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EUCHARIST AS OPENNESS TO OTHERS: AN EXPERIENCE OF INTERRELIGIOUS DIALOGUE IN THE VIETNAMESE CONTEXT

쟈비스

 

Francis Xavier BAO LOC

Director of the Pastoral Center

of Archdiocese of Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam

I. The Vietnamese context

 The Socio-political context

‚ The Religious context

II. Eucharist : An invitation to openness to others

 The Eucharist is a  motivation to renew the Christian life

‚ Eucharistic spirituality creates an educational environment for young Christians.

ƒ The Eucharist is an opening to interreligious dialogue

III. Entering into interreligious dialogue

 Visiting and sharing

‚ Interreligious meeting

ƒ Study and formation

„ Interreligious collaboration

IV. Reflection

 Our communion in the Eucharist invites us to openness to others.

‚ Interreligious dialogue as an important way of Evangelization.

ƒ The Trinity as Source of interreligious dialogue.

* Questions

 

  1. The Vietnamese context

 The Socio-political context

The Geneva Accords of 1954 decided the fate of French Indochina after eight years of war between the French Union forces and the Viet Minh. It resulted in the independence of the South Vietnam. The accords dictated the partition of Vietnam at the 17th parallel, with Ho Chi Minh’s communist Viet Minh controlling the North and the French-backed State, the South of Vietnam. In the mass emigration of northerners that followed the division, many Catholics (around 800.000 people, 2/3 of the Catholics from the North) came to the south.

In 1975, on the one hand, the reunification of the nation united many separated families; on the other hand it brought both the North and the South under a communist regime. There are still differences in the social and living condition between the peoples of the two regions. In contrast with the North, the political structure in the South has been more open and the local government has demonstrated a more moderate policy.

The decade of the 90’s has been one of more openness as is evident in Vietnam’s international relationships. The peak of this period was joining the WTO in 2006. This political and economic openness has had a cause-effect influence also on Vietnamese’s religious experience: rebuilding, reopening of places of worship, ordination of clergy, foundation of new religious associations, etc.

‚ The Religious context

Traditionally, Vietnam had a three-fold religious identity, as it is also found in some other Asian countries:  Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism. The adherents of Roman Catholicism, Caodaism, Protestantism, Islam and Hinduism are the minorities. So religious beliefs richly color the influence on Vietnamese’ thought and action, and affect the way the Vietnamese react to others.

The majority of Vietnamese are deeply rooted in Buddhist belief and culture and they also practice the cult of the ancestors. Vietnamese are, in general, quite tolerant in matters of religion and live in harmony with the followers of other religions. However the policies of the government also affect, more or less, this harmony.

Before 1975

From our perspective, there were two important facts in this period:

* For Catholics, the division in 1954 caused the separation of the Church into the North and the South. This division brought about the regional differences of thinking and living between these two areas. Because of the socio-political condition, the laity of the North did not have access to the general instruction and renewal of the Second Vatican Council.

* In the 1960’s, during the regime of Ngo Dinh Diem, the first President of South Vietnam (1955-1963), whose brother was a bishop, there was Buddhist-Catholic tension. Political officials forbade the hanging of the Buddhist flag and used violence to break up a meeting of Buddhists protesting governmental discrimination. This protest which began in Central Vietnam, spread rapidly throughout the South and brought about the Vietnamese Buddhist Movement of 1963. Some Buddhist monks, nuns and laity were involved in self immolation by setting themselves ablaze.

This movement claimed equality and liberty for Buddhists. Its goal was to protest against the governmental policy, not the governor nor the Catholics. Inspite of this declaration, the relationship between Buddhists and Catholics remains wounded by the tension of this period.

After 1975

In 1975, the national reunification gave the opportunity to the Bishops of the two regions to work together to rebuild the Catholic Church. The Pastoral letter of The Bishops’ Conference of Vietnam in 1980 was the result of this first effort to collaborate and rebuild the Church in Vietnam, emphasizing living of the Gospel in the very heart and center of everyday life.

Right after 1975, in the South, the Catholic Christians no longer administered the schools, hospitals as well as charitable activities. The Seminaries and Formation Centers also had many significant difficulties and limitations. Now the Vietnamese Catholic Church serves in three domains: education, medicine and charitable activities, but only as collaborators of the government in a limited range and under the control of the members of the communist party.

*  *  *

In this limited socio-religious context, Catholic Christian life can have a tendency to look in upon itself in its parish and religious activities. This tendency on the part of the church could take the place of involvement in society as well as in dialogue with atheists and members of other religions.

 

  1. The Eucharist: An invitation to openness to others

Of its nature, the Eucharist is “openness”: living with, living for, sharing, offering, communion, etc… In principle, Eucharistic spirituality leads Christians to a way of life according to the Eucharistic model. However, the devotion of Vietnamese Christians has a tendency to stop at the emotional, interior level rather than move towards more social interaction and service.

 The Eucharist is a motivation to renew the Christian life

Most of the Vietnamese Catholic Christians are practical and devoted. They frequent their churches for Mass, catechism, sacred music and the activities of the Catholic associations. For the last ten years there has been a spontaneous development in perpetual (24 hours) Eucharistic Adoration in many of the parishes. This form of devotion contributes to renew both family and social life.

In some Retreat Centers, the scheduling of this devotion has delighted the lay participants. In the midst of the demands and tumult of daily life, retreatants find again inner peace and balance, thank to their presence before the Blessed Sacrament.

All this contributes to the renewal of family and parish life.

‚ Eucharistic spirituality creates an educational environment for young Christians

The Eucharistic Youth Society assembles many young people from 8 to 25 years old. This movement establishes the relationship and the continuity between the Eucharistic celebration and the Christian life. This Society contributes also to the education of the young and the formation of the catechists and the future leaders of the other catholic Associations. This is very necessary in the situation where there are no Catholic Schools and the national education system is still limited and has many shortcomings.

ƒ The Eucharist is an opening to interreligious dialogue

In a setting where Catholics are in the minority, Eucharistic celebrations for weddings and funerals are favorable occasions to practice interreligious dialogue as many members of the other religions are present. This dialogue is manifested in welcoming, the homily and the manner of celebrating the liturgy. All this can express and clarify the Christian faith and bring about a better understanding of the faith and Christian life. This communal celebration demonstrates Christian community and solidarity.

III. Entering into interreligious dialogue

Motivated and invited by a Eucharistic spirituality, we feel the urgency and need for interreligious dialogue, an integral part of the evangelical mission of the Church.

Moreover, we realize our responsibility to this engagement as Pope John Paul II explained in his Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation in 1999:

“Contact, dialogue and cooperation with the followers of other religions is a task which the Second Vatican Council bequeathed to the whole Church as a duty and a challenge” (Ecclesia in Asia, no 31).

The pastoral Orientation of The Bishops’ Conference of Vietnam in interreligious dialogue is marked by their Pastoral letter in 2003 (no 11):

“Friendly visiting of the members of the other religions, particularly families and individuals is sharing the Good News, visiting in order to share the joys and the sadness, to support the people who have problems. The activities are living pages of the Gospel helping the others to recognize the true portrait of Jesus – Savior and then understand Christianity better.

We can exchange common concerns with non-christians, following the example of Jesus in the story narrated by John: from the little things in ordinary life like “water”, Jesus listened, exchanged and enlightened, leading to the spiritual way, the mystery of the Trinity and of the “eternal water”. We realize that dialogue today plays a very important meaning, lead to sympathy, understanding and reciprocal respect”.

However, in reality, such action remains modest and only occurs in private settings. The interreligious meetings or organizations of the Vietnamese migrant community in foreign countries are often colored by political, anti-communist trends. These attitudes can cause confusion or ambiguity about the meaning of the interreligious meetings inside Vietnam. This is why interreligious meetings are seen by the government as political rather than religious, though this is the vision of the Church.

Some interreligious meetings are organized by the local government in which the followers of different religions have an opportunity to exchange thoughts. But all these meetings have as a goal the presentation and explanation of governmental parameters.

In spite of this ambiguous, delicate socio-political situation, for the past five years we have attempted to realize some interreligious dialogue, without excluding the form called “dialogue of life”:

 To enter into contact with Buddhist nuns and monks in order to discover their life and their way of Buddhist formation to inner freedom. (Because the Buddhist doctrine and culture are deeply implanted in the Vietnamese mentality and life, the Buddhist becomes the privileged partner of our interreligious dialogue in Vietnam).

‚ To visit pagodas and Buddhist meditation centers in order to study in their own setting their faith and religious practices.

ƒ To share the knowledge of other religions with all the members of the Church and to form Christians to be the able partners in interreligious dialogue in the Seminary and Christian Formation Centers.

„ To invite the adherents of the other religions to present their faith and to share their own religious experience.

… To organize an Interreligious Evening of Prayer for the sick, especially for those affected by HIV/AIDS

† To collaborate with Buddhist nuns and monks in taking care of the H.I.V patients, orphans and the physically and mentally challenged. Example : the collaboration of the Daughters of Mary Immaculate with the Buddhist nuns and monks at Hue, central Vietnam, to serve the H.I.V patients; the help of the intellectual Christian group for an orphanage managed by Buddhist nuns in the 4th quarter of HoChiMinh City.

 

  1. Reflection

  • Our communion in the Eucharist invites us to openness to others, to sharing with them the life and the truth received from Jesus who sacrifices himself for the fullness of our lives.
  • To be aware of the necessity of interreligious dialogue as an important way of Evangelization, we must explore this more fully in the life of Church. Dialogue and Mission have a mutually dependent relation, especially in the Asian context.
  • Our interreligious dialogue finds its source in the dialogue between God and humanity, coming forth from the inner life of the Trinity. This is a dialogue of love for the salvation of all. The Eucharist is both a sign of God’s love and a way to realize this salvation.

 

Questions:

 What is the relationship between the Eucharist and interreligious dialogue?

‚ How does the Eucharistic celebration favor the announcement of the Gospel in the Vietnamese context?

ƒ What measures could we take as priests and congregations to make those of other religious traditions feel more welcome?

„ How is the choice of words significant in entering into dialogue so as not to offend others?

… How can the Catholic Church promote collaboration with the adherents of other religions to solve social problems and to serve the community better?

† In our unique circumstances as Vietnamese or Indians, etc, how could we be more collaborative with members of other religious traditions?

 

<EUCHARIST AND COMMUNITY BEYOND ALL BORDERS>, Seoul:WTI 2009