Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Indian Catholics' Task Is Rediscovering Jesus' Asian Face

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Indian Catholics' Task Is Rediscovering Jesus' Asian Face

Article excerpt

Midway through the Vatican Synod on Asia in April 1998, Cardinal Jozef Tomko reiterated the Vatican,s official position on missionary work in Asia. It must start, Tomko said, with the person of Jesus and his unique role in the salvation of all peoples.

Tomko, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, was restating a position held for years by church officials in Rome. But it's one that many Asian bishops disavow.

Such a "proclamation" approach does not work in Asia where Catholics are a tiny minority, bishops insisted in synod interventions.

The Asians are calling for a subtler kind of evangelization, one characterized by dialogue and witness. Such methods, they said, are more compatible with Asian circumstance and spirit.

Bishop Joseph Vianney Fernando of Kandy, India, speaking at a news conference, put a positive face on Tomko's report but went on to express disappointment that key points Asian bishops had made were left out of Tomko's report.

The give and take masks deeper ecclesial tensions that have grown between Asian bishops and Asian theologians on the one hand and members of the Roman curia on the other.

For three decades, Asian bishops and theologians have been working toward a radically new approach to church. It stresses an evangelical path characterized by the "triple dialogue": dialogue with local cultures, local religions and the poor.

Meanwhile, it is generally accepted that Indian theologians, many of them Jesuits, have moved to the forefront in formulating theologies. They are seen as some of the most progressive theologians in the church today.

Rather than emphasizing conversions, these theologians speak of finding the spirit of God within other religions. They see the importance of learning from other religions and cooperating with their adherents to build the kingdom of God. The theologians also speak about entering into solidarity with Asia's poor and rediscovering Jesus' Asian face. Without such crucial steps, they argue, Christianity will have little or no future in Asia.

The Vatican, for its part, has criticized Indian theologians, posthumously condemning the works of Fr. Anthony de Mello and, more recently, investigating Jesuit Fr. Jacques Dupuis. Dupuis, a Belgian, spent more than 30 years teaching in India.

The Vatican's concern is the "relativizing" of the Christian faith, diluting the Christian message in efforts to accommodate and dialogue with members of other religions. When Pope John Paul II came to New Delhi in November 1999, he provoked uproar among Hindus and consternation among Catholics when he spoke about the need for conversions in India.

Today, Hindu nationalists continue to accuse Indian Christians of being manipulated by foreign interests. This is a charge many Indian Christians understand but resent, given the long history of Christianity in India. …

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