Asian Conference on ‘New Evangelisation’

MISSION SCAN # 114

ISHVANI KENDRA – Institute of Missiology and Communications

Pune – India

September 2012

 

 

Asian Conference on ‘New Evangelisation’

(4-6 September 2012, Pune, India)

 

As the preparation is well underway in the Universal Church for the Synod on NEW EVANGELISATION, the need is felt to make a contribution as Asian Church to the coming Synod. Ishvani Kendra is took up the challenge of calling the whole Asian Church together for reflection and deliberation on this vital theme from 3-7 September, 2012 at Ishvani Kendra, Pune.

The participants of this ‘Asian Conference on New Evangelisation’ were select-bishops from Asian countries, select-members or theologians from different offices of FABC and bishops and the theologians from the three Indian Ritual Churches. The Apostolic Nuncio, Most Rev. Salvatore Pennacchio inaugurated the conference. Mar George Cardinal Alencherry, Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church, Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil, FABC Chairman on Evangelisation, His Eminence Oswald Cardinal Gracias, CBCI President and Major Archbishop Baselios Cleemis Catholicos of the Syro-Malankara Church, besides other Asian Theologians, presented research papers in this Conference. See below the report of the Conference:

 

REPORT: Perspectives for New Evangelisation in Asia.

 

1. Introduction

 

Sixty-two participants, including CBCI President and FABC Secretary General Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Cardinal George Alencherry, the head of the Syro-Malabar Church, Major Archbishop Baselios Cleemis, the head of the Syro-Malankara Church, Evangelisation Commission Chairperson of FABC Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil SDB, Bishop Broderick Pabillo, Auxiliary Bishop of Manila and member of the FABC Office for Evangelisation, bishops, theologians, women religious and laity from India reflected on the origin and meaning of New Evangelisation and its relevance. Bishop Thomas Dabre of Poona welcomed all to his diocese. The Apostolic Nuncio to India, Salvatore Pennacchio inaugurated the conference with a short and precise address on the salient aspects of New Evangelisation, Cardinal Gracias delivered the keynote address and Archbishop Menamparampil gave the orientation talk.

To prepare for the synod on New Evangelisation, the three Individual Churches in India with representatives from FABC had come together to consider the significance and implications of sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ to all men and women. They reflected on how the Good News is a response to the challenges in the world, how Christian faith is to be shared with others and how pastoral activity in India can facilitate such sharing, so as to build a just and humane society .

The inputs began by focussing on the existing realities of Asia, and India in particular, and the need to be attentive to the challenges they raise. In describing the context of the Individual Churches in India and the Philippines, and the new realities they face, there was to be greater understanding of and appreciation for persons belonging to other faiths along with their traditions and practices. The Indian reality is characterised by deep religiosity, chronic poverty, religious pluralism and an ethos that is multi-cultural. The incarnated Good News of Jesus Christ must address these and other new realities; hence any single historical expression of Christ’s incarnation must be re-read so that its meaningfulness becomes clearly visible and relevant to the varied religions, cultures and worldviews.

The New Evangelisation is understood as a new way of sharing the Good News given as God’s gift to humankind through Jesus Christ. It includes proclaiming the Good News to those who have not heard it, re-evangelizing Christians facing today’s challenges in the world, and engaging in dialogue with persons and communities of other faiths and cultures.

 

2. Concerns

 

While acknowledging the positive contributions of the past Evangelisation efforts in the field of education, health care and developmental work as well as in the area of literature and science there is the realization that the traditional understandings and forms of Evangelisation have not achieved sufficiently their intended objectives. In addition, a growing fundamentalism that is intolerant towards the propagation of the Christian faith has appeared in some places in India and occasionally shows itself in destructive and life-threatening violence. The group reflected on why this had happened.

At times, there is a lack of transparency in the way the Church conducts itself in the world. The official Church has been engaged more with affirming doctrine and discipline and less with sharing the Christ experience with others. Hierarchical leadership has left little place for the laity to participate actively in the life and activities of the Church which is viewed as over-clericalized. Some among the laity are leaving the Church to join other sects or denominations because their faith is not nourished in the Catholic Church by the scriptures. They do not feel supported by the Church community in the living out of their daily life and are not recognized as participants in the activities of the Church, especially in decision-making processes. Often, Christians are perceived as foreigners in India. Secularization and post-Modernism have had a negative impact on the lives of Christians and globalization has adversely affected individual persons and the family life. 

 

 

3. Insights

 

The characteristic Asian and Indian way of witnessing is through contemplative prayer, deep reflection and listening with the heart. A person integrates the Good News in him/herself through a metanoia that brings about personal transformation, conversion and a radical change in his/her life. To evangelize others a person must first evangelize him/herself.

Christianity in Asia must take into account the rich and varied forms of prayer and worship and the philosophico-theological systems that already have existed in India and which are present among the masses in the form of teaching, cults and practices. Dialogue is the ordinary mode of fulfilling the mission of Evangelisation. Asian spirituality is essentially interreligious and is the fruit of genuine religious experience over centuries so that interreligious dialogue is the normal means of interaction with the brethren of other faith persuasions. Such spirituality has been sustained and supported by rulers like Ashoka and Akbar in former times and by persons like Gandhiji in the more recent past.

Our efforts to evangelize today must be peace-promoting while, at the same time, mounting an offensive against irreligious secularism, and atheist and agnostic trends. The transforming power of the mystical/contemplative tradition, so deeply rooted in our ethos, should become a part of on-going formation for the entire Church. Popular religiosity, well guided, can become a powerful means to promote a deeper experience of God.

Women have a special role in contributing to faith formation and preserving the faith of the Church. As mothers they are the primary influences in the lives of children who grow up as Christians. In this work of evangelizing the children in the family, women must be recognized as making a foundational contribution in nurturing the faith of growing children. In fact a large number of women both lay and religious, are engaged in the catechetical apostolate of the Church, thanks to whom the faith is lived and passed on.

There is need of renewal in matters concerning faith formation of the laity and priestly and religious formation of the priest and religious. Modes of contemplation and a deep sense of interiority are to be inculcated among the faithful, lay and clerical since these are central to an Indian Christian way of life. This way of life accords well with a cosmic worldview, with ecological well-being and with caring for planet earth. A style of life that embraces simplicity, prayer, openness to all and reverence for nature can be the Indian Church’s significant contribution to the Universal Church.

Through their personal faith in Jesus Christ, the laity witness to the gospel message; they are also invited to use their expertise in the service of the faith. In keeping with the spirit and letter of the Second Vatican Council, the charisms of the laity must be acknowledged and given scope to function. In virtue of their baptism, the laity is called to mission and they constitute a vibrant force in the parish and diocese. Greater encouragement should be extended to Small Christian Communities which are already mandated by the bishops of India and other Asian countries. Dioceses and parishes should extend their support to these communities so that they become more effective in the life of the Church.

 

4. Pilgrims and Witnesses

 

Our evangelising mission must begin both, with the following of Jesus Christ and witnessing to him, especially by building up communities that reflect the values of the Reign of God. Today’s Church is to be seen primarily as a community of Christian disciples witnessing to the life of Jesus. Such witnessing makes space for searching for God along with others. The search evolves and includes growth that is the fruit of spiritual direction. More than signalling the presence of God through the institutions and structures of the Church, the emphasis should be on joining hands with our brothers and sisters of other faiths in our common and relentless search for God in all areas of human activity. Our conviction about sharing in the life of the Spirit should appear in our work and our relationships with persons. It inculcates sensitivity towards those who have suffered.

The Indian way of witnessing is found characteristically in contemplation so that persons pray, listen and reflect on the Word of God, on themselves and on the world at large. A theology of God’s presence is best elucidated in this scenario. A style of life that embraces contemplation, prayer and an ashram-like way of life is the specific characteristic of the Indian Church to the Church Universal. Interiority and self-possession will make it easier for the Christian and the Church as a whole to do self-examination of its attitudes and acts to see whether these proclaim the Gospel message.

Both, the contemplative and the prophetic have their place in a person’s religion. Interiority and silence of heart do not preclude a lively awareness of social concerns in the mystic; at the same time, a radical commitment to social issues by the activist is sustained by prayer and meditation. Hence, the importance of contemplation should be taught in priestly formation so that the gospel may be lived radically and in its entirety. The candidate to the priesthood and consecrated life should be taught to enter into the mystical traditions present in India and integrate it as much as is possible in his/her own Christian life. Mass media with its sophisticated outreach to the world must be harnessed in such a way so that the proclamation of the word is accessible to the greatest number in a favourable manner.

When confronted by fundamentalist forces, we must employ dialogue and try to build bridges with those who are perceived as inimical towards us. The effort to dialogue must always continue even while our discernment tells us that those using physical force to hurt or eliminate others should be made accountable for their actions to the legitimate authority. In general, the “other”—whatever is the harm he/she may have caused—should be shown acceptance, concern and respect. At the same time, those instigating and perpetrating communal violence should be brought to justice.

 

5. Prospects

 

The approach to New Evangelisation takes its inspiration from Jesus Christ himself who is not so much the founder of a new religion but the Way, the Truth and the Life for all believers. The changed methods of evangelisation today insist that God’s People be involved in accomplishing its many and varied tasks. Young men and women are to be given charge so that they witness to the Good News.  Efforts should be made to network with all peoples of good will to respond in a humane and responsible way to issues of justice, peace and the integrity of creation. India is blessed by the presence of the three Individual Churches: Syro-Malabar, Syro-Malankara and the Latin. A healthy pluralism is to be maintained without hurting the communion shared by the three. The New Evangelisation calls for a collaborative effort on the part of the three Churches.

They are called to discern and prioritize the responses they will make individually and collectively to the challenges in today’s India. Remaining disciples of Jesus Christ in an Indian setting, they will seek creative ways of carrying out the evangelizing mission of love and service. Special efforts must be made to carry the Good News of God’s presence to those areas where God is forgotten or deliberately marginalized. This would mean venturing into unfamiliar territories of ethnic and religious conflicts to engage in an apostolate of reconciliation. Our efforts must continue and increase as far as nation-building is concerned: this will effectively contest the allegation of others who label us as foreign.

Dialogue both within the Church and with all others should be the characteristic way of proceeding with New Evangelisation. The building of a new society where justice, peace, fellowship, compassion and forgiveness prevail is constitutive of New Evangelisation. We pray that the Spirit of Jesus leads us forward in all our efforts and accomplishments.

Although the signs of the times and the signs of the places are daunting, we are confident of the presence of God, our loving Father and Mother, the support of our crucified, Risen Saviour, Jesus Christ, and the power of God’s Spirit who will be with us in our attempts to create “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev 21/1).

 

- Drafting Committee: Errol D’ Lima SJ, Rekha M. Chennattu RA,

                          Thomas Kuriacose SJ and Augustine Kanjamala SVD.

 

Source: MISSION SCAN # 114, September 2012, ISHVANI KENDRA – Institute of Missiology and Communications, Pune – India

 

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