The Asian Theology Forum and Asian Youth Academy, Chiang Mai, Thailand
August 14-20, 2013
The Asian Theology Forum (ATF) and Asian Youth Academy (AYA) are being held since 2005. It is an annual meeting which has been combined into one program for young activists. The conference in 2013 was held in Chiang Mai, Thailand which was organized by Woori Theology Institute (WTI) based in Seoul, South Korea and co-hosted by Caritas Thailand and Research & Training Center for Religio-Cultural Community (RTRC) in Chang Mai, Thailand. The participants were from 14 countries: Bangladesh, China, France, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Spain (Basque country), Sri Lanka and Thailand. There were also representatives from the Buddhist community and Indigenous Peoples of Thailand.
“Limitless Development and Indigenous People’s Lives amid Ecological Crisis”
- Significance of the Forum
The worldview and cultural systems of the Indigenous Peoples (IPs) worldwide have been being rearranged and restructured in the name of development. Under this new phenomenon like globalization and neo-liberalism, various religion-based NGOs need to make their workers armed with a wisdom and insight in order to put their ideas and visions into practice at various levels particularly at the grass-root one. That means these activists should work together with experts on various fields like theologians, economists, anthropologist, ecologist, sociologists, human right activists and other scholars on culture and development, so that they can make their theories tuned well with the concrete realities in Asia. The significance of the forum is to give a platform to those organizations and individuals working for social justice, peace, human rights, ecology, indigenous peoples etc, to become “contemplative activists” from whom religions in Asia will get much help in the future. This is also an opportunity to dialogue and study together as one organic group of intellectuals in order to build a solid network among themselves first for solidarity in Asian countries and spread their movements responding to the needs of the marginalized in the countries as a clear Sign of the times.
The following were the objectives of the Asian Youth Academy and the Asian Theology Form:
- To focus on the issues of Indigenous Peoples (IPs) and ecological crisis which have threatened the lives of the marginalized in Asia especially the IPs.
- To have a practical training for the youth at the Pan-Asian level which includes exposure-immersion programs that cater urgent issues in Asia.
- Through a systematic and effective program to make young lay leaders “contemplative activists” or “organic intellectuals” who are equipped with socio-political awareness, socio-cultural analysis with deep spiritual and theological background.
To build an effective and relevant spiritual formation for young activists, focusing more on strengthening religious identity amid the “all-things-mixed” in the global world. Thereby, they could make contributions to their movement and to the civil society as a whole.
The following reflections are based on the discussions by the participants of this forum:
IPs and Ecology
There is a practical and mystical connection between IPs and Ecology. The Spirit of God dwells in the environment in the forms of water, land, forest and other natural resources which include animals, birds, humans and even non-beings. As humans as a part of nature, we must learn how to live out and make a connection with nature the way IPs do.
IPs worldview on Development
We must incorporate “Cosmotheoandric union”, or “the unity of universe, God and humans” in our reflections so that our work for the IPs does not remain anthropocentric. There is an urgent need to understand the worldview of the IPs on human development. This is to ensure that anything that is done under the name of development does not hamper the life of the IPs which is just to be a starting point. We should go one step further by articulating our ideas on the ‘spiritual dimension’ of development dominated and monopolized by the Western capitalist-and-market based mindset into more objective and suitable language. For this, we must dialogue to make sense ‘genuine’ development of IPs.
IPs and its relationship with the Asian Churches
The Asian Churches must incorporate Catholic Social Teachings(CSTs) to be instrumental in the lives of IPs. The Church must find concrete means and methods to be close to the IPs issues and fight for their rights. The mission centers for IPs must be enhanced with strong research and documentation in order to make it resourceful to other development bodies in the church who work with the IPs.
IPs and its relationship with the Government
Advocacy must be taken seriously, as the church often stays away from the process of decision making at the government level. Advocacy must be seen from the IPs participation that will need capacity building and reflections. The church must be a strong agent to connect the IPs and the Government.
IPs and Human Rights
Human Rights should be pursued to work for the IPs. Promoting Human Rights in the IPs context can bring about fruitful insights that will contribute to the CSTs and the development work done for the marginalized. They must be seen as agents of development and not objects of one’s interest on culture or research.
It is important to revive and build movements in the church so that there should be a sense of solidarity within the movements in Asia. Movement building must be seen as a platform to capacitate, inspire and support young lay leaders who have potential to work for human rights. Catholic movements in Asia must be given importance to building solidarity and to contributing towards the movement at the global level.
3. PLEDGE OF COMMITMENT
Based on the reflections, these are proactive responses and a pledge of commitment from the participating countries. These are also considered as guidelines for the country action plans.
Doing Asian Theology
We should understand theology in the Asian perspective coming out of the concrete lives in Asian peoples to make our work with the IPs more relevant and fruitful. It is vital to understand the essence of Asian culture and incorporate it in the CSTs to encourage young intellectuals thereby promoting and exploring the spirit of Asian Theology.
Building Solidarity Networks
We must build solidarity networks among groups and movements within the Catholic Church. We must also network with public and private sectors, government stakeholders and other local IP movements in order to dialogue and respond to the concern of the IPs at the Asian level.
Strengthening Research and Documentation
As young intellectuals we must capacitate ourselves in research and documentation for knowledge building on the issues of the IPs and other marginalized communities in order to do advocacy for policy reforms. This will also help in gaining appropriate strategies related to IPs issues and to connect the realities of the IPs in Asia and the global level.
Disseminating of Information for growth of the IPs movement in Asia
The purpose of research and documentation is to generate awareness on the situation of IPs in Asia, so that the purpose of solidarity networks is to be served. This can also be seen as a contribution for the IP movement in Asia for movement building and advocacy.
Sustaining Commitment and Sense of responsibility of those involved in the IP issues
We need to sustain the commitment of the people who are involved in the IP issues through participation in national and regional levels, continuous formation and capacity building for the activists. Thereby, making them get a sense of responsibility towards IPs and their communities, as well as the activists’ own societies.
(To be submitted)
- PARTICIPANTS, OBSERVERS, AND RESOURCE SPEAKERS
<Peace on Asia>, Seoul : WTI 2015