09/01/2010, 00.00
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Lay Catholics, a "creative minority" for Asia

by Bernardo Cervellera
The intervention of the card. Rilko, Fr Felipe Gomes of Manila and Cardinal. Toppo. Rediscovering baptism for the challenges of Asia: globalization, poverty, violation of human rights, relativism and fundamentalism. The continent has seen many waves of evangelization, but also many persecutions. The history of successful conversion of tribals. The song in the light and dark.

Seoul (AsiaNews) - Lay Catholics in Asia are a "creative minority" and have a decisive role in the present and the future of the continent. This was the message stressed by card. Stanislaw Rylko, president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity to members of the Asian churches attending a Congress that opened today in Seoul on the theme "Proclaiming Jesus Christ in Asia today."

About 400 lay people from 20 countries in Asia (excluding Middle East) gathered in an ultra-modern conference hall, flanking the Myongdong Cathedral: faithful from the young churches of Central Asia and Mongolia, the older Churches of India or Korea; the poor Churches such as Nepal and Pakistan, the modern and wealthy churches, such as that of Japan.

The only communities that have not responded to the Pontifical Council’s invitation are those of mainland China (but there are some from Hong Kong and Taiwan), Cambodia and Bangladesh, and of course North Korea, oppressed by a ruthless dictatorship.

From now until September 5, there will be a multitude of interventions and discussions all measures aimed at the lay missionaries of this continent that is now in the limelight as a leader in the economic, social and political world.

Card. Rylko delivered an overview of the situation, as well as the challenges that present themselves to the witness of Christians. Asia is the continent which covers two thirds of humanity and is perhaps the area in which globalization and the economy are rapidly, and at times even violently, growing. But this rampant development is also the bearer of huge social problems: extreme poverty in many areas and human rights abuses. Because of this wild modernization which penetrates and disrupts many traditions and religions, the continent is also witnessing a growth in fundamentalism (Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, ...), while in cities a way of life dictated by commercial materialism and relativism spreads.

Card. Rylko and all of today’s speakers also stressed the minority that the Catholic Church represents in Asia: only 120 million believers out of a population of about 4 billion, a figure that barely reaches 2%. Yet, this "minority" is growing 4-5% annually and is not "timid", but "full of vitality."

The enormous task facing Asian Catholics can not be solved with strategies and organizations, but with a deepening in personal relationships with Jesus Christ. For this, the first step that card. Rylko called for at the meeting is for Christians to "rediscover their baptism" to increasingly become the "salt" and "leaven" of the continent. "Salt in food is often a minority - he said - but it gives flavour. The real problem – he said - "is not being a minority, but being irrelevant” in society.

The faithful are called to be an organic part of the Church and "to be Christians not only in worship, but in society", showing without inferiority complexes all the joy, freedom, the beauty of being Christians.

Two other speakers outlined the history of this mystery of the Church in Asia "in size and poverty." Fr Felipe Gomes, a teacher at the East Asian Pastoral Institute in Manila showed that Asia is the continent marked by Jesus Christ (who is "Asian"), where the majority of the apostles died, where there were epic missionaries already in the first centuries spread Christianity, to Armenia, Persia, India, China, so that until 1200 there were at least 21 million Christians. But then, the growth of Islam, the lack of communications, struggling to adapt to local cultures and persecution decimated the church. However, the Church has the pride of Asian Martyrs: Persians (190 thousand) Japanese (200 thousand)) Korean (10 thousand)) Chinese (over 32 thousand)  only in the Boxer persecution of the in 1900), Armenians (2.1 million), etc. ...

"Maybe - concluded Fr Gomes – God’s clock beats at a different pace for Asia and we should revere this mystery. "

A very positive and successful history is that instead that of the evangelization of tribal India, presented by Cardinal. Telesphore Toppo, himself a tribal. In the 1800’s thanks to Jesuit Fr Constant Lievens, in just 7 years, more than 80 thousand tribal converted in Chotanagpur (a belt of central India). Their conversion was also marked by an impressive educational and social development, which has given fruit to the Church which now has 12 dioceses in the area with local bishops, thousands of priests  and thousands of religious.

Before the interventions, greetings and messages from the Pope and President Lee Myung Bak, while the whole assembly attended Mass presided over by Card. Rylko in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, which was also concelebrated by Card. Nicholas Cheong of Seoul.

The Congress - organized in a masterly way by the Commission for the Laity of Korea, led by Prof. Thomas Han - also witnessed a moment of great emotional participation: the performance of a children's choir from middle school in Incheon, who sang a Polish song, one inspired by Rossini and the Glory. As they sang the Glory in the full light, at a certain point according to the script, the lights were dimmed and the choir of children’s voices continued in the dark illuminated by the faint glimmer of tiny coloured torches.  And that glory in the light and darkness is a symbol for the witness of the Church of Asia, the tiny "creative minority" in the great continent, that does not fear even the darkness of persecution.


Photo: Fr. Hin Lee  

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“L’Asia: ecco il nostro comune compito per il terzo millennio!” - Giovanni Paolo II, da “Alzatevi, andiamo”