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The poor will shape the new Asian Church

FREISING (UCAN): At a gathering in Freising, Germany, in early September, the Vatican secretary of state, Pietro Cardinal Parolin, said that the Lord’s call to bring peace and mercy is urgent and significant in today’s world.

Addressing the missionary context of the Church, he said that working for peace and sowing the seeds of mercy is a call to all Christians, especially those who have left the comforts of their homes to bring the light of the gospel and the solidarity of the Church to the ends of the earth.

In his address, he placed a significant emphasis on the Church of Asia.

Father Antonio Pernia, the former superior general of the Society of the Divine Word, talked about how the geographical centre of Catholic population has shifted, saying that by the turn of the last century, its centre of gravity had shifted from the Global North to the Global South—Latin America, Africa and Asia.

In 1900, only 15 per cent of the Catholic population lived in the southern hemisphere, but by the year 2000 the figure had shot to 67 per cent, or two-thirds of the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics. By 2050, he predicted the southern share would be 75 per cent.

Although rich in culture and religions, he said Asia is challenged today by widespread poverty, which affects the majority of its people.

Asia is also home to a good number of totalitarian and dictatorial governments, finding their roots in the Asian patriarchal society embedded in its cultural and religious subconscious.

This gives a rationale to the reality of violence co-existing with the love for harmony and peace, a recognised characteristic of Asian people.

In the vision of Pope Francis, the new Catholic Church will be born out of this historical and social context.

Brother Boniface Tago, from the Good Samaritan Colleges in Cabanatuan City in The Philippines, says there are factors that could help Asian religious influence and shape the making of a more merciful Church abound.

He believes that the experience of historical poverty will always be part of their eternal source to give a preferential option for the poor in proclaiming the joy of the gospel.

Not only that, the religious who have embraced the poor Church as part of their ecclesial identity, will evangelise people from the perspective of the poor and create an Asian Church from the same context.

Brother Tago says that from the vantage point of the poor, Asian religious can easily find a home in the words of Pope Francis where he says, “For the Church, the option for the poor is primarily a theological category rather than a cultural, sociological, political or philosophical one.”

He quotes the pope as saying in The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium), “God shows the poor his first mercy.... This is why I want a Church which is poor and for the poor. They have much to teach us. Not only do they share in the sensus fidei (sense of faith), but in their difficulties they share the suffering Christ.”

He then underlines the pope’s words, “We need to let ourselves be evangelised by them. The new evangelisation is an invitation to acknowledge the saving power at work in their lives and to put them at the centre of the Church’s pilgrim way.”

Historically, the Church has radical examples of this charism.

St. Francis of Assisi is an exemplar. Mother Teresa of Kolkata is another.

It is these kind of religious men and women who will truly shape an authentic Asian Church of the future.

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