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G20 Summit, Ecological Crisis and Salvation of Christ – Sound Awkward?



Paul Hwang/Chief of the Center for Aisa Theology Solidarity (CATS)

It seems good to see around ten thousand people gather in Seoul for the G20 summit in this November with hopes, expectations or hidden agendas. Like the mountains in Korea this wonderful Fall, decorated with full of yellow and red autumn leaves, my imagination of the colorful people from the world seems somewhat sentimental.

Turning to the reality the earth is facing, however, such a naive thinking will break soon. Extreme poverty, widening the gap between the rich and the poor, corruption, ecological destruction and so on and so forth. Now the key to solve these problems is to be dropped in their hands so to speak. Hope?

“Bail Out People Not Banks!!” Such a outcry from people against the summit well represents their feelings. There has hardly been hope in the past G20 summits neither seems this Seoul summit.

It is why CATS and Pax-Roman ICMICA jointly organize an international forum on the G20 in Seoul in one week ahead of the summit itself. Catholic economists and theologians gather together to wrestle with the problems and come up with a “voice of hope” by asking about what good the summit could bring to people and delivering their opinion to solve the problems.

Well, I’d better be back to my job to introduce what CATS have done for a couple years rather than digging the hazy hope. In fact, what CATS has done has something to do with such hope or “creating” hope somehow.

The Center for Asian Theology Solidarity (CATS) held an international symposium, “Tears of Asia: Ecological Crisis and Sufferings of the Poor in Asia” last May. We chose environmental disasters as its theme among multiple crises facing Asia because it was the poor who have been most severely affected by ecological crisis.

Redemptorist Brother Carlito Gaspar, the keynote speaker, took the case of the Philippine as an example. According to him, in the Philippines, among the poorest of the poor are the hill tribes who lost land in the forests through the mining and illegal logging of greedy companies supported by the corrupt government.

The Filipino Brother, who has worked for indigenous people’s rights in Mindanao for some 40 years, said climate change hits the poor hardest although they have done the least to deserve such problems.

Three panels from Buddhism, Catholic and Protestant Churches echoed the Brother’s view. The interreligious meeting was timely to respond properly to the controversial government-driven river project which is still underway.

The government planned to pour 22.2 trillion-won (US$19 billion) into the so-called the Four Major Rivers Restoration Project which includes dredging and damming sections of the country’s major waterways. Authorities say this is needed to prevent flooding and pollution.

However, civic and religious groups argue that this will destroy ecosystems and farmers living around the four major rivers are the ones who suffer most from it.

A Buddhist penal stressed that Buddha’s enlightenment was a result of his unity with nature, a goal that all humans should strive for. But I am sorry to say Buddha seems to have lost his power to prevent such a huge and cruel destruction of nature. Christ seems the same too! Two years earlier, Fr. Peter Phan, worldly renowned theologian on Asian theology, gave a talk on religious pluralism in Seoul in October that was organized by CATS. He claimed that the uniqueness and universality of Jesus Christ cannot be abandoned in interreligious dialogue.

Fr. Phan furthered that since Christians have traditionally believed Jesus is God, they need to profess the belief freely and honestly. But Fr. Cheong Yang-mo, a penal member, argued that though St. John said so in the New Testament, many other books of it portray Jesus as a prominent prophet. Cheong added that given that we follow the latter, it promotes dialogue among religions despite the Church’s confirmation that Jesus is God at the Council of Nicaea in 325.

Responding to Cheong, Phan pointed out that Jesus is not just a simple sign but a sacrament of God which participate in the reality of God, in which we see the Father.

The argument between the two priests is still interesting and crucial but our concern here is not about interreligious dialogue but the validity of Jesus as a savior amid multiple crises culminated in ecological crisis.

This latest issue of <Theology and Solidarity> also carries an article of You Jeong-won as a response to Phan. The researcher of Woori Theology Institute sees Phan as a sort of “inclusivist” needed to be more open to other religions.

She acknowledges that the ecology crisis has been emerged as the most urgent global agenda. And it is proper for her to ask Christians to interpret and recognize Jesus Christ newly as the one who encourages us to cooperate with other religions to preserve this world and ecology system.

But I haven’t found in her article “how newly” we could interpret Christ ontologically. Maybe we need to raise a more radical question such as, “Is Christology alone still relevant to the situation where massive destruction of nature takes place at every second?” Here is the point where we need help from another theological articulation: Pneumatoloy. The development of it from Yves Congar to Jaque Dupui and to Amos Yong seems to show its probability. Trinitarian approaches to pneumatology will surely help Asian theologies to be genuinely Asian and become a possible answer to the hope to ecological crisis.

Journal <Theology & Solidarity> Vol.4  2010