Harmony From Asia

Thursday, January 08, 2004



I worship in a multi-cultural parish comprised of large groups of Latinos, Africans, Haitians, African Americans, European Americans, and Asian...probably in that order. It is wonderful to belong to such a diverse parish, which always reminds me of the global nature of Catholicism.

During a recent concert by our parish choirs, two young girls from Bangal performed the Bengal style dance to the theme of a popular Bengal movie's theme song (this was a concert - not a liturgy). I was very impressed with the talent of the young girls, who were less than twelve years old.

Bengal is a province that lies in the East of India, with Bangladesh to the East. Napal is to the North West and Bhutan to the North East, with China not far to the North.

There is a man in the choir with me who also hails from Bangal, and a Vietnamese man just joined us a few weeks ago. In the seminary, I knew a priest from Thailand, and growing up, my family was close to Vietnamese family. My best friend in grade-school was Philipino, and I once shared a house with two other men, one of whom was from Guam. During my secular college days, I worked in the cafeteria with a man from Iraq, and I knew some hinese students, and had a close Bhuddist friend from Thailand.

Despite this contact with the East, I do not know much about Asian culture other than what I have seen in the movies. Bend it Like Becham, Monsoon Wedding and a few other recent films come to mind. In high school, I think my main exposure to eastern culture might have been The Karate Kid.

It always surprises me to meet Asian Catholics, though it really shouldn't. China and South-East Asia are so densely and highly populated that even if only a small percent of a nation is Catholic, it adds up to millions of people. Furthermore, Catholicism is slowly growing in many of these nations, and many Asians who immigrate to America find Catholicism to be a more comfortable religion in the New World than the alternatives. There are sometimes resonances in the contemplative traditions of Catholicism and Eastern religion.

The USCCB issued a statement in 2001 called Asian and Pacific Presence: Harmony in Faith. In this document, the bishops began with a quotation from the Holy Father:
Pope John Paul II begins his apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in Asia by saying, "The Church in Asia sings the praises of the 'God of salvation' (Ps 68:20) for choosing to initiate his saving plan on Asian soil ,..., In 'the fullness of time' (Gal 4:4), he sent his only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ the Savior, who took flesh as an Asian!" He points out that "because Jesus was born, lived, died and rose from the dead in the Holy Land, that small portion of Western Asia became a land of promise and hope for all mankind."
The document goes on to highlight the rich history of Christianity in Asia:
The history of the Church in Asia is as old as the Church herself. "From this land, through the preaching of the Gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit, the Church went forth to make 'disciples of all nations' (Mt 28:19)." Christianity spread from Jerusalem to Antioch to Rome, and beyond. Ancient tradition relates how in the first century, St. Thomas the Apostle preached and was martyred in India; thus the subcontinent traces its Christian roots to apostolic times. The Church of Armenia traces its origins to Sts. Thaddeus (Jude) and Bartholomew—two of the twelve apostles. Because of this apostolic evangelization, Christianity began to take root in Armenia, and three centuries later the country became the first to embrace Christianity as a nation. Also in the third century, ascetic communities of Syria were a major force of evangelization in Asia. By the fifth century, the Christian message had reached the Arab kingdoms, and Persian merchants took the Good News to China where it flourished for nearly two centuries. In the thirteenth century, the Good News was announced to the Mongols and the Turks, and was reinforced to the Chinese. The apostolic labors of St. Francis Xavier and thousands of heroic missionaries continued to bring the faith to Southeast Asia, East Asia, and the Pacific from the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries, and this mission continues today.
The document highlights the rich religious heritage and spiritual impulse of the Asian:
Religion. The Asian continent is the birthplace of many of the great religions of the world: Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism, in addition to Christianity. It is also the birthplace of other social and religious traditions including Confucianism, Sikhism, and Taoism.
The document then turns to the witness of Asian saints and martyrs:
Besides these living role models, Asian and Pacific Catholics come to the United States with a long heritage of extraordinary witness of life and martyrdom. The Church recently recognized many Asian saints and martyrs; however, the total number of saints and martyrs could fill an entire Asian and Pacific Litany of Saints.
From India, Gonsalo Garcia was canonized in 1629 and John de Brito in 1947. More recently, Pope John Paul II beatified Blessed Joseph Vaz in 1995.
From Japan the heroic witness of St. Paul Miki and his companions, including Gracia Hosakawa, Ludivico Ibaragi, Michael Kozaki, and Takayama Ukon, have been honored by the Church.
The Church in Korea suffered more than 10,000 martyrdoms. In 1984, Pope John Paul II canonized 103 martyrs in Seoul. Outstanding among those saints are St. Andrew Kim Taegon, the first native Korean priest, and Chung Hasang and Kim Hyoim, who were heroic lay leaders.
The Philippines' first martyr, San Lorenzo Ruiz de Manila, was canonized in 1987. Catechist Pedro Calungsod was beatified in 2000.
It is estimated that more than 130,000 Vietnamese Catholics died for Christ's sake during persecutions from 1625 to 1886. On June 19, 1988, Pope John Paul II canonized 117 of them, including St. Andrew Dung Lac, St. Phanxico Xavier Can, St. Vincent Diem, St. Phaolo Le Bao Tinh, St. Phero Nguyen Khac Tu, and a woman, St. Agnes Le Thi Thanh. On March 5, 2000, Blessed Andrew the Catechist was beatified by Pope John Paul II in Rome.
Also on March 5, 2000, Blessed Nicholas Bunlert Kitbamrung, the Thai Church's first martyr priest, was beatified.
From China, 120 martyrs were canonized by Pope John Paul II on October 1, 2000. Of these, thirty-three were foreign missionaries and eighty-seven were native Chinese, including Ahan Wen Lan, Pei Xio, Zhan Da Pun, Liu Shui Tin, Cao Gul Ying, Liu Wen Yuen, and Liu Han Zhou.
Among the many Eastern Catholic martyrs and saints are Blessed Mary of Jesus Crucified, born of a Syrian family in Galilee, who was beatified in 1983; Blessed Joseph Kassab Hardini, who was beatified in 1998; and from India, Blessed Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Blessed Alphonsa Muttathupadath, who were beatified in 1986, and St. Marian Theresia, who was canonized in April 2000.
The document also offers statistics and the various demographics of Asian Americans, from the Middle East tot he Far East and North and South. It speaks to issues of racial and ethnic discrimination, condemning unfair and unjust treatement of people based on race and ethnicity. Then the bishops turn to the gift Asia brings to the American Catholic experience, quoting a commitee of Asians that helped the bishops undertsand Asian catholic experience:
We believe strongly that this is a moment of special grace for the Catholic Church in the United States. As Asian Pacific communities, we bring a strong sense of family with a loving respect for the elderly and a profound and fervent religious faith. We contribute a spirituality which is eastern [and] rooted in Asian Pacific cultures. We also seek to live in harmony with each other and with the whole of creation. We deepen and challenge our understanding of the meaning of the universal Church, enabling all of us to be a church which is complete and whole.
The Pastoral letter goes on to elaborate on the notion of harmony:
Harmony is central to the lives and cultures of Asian and Pacific communities. According to the bishops of Asia, "harmony embodies 'the realities of order, well-being, justice and love as seen in human interaction ,...., Harmony is not simply the absence of strife ,..., The test of true harmony lies in acceptance of diversity and richness.'"
The letter is long, and rather continuing to quote lengthy portions, I simply wish to invite Catholics born in America to consider the notion of harmony ,..., harnony in our families ,..., harmony in our parishes ,..., and harmony in the wider community. Can we accept one another in our diversity as rich gifts to one another? Can we demonstrate this acceptance of diversity in our prayers, thoughts, words, and deeds?

As the United States remains at war on the continent of Asia, and we consider immigration policy in light of 9-11 and President Bush's recent endorsement of relaxed immigration, let us consider the virtue of harmony and the gift of Asian Catholicism to America and the American Roman Catholic Church.

Peace and Blessings!

Readers may contact me at jcecil3@attglobal.net


posted by Jcecil3 3:26 PM

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