03/12/2013, 00.00
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The future Pope will travel to Asia

by Bernardo Cervellera
The most populous continent in the world has the largest number of non-Christians and poor. John Paul II saw Asia as the evangelization territory of the third millennium. A combination of the world's problems - fundamentalism, secularism, economic injustice, violent globalization, pollution - that longs for reconciliation, avoiding war. The Asian Churches are a sign of hope for Asia and the world.

Rome (AsiaNews) - The future Pope needs to be young enough to travel widely and many of those journeys will have to taken in Asia. With flights that can last from a minimum of 8-9 hours up to 12-13, with climates ranging from arctic cold of the North, in Siberia or Mongolia, to the tropical areas of the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia. And why Asia? Because in this great continent, the most populous in the world (it is home to nearly two-thirds of humanity) there is the largest concentration of non-Christians in the world: about 80%. If the future Pope wants to give a missionary impulse to his Church he must continue in the footsteps of John Paul II: "Asia. This is our common task for the third millennium."

Benedict XVI, our dear Pope emeritus, never traveled to Asia, except the Middle East (Lebanon and the Holy Land). So, in this age of communication, contacts, travel, international encounters, many Asian Christians have not seen a Pope since 1984 (Korea) or 1999 (India). With this, we can not say that Benedict XVI forgot Asia. Indeed, his message so full of truth and spirituality struck many Asians. The messages received by AsiaNews after his renunciation of the papacy, include those of Buddhists thanking him for pointing out the value of detachment in a world that threatens to suffocate itself in materialism; Muslims who have learned from him to stand firmly against violence justified in the name of religion, even atheists, have moved closer to God, through the witness of this Pope who indicated fundamentalism (religious) and relativism (secular) as the most serious problems for world peace. Asia is home to countries and peoples marked by these plagues: Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, China, Vietnam, Japan.

Adding to this tension is the great circuit of economic globalization, which by now has penetrated even the most distant lands of the continent, bringing prosperity and salvation from hunger for hundreds of millions, but condemning many more to extreme poverty and exploitation. Over 50% of the Asian population lives below the poverty line. But Asia also houses economic giants of India and China, seen as by many as the life ring to grasp onto in this time of crisis.  These nations, which in the near future - perhaps not now - will be the powerhouses of the global economy.

The point is that all these cultures overlap on the great continent; they never meet, they neither confront each other nor reconcile themselves to each other: Traditional cultures, dispossessed of their centrality take refuge in the countryside, in cities or megacities ( with up to 20-30 million inhabitants), religion is reduced to a private matter that barely resists. But the new Asian economic modernity that triumphs in airports and beneath the ever higher skyscrapers, prefers to pursue the line of profit at all costs, mocking respect not only for religion, but also the environment and peoples. China, India, Pakistan, North Korea are nuclear powers, some of these countries are rich, and yet are among the most polluted places on earth and their people are starving, without healthcare, without schools.

Dialogue between religion and modernity must be one of the focal points for the future of the world, but also future development.  Profit, wealth, power, must bow in respect to human dignity.  This is one of the red button issues which, if not addressed, could create the basis for a world war. We already see the signs in North Koreas' grandstanding; in tensions between China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Philippines, etc. .. over a few groups of islands claimed by all, in the struggles of groups against dams on the Mekong or to save the forests of India, the schizophrenia of Islamic fundamentalism that uses the best technical tools to attack the atheist and pragmatic West.

Benedict XVI traced these tracks in his masterful Regensburg Address, where he condemned the violence of religions, but also the violence of modern rationalism that excludes religious truth, and he wrote Caritas in Veritate to show us that there is a dignified way out of the global crisis.

We must now bring about reconciliation between these trends, or they will clash head-on and mercilessly.

The Churches of Asia are at the crossroads of these tensions and witness to the fact that reconciliation is possible: without fear, without the taboos of modernity, they succeed in living their faith in the offices of the big cities, but also in extreme poverty in the countryside, in contact with other foreign cultures, which they do not demonize, they are rooted in local cultures. By their seeking goodness wherever it may be, they enhance modernity, the dignity of women; they dream of changing unjust laws, such as the blasphemy law in Pakistan, or those that marginalize Dalits, the untouchables of India. For this reason they are often seen as enemies and set apart as a problem to be eliminated by religious extremist groups. In addition, between clan cultures, which enhance the group and the tribe over the individual, the churches affirm the value of the person, of the self, freedom and dignity, created by God and loved by Christ. This does not endear Christians to those atheist and pragmatic regimes - such as China, Vietnam, North Korea - which have made ideological and economic power their raison d'être.

The Pope, who will have to support these churches of Asia, along with most ancient churches - such as those in the Middle East - and the younger ones - such as those of the former Soviet republics and Mongolia - which are growing annually by 4-5%. Because the men and women of Asia, crushed by the tensions that are fought around them, are waiting for a word that can give them dignity and open up a future of hope for their families. This word is witness to Jesus Christ, the Savior of mankind, in who man and the environment, the family and society, the rich and the poor, life and death are reconciled. Supporting these churches and giving hope to the people of the great continent, means giving hope to the rest of the world.

Will the next pope be Asian? Maybe. But what's striking is that the bishops and cardinals we have spoken to have all answered: It does not matter whether the next pope is Asian or African or from the West: What is important is that he is Catholic, universal, that he is able to foster dialogue among peoples and continents in the name of Jesus Christ.



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See also
Christians in Asia, courageous witnesses of faith until martyrdom
Lay movements in Asia, a gift of Providence in the midst of secularization
Hamao, helping migrants is mission's new frontier in Asia
Church of Korea, protagonist of the Congress of Catholic Laity
Pope Francis: God scores a goal


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