Asian Mission Congress: transforming Asian cultures with daily faith
by Bernardo Cervellera

The third day of the Congress focused on the impact of faith on culture, economy and social problems. But attention was taken up by tonight, for the celebration of "diversity of cultures" with songs and dances from each nation.

Chiang Mai (AsiaNews) – The third day of the Asian Mission Congress in Chiang Mai tackled the theme of "The Story of Jesus in Asian cultures". Anyone expecting an approach that showed how the cultures of the continent have been transformed by the impact of the Christian faith, would have been disappointed: the day offered only minor proposals and examples, emphasizing especially social areas (globalized) in which the Christian mentality is played out in Asia: the economy, migrations, youth, and mixed couples (with non-Catholic partners).

The faltering way in which this theme was tackled reveals that an inferiority complex lingers among Catholics, who are often indicated as followers of a western religion. In the AMC, one can still hear, here and there, criticism of foreign missionaries who arrived with the colonizers, although there is also gratitude expressed because they brought the faith.

On the other hand, the cultures of Asia are no longer foreign to Christianity. The example of love for the poor and lepers by missionaries and sisters led Hindus and Buddhists – already centuries ago – to start being concerned about the social problems of their people, winning over their approach of detachment from earthly matters and problems. In the morning, a Vietnamese priest Mgr Peter Tai (currently working for the Vietnamese program of Radio Veritas in Manila) traced the influence of the Christian faith over the centuries in Vietnam: in the architecture of churches, letters, sculpture and especially in care expressed for others. With photos, narratives, song and dance, a group of Vietnamese Catholics in traditional costume mimed a pilgrimage to the national shrine of Our Lady of La Vang – built since 1798 – where a statue of Our Lady was donned with the same dress worn by the dancers. Mgr Tai recalled how in 800, the Cathedral of Phat Diem used Buddhist symbols transformed into Christian ones. Thus, a bas-relief of the church depicts the lotus – a Buddhist symbol for purity, detachment and of life arising from the mud – marked with a cross, the true Christian symbol of purity and new life.

The testimony of a rich Thai businessman, Paul Mary Suvij, was very touching. He told how he sought to save the jobs of his employees after his firm collapsed, in a triumph of faith and the Church's social teaching over consumerism and profit. Paul M. Suvij belongs to the Catholic business executive group, which also helps Buddhist businessmen to safeguard spiritual values in the economy.

Maruja Ausis, a Filipino woman, highlighted another field of evangelization, that of poverty that paves the way for emigration. Ausis runs an organization (Exodus) that prepares people for pastoral work among migrants. Nowadays, it is a recognized fact that the migration of Filipinos has become a great opportunity for mission in other Asian countries, like Saudi Arabia or other Gulf states. Other testimonies included: a teacher in daily contact with youth in Singapore; an Indonesian married couple who highlighted the problems experienced by mixed couples, where the Catholic spouse often risks forgetting about his or her faith.

However, the attention of all the delegates was taken up by this evening: to celebrate the diversity of Asian cultures, each group is preparing songs and dances in traditional costumes.

To avoid the possible pitfall of this expression becoming a sort of ethnic narcissism, this morning, at mass, Cardinal Ricardo Vidal, archbishop of Cebu (Philippines), said one should bear witness with the gift of one's life to the love of Jesus that is "without borders", be they geographic or ethnic.