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For Communicating Asian “Progress” Theologies

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Paul Hwang / Chief of the Center for Asia Peace Solidarity

The Late Pope John Paul II once said that the future of the Catholic Church is in Asia. Not only the Pope, but many other Church people stress the continent’s significance more and more for various reasons.

One reason, perhaps, is that the giant continent has the smallest Catholic population among the so-called “Third World.” This also means that it has more possibility to convert people in Asia to Catholicism than other people in other continents. The Church spread all over Asian countries through the wars between colonial powers, and planted its “westernized” Church as it is in the Asian soil except for a part of the Indian Church which Saint Thomas himself had evangelized. Western missionaries did not respect local cultures and religions, but instead interpreted Jesus Christ from their own view, not the view of the local people. The missionaries forced the Asian people to accept the norms of the westernized Church. Therefore, for Asians, Christianity as a religion is like their clothes that they can easily take off. In other words, Christianity in Asia, including Protestant Churches, remains a stranger so far, not rooted in the heart of Asian peoples.

Fortunately, some of Asian theologians realized that the Church can survive only when it respects local cultures and religions as they are, which lead to developing “inculturation theology” and contextual theologies based on interreligious and inter-cultural dialogues. These kinds of efforts, however, have been limited to the southern part of Asia like India and Sri Lanka, so the road to inculturated Church recovering from the legacy of colonialism looks still tough and long.

Here lies our agony. How can we overcome the colonialistic attitude in doing theology and develop a local theology which is deeply rooted in Asian soil? With the contextualized theology, how can we make the Church truly an Asian Church? This is what we have to solve as Christians living in the land.

The Center for Asian Theology Solidarity (CATS) under the lay-centered Woori Theology Institute (WTI) in Seoul, South Korea, was established in 2005. As seen in the title, CATS aims first at building a network among progressive theologies in Asia, especially various kinds of contextual theologies which are based on people’s diverse experiences of God. Also, it will devote itself to pan-interreligious dialogue which is urgently needed for promoting peace in Asia. But we have to remind all religions and their believers that without renewal or justice within religions themselves, interreligious dialogue will not be valid. In other words, interreligious dialogue is to be understood as a people’s movement which leads to harmony among the people’s lives, not a “party of words” of theologians or clergies.

When theology wants to say something about people’s lives and get into the center of their lives, what is needed is to understand their religiosity through their daily languages, not complicated or ideological theological terms. For this, we should focus more on inter-cultural sharing and dialogue, going beyond the subject-object paradigm as a legacy of modern philosophy. Now it is time for us as Asian Christians to reconsider the term “inculturation” and create a new term for this instead.

Of course, the one-year old CATS is not capable of carrying out the great task alone. We know that some ones or some groups have already started it somewhere, so CATS just adds one hand to it. But CATS such an initiation in northeastern Asia should be stressed. In October 2005, CATS held an international symposium on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of “Gaudium et Spes,” one of the most important documents of Vatican Council II, by inviting theologians and Church activists from India and Sri Lanka together with those in Korean.

Under the title “Gaudium et Spes and Church Renewal”, the Korean faithful had a chance to look once again at the document from the view of justice within the Church. Though the universal Church is one, Catholic Churches in Asia are as diverse as tribes and languages in the great continent. We can learn from each other because we are different, one from another. As part of Asian Church, the Korean Catholic Church should keep learning from other Asian Churches in the global era. Therefore, this year CATS has a plan to hold two special lectures and roundtables twice at the beginning of the year and later in the year.

CATS already held a special event titled Women Priests and Church from Women Activist’s Perspective” last May by inviting a “Woman Bishop,” Christine Mayr-Lumetzberger, from Austria. The other is that CATS will hold a lecture and a roundtable about the Church of Infanta diocese in the Philippines, under the title “Truly Participatory Church: Learning from Infanta Diocese in the Philippines.” Christine introduced herself as “Woman Bishop” to the audiences and reminded them that the women priests movement in the Roman Catholic Church started in light of the Church renewal highlighted in the second Vatican Council. We will deal with the important issue of women priests in detail in another article in this issue of the magazine, focusing on the discussion in the roundtable with Christine held last May in Seoul, South Korea.

So, here I would like to say that if the Catholic Church is indifferent to changing society and avoids gender justice or oppression against women in the Church, it is as though the Church approves injustice, which is against the will of Jesus. We have to always remember that we raise the question of justice not only in the society but in the Church.

Regarding the Church of Infanta, we would like to see how Bishop Julio Labayan earnestly has made the diocese an egalitarian Church. We will learn that how the Bishop established a final decision-making process and urged lay leaders, religious, and priests to participate in it and produce results in a very “democratic” way.

We would like to share the retired Bishop Julio Labayan’s such effort with other Asian and world Church leaders and the faithful by inviting a permanent deacon, Mario, who worked with the Bishop more than 20 years, to share his experiences. This is so that not only the Korean Church whose leaders have become more and more conservative and authoritarian, but the Asian and world Church have a chance to learn a lesson of how to be “People of God” in name and reality.

Journal Vol.1  2006