, by the efforts of the Church in South Korea to offer assistance to the people of North Korea, the humble steadfastness of the Catholic community in Vietnam, the isolation of Christians in such places as Laos and Myanmar, the difficult co-existence with the majority in some predominantly Islamic states." [8]

    Let me end up with the Testimony of the blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta: "It was not until 1973, when we began our daily Holy Hour that our community started to grow and blossom... In our congregation, we used to have adoration once a week for one hour, and then in 1973, we decided to have adoration one hour every day.  We have much work to do.  Our homes for the sick and dying destitute are full everywhere.  And from the time we started having adoration every day, our love for Jesus became more intimate, our love for each other more understanding, our love for the poor more compassionate, and we have double the number of vocations.  God has blessed us with many wonderful vocations. The time we spend in having our daily audience with God is the most precious part of the whole day."




    [1] Ecclesia in Asia, § 4.

    [2] Insegnamenti XVIII, 1 (1995), 159

    [3] Address to the Sixth Plenary Assembly of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences (FABC), Manila, 15 January 1995.

    [4] 1 Cor 11:20-22

    [5] Ecclesia in Asia § 41

    [6]  " What Jesus Means to Me,"(Modern Review, New York, October 1941)

    [7] Message of the FABC  9th Plenary Assembly - "Living the Eucharist in Asia", 2009.

    [8] Ecclesia in Asia § 10

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