A Eucharistic Congress to the Far East
by H. E. Mons. Piero Marini, President
The Church in Asia
The Church in Asia: past and present
A Christian minority but of great vitality
The Challenges of the Church in Asia
2. The Eucharist, Source and Summit of the Mission of the Church in Asia
2.1. The Eucharist builds the Church as a community of dialogue
2.1.1. Dialogue as service to the world
2.1.2. Dialogue as characteristic of “an outgoing Church”
2.2. The Eucharist builds the Church as a community of charity
2.2.1. The Church of charity is poor
2.2.2. The Church of charity is humble
2.3. The Eucharist builds the Missionary Church
A Eucharistic Congress to the Far East
About two thousand years ago, from the Far East, the Apostle Paul addressed this to the faithful of the Church of Rome exclaiming: «First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you and for the way in which your faith is spoken of all over the world» (Rm 1:8). And at once added: «For I am longing to see you either to strengthen you by sharing a spiritual gift with you, or what is better, to find encouragement among you from our common faith» (Rm 1:11-12). Today, the same words resound from the Christians of the West towards their brothers of the Church of Asia[ Cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Orientale Lumen [OL]celebrating the 100th Anniversary of Orientalium Dignitas of Pope Leon XIII ( May 2, 1995), n. 22.] and to draw the background of this important meeting in Cebu in preparation for the International Eucharistic Congress of 2016.
Asia is found in the heart of the Church above all, by design of Providence because the God of Salvation has chosen «to set the beginning of his salvific plan on Asian soil, through men and women of that continent. It was in Asia, in fact, that God since the beginning revealed and brought to fulfillment his salvific plan… In the “fullness of time” sent his only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ the Savior, who was incarnate as an Asian… For the fact that Jesus was born, lived, died and was risen in the Holy Land, this small portion of western Asia has become the Land of Promise and of Hope for the entire humankind».[ Cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation post-conciliar Ecclesia In Asia (November 6, 1999) [ApEx], 1. Special Assembly for ‘Asia of the Synod of Bishops held in the Vatican from April 18 to May 14, 1998.]
Recently, though, Pope Francis, through his apostolic trips first in Korea (August 13-18, 2014) and about a few months later, in Sri Lanka and the Philippines (January 12-19, 2015), in a certain way, was able to point out that in this continent, where Christian faith meets with ancient cultures and local religions, the challenge of evangelization is at stake.
The diffusion of Christian faith in the Asian continent took its first steps from the extreme edge of the world, in Jerusalem, Jesus breathed onto his disciples the Holy Spirit and sent them all up to the ends of the earth (Jn 20: 21, cf Mt 28: 18-20; Mk 16: 15-18; Lk 24:47; Acts 1, 8). For this reason, the special Assembly for Asia of the Synod of Bishops in 1998, reminded us that the history of the Church of Asia is as ancient as the Church itself due to the fact that on the soil of this immense continent, the primitive community was born which received and heard from the beginning, the proclamation of the Gospel of salvation. Following the command of the Lord, the Apostles preached the Word there and founded the first Churches. Despite everything – quite a mystery in the history of salvation! – the Savior of the world, born in Asia, has remained up till now quite unknown to the peoples of the Asian Continent.[ Ap Ex, 2.]
THE CHURCH IN ASIA
The Church in Asia, past and present
Even if we cannot, in this context, re-propose more amply the fascinating and complex story of the Church in Asia; it is, however necessary to recall, at least the great outline of the spreading of the Gospel in this continent.
From Jerusalem, the Church spread to Antioch, Rome and beyond it, reaching south in Ethiopia, north in Scythia and towards east in India. In fact, India at the outset of the Christian era, «Thomas, the apostle, according to tradition, brought forth the announcement of the Good News».[ Cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Tertio millennio adveniente [TMA] (November 10, 1994), 25] Such a strong, living and stable tradition, recounts that Thomas when he reached south of the Indian subcontinent in the year 52 A.D. ; and, after having founded some Christian communities on 3rd July of the year 72 A.D., sealed the faith of his newly-born Church through the shedding of his own blood at Mylapore, near Chennai in Tamil Nadu. The fruitful interweave between the Indian culture washed by that Apostolic blood and Christian faith, gave rise to a Christianity enriched by religious Indian values and nourished by the heroic lives of the many who were baptized.
Unfortunately, missionaries from the West, who reached India from Portugal at the dawning of the 6th century, and who were formed by the medieval monarchic culture of colonialism and by the scholastic theological system, generally, were incapable of understanding and appreciating the Church of Christians of St. Thomas, authentically Eastern and rooted in the humus of such a people. So, a process of westernization began, thereby, interpreting Eastern elements and Indian customs as expressions of schism, heresy or superstition.[ P. Pallath, Le chiese orientali dell’India, in Antiche Chiese Orientali (Credere Oggi n. 147/2005), pp. 95-110]
Although Thomas, the Apostle had ordained sacred ministers who would succeed him in the Christian communities he had built since time immemorial, the Christians of St. Thomas were compelled to depend from the Patriarchs of the Syrian Church based at Seleucia, a city situated in a strategic position between the Tigris and the Euphrates, a short distance from the actual Baghdad, which was a commercial center between Europe and Asia.
Precisely starting from Mesopotamia, the Persian merchants, of the 5th century, brought the Good News to China where at the start of the 7th century the first Church was built. In China, the Church flourished for almost two centuries during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.), but then declined and died at the end of the first millennium.[ Vatican Museum conserves a replica of the famous epitaph with Syrian inscriptions of Si-ngan-fu, built in 781 around the fortress of a monastery in 638 under the Emperor T’ai Tsung’s command in the suburbs of the capital, in Shansi (China). From this epitaph and from other documents it is understood that Christian faith was widespread in the Chinese capital and in different cities, especially in those which were found in the commercial sites . ]
During this time, all throughout Central Asia up to Mongolia many “Nestorian” bishoprics were founded [ In reality, the term “nestorian” for the ancient Church of Syria was very inappropriate because these Eastern Churches were not involved in the controversy entirely within the Roman Empire. Nestorio was not a Syriac, nor spoke the Syrian language (a native of Antioch became Patriarch of Constantinople from 428 to 431) and his rival Cyril was Patriarch of Alexandria. Members of the Eastern Church had nothing to do with the Nestorian controversy and it was only after the death of Nestorio in 451, that Christians from the Persian Empire heard news about the controversy. Simply they declared that the position taken by Nestorio was in accordance with the beliefs that had always been maintained in their Church. Today these Churches are defined, more properly as “Chaldeans”. Cfr. Mark Dickens, The Church of the East, in Li Tang, Dietmar W. Winkler (a cura di), From the Oxus River to the Chinese Shores: Studies on East Syriac Christianity in China and Central Asia; LIT Verlag Münster, 2013, pp. 457 ss.] (e.g. Samarkand from the 8th century). Starting from the middle of the 6th century, the Eastern Church spread, beyond Syria and Mesopotamia, to Arabia, Persia, India, Ceylon, China and Mongolia. Only a few places in the whole of Asia were not reached, sooner or later, by the extraordinary activities of those missionaries who had come from the native land of Abram, the father of believers. According to some sources, in the 11th century, the Chaldean Church outnumbered the faithful from the Greek and Roman Churches put together.[ For knowledge at least in synthesis of this story it would be useful to consult: G. Fedalto, Le chiese d’Oriente, 3 voll., Milan (Jaca Book) 1984-1995; N. Zernov, Il cristianesimo orientale, Milan (Mondadori) 1990; V. Peri, Orientalis varietas. Roma e le chiese d’Oriente, Rome (Pontificio Istituto Orientale) 1994; F. Carcione, Le chiese d’Oriente, Cinisello B. (San Paolo) 1998; E.G. Farrugia (ed.), Dizionario enciclopedico dell’Oriente cristiano, Pontificio Istituto Orientale, Rome 2000; E. Morini, Gli ortodossi, Bologne (Il Mulino) 2002; H.-D. Döpmann, Le chiese ortodosse. Nascita, storia e diffusione delle chiese ortodosse nel mondo, Geneve (ECIG)2003.]
In the 13th century, the Good News was announced to the Tartars but still another time, to the Chinese through the work of Franciscan missionaries guided by John of Montecorvino who became the first Bishop of Peking,[ Cfr. Aa. Vv., I Francescani e la Cina. 800 anni di storia; Assisi (Ed. Porziuncola) 2001.] however, Christianity almost disappeared from these regions due to a number of reasons, among which was geographic isolation, the absence of an appropriate adaptation to the local cultures and the rise of Islam. What followed at the end of the 14th century, was a dramatic re-dimension of the Church in Asia, with the exception of the isolated communities of southern India.
Missions towards the Far East were resumed in the 16th century thanks to the apostolic efforts of extraordinary Christians like Francis Xavier, Alexander Valignano[ V. Volpi, Il Visitatore. Un testimone oculare nel misterioso Giappone del XVI secolo; Piemme, Casale Monferrato 2004.] and Matteo Ricci[ Cfr. L. Mezzadri e P. Vismara, La Chiesa tra rinascimento e illuminismo, Rome (New City) 2006; pp. 197-202. L’eredità più preziosa dei missionari gesuiti Alessandro Valignano e Matteo Ricci è, per unanime convinzione, il metodo dell’«accomodamento», adottato in Giappone in Cina. Si trattava della più significativa alternativa di dialogo culturale all’azione coloniale ed economica delle potenze europee in Asia orientale. Pochi anni dopo, altri gesuiti, quali Roberto de Nobili (1577-1656) in India e Alessandro De Rhodes (1591-1660) in Vietnam, si sono ispirati a questo metodo di evangelizzazione.] and, later on, with the founding of the Congregation of Propaganda Fides through the work of Pope Gregory XV (1622). Directives to missionaries to respect and appreciate the local cultures contributed, in the course of the 17th century, to obtain more positive results. In the 19th century, missionary activities were intensified and various religious congregations totally dedicated themselves to this purpose giving space to the edification of local Churches and accompanying the preaching of the Gospel, along with educational and charitable activities. The Good News reached a vast number of people, especially among the poor and the less privileged, but also, here and there, among the élite and intellectual society. New attempts to enculturate were implemented regarding the Good News; however, they proved to be insufficient.
Notwithstanding the age-old presence and its apostolic efforts, the Church in many countries was still considered strange to Asia; in fact, it is being associated, by popular mentality, with Western powers.
Thanks to the impulse furnished by Vatican Council II, the Church has matured to a new comprehension of such a mission. A new frame of reference was formed based on the universality of the salvific plan of God, regarding the missionary nature of the Christian vocation, the responsibility of each baptized person in the spreading of the Gospel. All these things have found a fertile synthesis in the Conciliar Decree Ad Gentes about missionary activity.[ W. Insero, La Chiesa è «missionaria per sua natura» (AG 2). origine e contenuto dell’affermazione conciliare e la sua recezione nel dopo Concilio; Rome (Ed. Pontificia Università Gregoriana) 2007. Cf. Also the Declaration of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith Dominus Iesus about the uniqueness and salvific universality of Jesus Christ and the Church (2000). Cf. Giacomo Canobbio and Piero Coda, La teologia del XX secolo: prospettive sistematiche, Rome (Città Nuova) 2003.] During the special Assembly, of the Synod for Asia, the Fathers have rendered their testimonies to the recent growth of ecclesial communities, among many and a variety of peoples, in various parts of the Continent.
A Christian minority but of great vitality
Christianity today, in Asia, is «a small remnant», a minority. However, Christianity is alive. If we consult the most recent data of the Statistical Yearbook of the Vatican[ Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae 2012, Libreria Editrice Vaticana 2014], we discover that the Catholics of Asia quantify 134 million, that is to say, 3% of the inhabitants of their continent, but11 % of Catholics in the world. The recent Papal trips have reached those countries whose number of Catholics is above the average percentage of the continent; however, Catholicism is also growing everywhere, particularly in China, India and Vietnam, countries in which there’s exponential growth, because from 1.9 million of Catholics in 1975, they have reached up to 6.8 million today.
Here in the Philippines, the Christian religion, brought by the Spaniards about five centuries ago has set itself in on the cultures and traditional religions, offering an example of enculturation which finds no equal in the whole of Asia. After the first announcement of the Gospel that dates back to 1521, the Philippines entered in the area of Spanish colonial expansion and they were led to Christianity with the same strategy used in the American colonies. The missionaries were compelled also here to become defenders of the aborigines against the conquistadores. At the outset, the work of evangelization was initiated by the Augustinians; what followed afterwards and prevailed was the contribution of the Franciscans. In 1592 the Dominicans erected their own Provincial quarters; the Jesuits did the same in 1606. Manila, as a Bishopric since 1578 became an Archdiocese in 1595 and obtained three episcopates: Nueva Segovia, Nueva Cáceres and Cebu. Towards the middle of the 17th century, the Philippines numbered 2 million Christians. An obstacle to evangelization arose from the fact that Spain had not reached the decision to create autochthonous bishops. When in1898 the Spaniards lost the colony in favor of the United States, no Filipino was yet appointed as Bishop.[ Cf. P. de Charentenay, Les Philippines, archipel asiatique et catolique, Namour-Paris (Lessius) 2015. Utile anche T. Senno, Filippine, valori tradizionali e fede cristiana, Bologne (Emi) 2001] Today, there is a percentage of over l.80% of Catholics with numerous baptized persons yearly that supersedes that of Italy, France, Spain and Poland put together.[ Cf. P. Jenkins, La terza chiesa. Il cristianesimo nel XXI secolo; Rome (Fazi Ed.) 2004, pp.130 ss.] These data, despite the schematics, demonstrate how fast the geography of the Catholic world is changing.
The Church in Asia, furthermore, incarnates the challenge to live and to imagine Christianity in historical forms, which differs from what we have been used to in the West. It’s because Asia has never lived the dynamics– even politically – inherited from Constantine’s Empire or that of Charlemagne. In Asia, no country, perhaps with the exception of what happened in the western borders of the continent beside Armenia, has ever lived in itself as societas cristiana.
Out of necessity, in this new effort to create the Episcopal Conferences of the Asian countries, we are well-aware that to this end, they have given life to the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences (FABC) for the purpose of «nourishing solidarity and co-responsibility for the welfare of the Church and Society in Asia». The founding of FABC, approved by the Holy See in 1972, dates way back to that historical encounter of 180 Catholic Bishops of Asia reunited in Manila for the visit of Paul VI to the Philippines in November 1970. The fundamental commitment of the Association consists in the construction of a new way of being Church «in the light of Vatican Council II and of the official post-conciliar documents, and in accordance to the demands of Asia».[ For the physiognomy and work of FABC cfr: J. Thoppil, Towards an Asian Ecclesiology: The Understanding of the Church in the Documents of the FABC (1970-2000), Shillong (Oriens Publications) 2005. M.M. Quatra. At the Side of the Multitudes: The Kingdom of God and the Mission of the Church in the FABC Documents, Quezon City (Claretian) 2000. R. C. Mendoza, A Church in Dialogue with Peoples of Other Faiths: A Journey to the Kingdom in the Spirit. The Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences 1970-2007; Leuven (Katholieke Universiteit) 2009. In Italian, the documents of FABC were translated by: D. Colombo, Documenti della Chiesa in Asia. Enchiridion, Bologne (EMI) 1997. Statutes, documents, research, final declarations of the Plenary Assemblies have been edited as FABC Papers and they can easily be referred at the website: www.fabc.org.]
This new way of being Church has, as a starting point, the decentralization of ecclesiology that makes of the Kingdom of God the center of the life of the Church and his missionary presence. In order to reach this goal, especially during the 5th Plenary Assembly (Bandung 1990) we began to recognize the “Basic Ecclesial Communities” (BEC) or “Small Christian Communities” (SCC). Furthermore, we recognized that the Church is a communion of communities in which the laity, the religious and the clergy accept each other as brothers and sisters. All in order to respond to the challenge to transform the diversity of cultures – varying languages, history and tradition – with the possibility of communion; because, the Gospel and Christian life can assume flesh and substance by taking into consideration the «wealth of peoples» and continuing the style of incarnation of the Son of God Himself.
The Challenges of the Church in Asia
The life of the Church in Asia, is full of challenges since it is actualized in a social context made of peripheries and frontiers; where there are strong tensions and conflicts in the religious, social, and political level. During the last 40 years the continent has tried to forge its own identity, paying quite often with the price of a nationalistic spirit marked by anti-western sentiments. Globalization has led to a rapid process of modernization and social changes which have often been accompanied by the phenomena of secularization apart from the dissolution of traditional societies. A state of emergency is continually created due to excessive urbanization caused by gigantic urban conglomerations and which are heavily lacerated by criminality, exploitation of the weak, conflicts.
The incessant search for the Divine that has made of Asia the cradle of Great Religions, gave origin in the course of the centuries to a multiplicity of great religious traditions from which the numerous cultures and nationalities of the continent were formed and developed. This type of diversity, unfortunately, gave way to tensions and contrasts in which religious communities were in opposition to one another and were often manipulated to incite hatred and violent counterattacks.
However, a very serious obstacle to the Mission of the Church today still comes from the fact that often it continues to be considered as foreign to the peoples of Asia. Its colonial origins and legacy, always being associated to the West; dependence to rules, loans and western powers, present difficulties to the major part of the Asians. While other religions had been successfully inserted into the culture of the regions where they had been introduced (e.g. Buddhism which was born in India and now prospers in Eastern Asia), it did not happen in the same way for Christianity today, which was imported from Europe, and the Church is often felt like a foreign body with regard to the religious and cultural structure of the Continent. The task to communicate the Christian faith becomes harder to formulate, in a way that is compatible to the local cultures. Furthermore, the complex of the minority, at times, pushes Christians to become a sort of religious ghetto, barricaded from within and ‘divorced’ from those who are outside.
In the midst of these difficulties, the FABC sustains that the Lord Jesus and the faith being professed in Him by the Christian communities are important and absolutely necessary to Asia, but have to be presented in a different way. For this reason, the FABC has involved the Bishops of the continent in a movement which has found its highest expressions in the ten Plenary Assemblies that the Association has held till today.[ Here is the list of the Ten Plenary Assemblies of the FABC held till today: I. Evangelization in Modern Day Asia (Taipei 1974); II. Prayer – The Life of the Church of Asia (Calcutta 1978); III. The Church – A community of faith in Asia (Bangkok 1982); IV. The vocation and mission of the laity in the Church and in the world of Asia (Tokyo 1986); V. The emerging challenges to the Church in Asia in the 1990s: a call to respond (Bandung, Indonesia 1990); VI. Christian discipleship in Asia today: service to life (Manila 1995); VII. A renewed Church in Asia: a mission of love and service (Bangkok 2000); VIII. The Asian family toward a culture of integral life (Daejeon, Korea 2004); IX. Living the Eucharist in Asia (Manila, 2009); X. Responding to the challenges of Asia (Ho Chi Min, Vietnam 2012).]
Since the First Plenary Assembly held in 1974 in Taipei, the FABC has sustained that the «fundamental way of the mission in Asia» has to be dialogue. In a social context marked by strong contrasts and conflicts of religious, political and social order, it has explored the rapport between the content and the values of the Gospel with the realities of Asia and its numerous peoples, with their own history and culture, their creeds and religious traditions, especially with “masses of poor people”.
This Program of Dialogue with Culture (= enculturation), with Great Religions and traditional religions (= interreligious dialogue) and with a multitude of poor people (= development/liberation), was the underlying theme of the activities of particular Churches in the continent for the last thirty years; and, also became the road to theology of the Mission in the next few decades so as to grow in this Dialogue of Life.
The concrete path of the Church in Asia forms, in quite a natural and evident way, the schematic guideline of the Basic Text, prepared for the 51st Eucharistic Congress in Cebu. There, it is being expounded that the Eucharist is source and summit of the Mission of the Church and the added value being offered is singled out by the Eucharistic celebration toward a mission which is realized in dialogue with peoples, cultures, religions, the poor and the youth. In this way, the Congress of 2016 assumes the commitment to make those enzymes rise: of dialogue, of reconciliation, of peace and for the future, which Asia is thirsty of, by means of the only true power and wealth that the Church possesses; that is, the Eucharist, meal of the Word and of the bread of life in which the Paschal Mystery of Christ is revealed, center of evangelical announcement of disciples in every age.
In other words, it concerns motivation, starting from the Eucharist to work, to life, to missionary commitment, to evangelization of the Church existing in Asia. In the founding texts of faith, the Eucharist appears, in fact, as the event in which the Risen One makes himself present in the mystery of His Body being given and His Blood being poured out so as to enlighten, sustain, transform the ecclesial communities into efficacious yeasts of a new culture and of a society less dissimilar from the design of God. Source and summit of life of the Christian community, the Eucharist is also the origin and climax of its service, commitment and witness to the world, being at its very own setting.[ Cf. the Decree on the ministry and life of presbyters Presbyterorum Ordinis [PO] on December 7, 1965: « It is not possible that a Christian community can be formed if it does not assume as root and as a pillar the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, from which therefore, it has to take action whatever education that tends to form the spirit of community (54). In turn, the Eucharistic celebration, so as to be completely sincere, has to push us, both to different works of charity and to reciprocal help; also to missionary action and various forms of Christian witness».]
THE EUCHARIST SOURCE AND SUMMIT
OF THE MISSION OF THE CHURCH IN ASIA
The Eucharist builds the Church as a community of Dialogue
In Asia, where the characteristic mode of existence of the Church is that of dialogue, the Eucharist shines out as «the extraordinary experience of God’s dialogue with us and of our response to Him: a dialogue of life, a dialogue of love».[ Cf. Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, Pastoral Letter Landas ng Pagpapakabanal, on Filipino Spirituality (2000), 71-74.] There, «by nourishing ourselves with Christ and drinking from the cup of salvation, in a very unique way we enter into the dialogue of life with the Trinity; as we leave the Eucharistic Assembly, we are invited to continue in this Trinitarian dialogue of life and salvation through forms of loving services towards the poor, the least, and the lost».[ Cf. Basic Text of the 51st Eucharistic Congress in Cebu: «Christ in you, hope of glory».The Eucharist: source and summit of life and the mission of the Church; Ponteranica (Centro Eucaristico) 2015, pg. 40.]
Enlightened by the Word of Life and nourished by the Eucharist, when the Liturgical Assembly disperses, Christians return to their houses allowing the power of the Gospel to permeate secretly into every fiber of their being, almost like a beneficial contagion. After having shared the same Body and having drunk from the same chalice, «without illusions, without ideological utopias, we walk through the streets of the world, bringing within us the Body of the Lord… With the humility of knowing that we are just mere grains of wheat, we safeguard the firm certainty that the love of God, incarnate in Christ, is far stronger than evil, violence and death…».[ Benedict XVI, Omelia nella festa del Corpus Domini 2011 in AAS CIII, 7; p. 464.]
For this reason, every time we partake of the Eucharistic meal, we are carried away into the movement of the Mission which, «by taking the first steps from the heart of God Himself, we hold in perspective to reach out to all men. Hence, a constitutive part of the Eucharistic form of Christian existence is missionary inclination».[ Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis, 84.]
The Eucharist reproduces in itself the missionary dynamism of dialogue, of proclamation and communication that finds its roots in the universal destination of the Body, given for all and of the Blood, being poured out «for the remission of sins».[ Cfr. M. Florio -C. Rocchetta, Sacramentaria speciale I, Bologne 2004, p.307.] Each time the Eucharist is celebrated, it shapes the plasma of the dialoguing physiognomy of the Church as well as in each of the baptized. [ Dialogue and Mission, document of the Secretariat for non-Christians (now Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue ) 1984, establishes that Dialogue is «the norm and the necessary procedure of every form as well as of every aspect of Christian mission».]
Dialogue as service to the world
In the school of the Eucharist, in memory of the Paschal gift of Christ who «despite being in the condition of God… but emptied Himself, to assume the condition of a slave, and became as men are …» (Phil 2:5-7) the Dialogue of the Church of Asia with native cultures, religions, the poor, and the youth, becomes in this way the primary service that the Church renders to the world, the seed of the Mission, image of the Son, the true seed that fell into the soil and dies to bear much fruit (cf. Jn 12:24).
The encyclical of Paul VI Ecclesiam Suam of which we have just celebrated the 50th anniversary, insists on the importance of this dialogue: «It is necessary that we bear in mind this ineffable but authentic dialogue, offered and established with us by God the Father, through Christ, in the Holy Spirit, so as to comprehend which rapport, we as Church, have to seek to re-establish and to promote with humanity».[ Paulo VI, Encyclical Letter (6th August 1964) Ecclesiam Suam [ES], n 72 ss..]
This attitude of dialogue, being the driving force of the history of salvation and which manifests the unconditional love of God for mankind, finds its foundation in the Mystery of the Son of Man, of the obedient Servant who gave His life for the world. It is He, present in the Eucharist who teaches us that there’s no dialogue without renouncing to the will for power, without adopting an attitude of poverty, of openness, of authentic ears that listen, so as to put ourselves in each other’s school. It then sparks the beginning of an exodus in itself and liberation, the fruit of welcoming the Easter of the Son and which is understood only through Eucharistic Celebration.
In the Celebration of the Lord’s Supper, we learn to dialogue because we learn to serve. Such service, modelled after the Sacrifice of the Cross, of which the Eucharist is a sacramental representation, makes of a redeemed existence an authentic existence for others; borne from the dialogue with God, crossed by (dia-logos ) his Word, we enter into existence, by the daily offering of our lives as a gift.
Dialogue as characteristic of “an outgoing Church”
In addition, the dialogue experienced in the Eucharistic Celebration allows us to recognize that the absolute subject of salvation is God; who sends his Son to the world; who by the power of the Holy Spirit entrusts the Good News of the Gospel to the whole humanity. Every community that celebrates, every Church, is called to enter into history and to walk in the company of men so that the Mission of the Son arrives to all humankind. Hence, in order to be faithful to this vocation, the Church, first of all, has to recognize that at the center of its announcement we find, not herself but the Kingdom of God (cf Mk. 1:15). [ «The Church, while helping the world and while receiving much from it, is focused only on one goal: may God’s Kingdom come and may the salvation of all mankind be fulfilled» (Gaudium et Spes, 45). «If on the one hand, the FABC affirms that the proclamation of Jesus Christ is the center and principal aspect of evangelization, on the other hand, explains what such a proclamation means: first of all, that the Christians and the Christian communities testify to the values of the kingdom of God, and they proclaim the Gospel through works. For the Christians of Asia to proclaim Christ means first of all to live like Him in the midst of people of other religions and creeds and to accomplish grace as the same work [of Christ]. Proclamation through dialogue and works is the first vocation of the churches in Asia» (Jonathan Y. Tan, Christian Mission among the peoples of Asia: imagining new possibilities, Münster 2004).]
This is, perhaps the significance of that locution «outgoing Church» well-loved by Pope Francis,[ Cfr. Evangelii Gaudium, nn. 20 -24.] «a Church with open doors» (EG 46) that trespasses its own limits of space and culture. In this house of open doors and with arms wide open, icon of Christian mission, also the Eucharist becomes missionary in its actualization of the Parable of the Gospel in which the man who «gave a great dinner and made many invitations», sent his servants «to the public squares and streets of the city so as to lead the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame» (cf Lk 14:15-24), an image of the eschatological banquet of the Kingdom which not only welcomes all peoples, but in which they will be «Happy the man who will be at the feast in the Kingdom of God» (Lk 14: 15).
The Church cannot close itself inside the Cenacle for fear of the world, worried about preserving the memory, instead of offering it as the Good News to all. It shouldn’t care less and worry about being a minority; Jesus, in fact, did not ask us to measure by sociological criteria, but to feel always «pusillus grex» (Lk 12:32), as a small flock, yes, but meaningful, because it is capable of being «salt of the earth» (Mt 5:13) and «light of the world» (Mt 5:14).
Every Church is thirsty of dialogue; because otherwise, it cannot meet up with the thirst of men. For this reason, dialogue is not a possible option, but it is the Church’s way of being: in fact, it was born on the day of Pentecost, day of dialogue between the Jews and the Gentiles, capable of understanding one, unique, good news in one’s own culture, in one’s own language, in one’s own path of humanization (cf. Acts 2:1-12). Here, we recall the prophetic words of Paul VI: «The Church has to get into dialogue with the world where it lives. The Church turns into words; the Church becomes dialogue; the Church stirs up a conversation».[ ES, 67.]
The Eucharist builds the Church as a community of charity
Secondly, the Eucharist makes of the Church a community of charity. Christ, in his Sacrament, offers to the Church to become one Single Body, sharing what it possesses as its very own: his Death and his Resurrection. Participation to the Eucharist, Easter of the Lord and life given by the Son, pushes us to go beyond the borders of the community so as to reach even the farthest ones.
In this way, from a Eucharistic Celebration which is conscious and active, from sharing in «the bread of eternal life», springs forth a culture of solidarity and of communion that defies every type of egoistic logic and educates us to active love that makes the best of everything to everyone.
This active love, this evangelical charity, does not consist only in giving and sharing goods; but first of all, it is nearness, so as make an encounter, to listen, to light up a relationship where you act responsibly and with love. Nearness is essential to charity as well as to evangelization. You have to decide to make yourself a neighbor, to meet the other, overcoming hearsays, prejudices, fatigue and diffidence. The other person is always a brother and – we can add: in faith – «a brother for whom Christ died» (1Cor 8:11).
Starting from the core of ecclesial life which is the Eucharist we can go out to meet man, to welcome and discover his necessities. What we call proximity is an arduous path and, at times, even humbling experience; because, it requires sharing with the sufferings of the person we meet in order to accompany him in the daily search of a life, humanly needy of meaning and salvation. Once again, the Parable of the Gospel reminds us that in order to evangelize, that is, to invite- in view of the banquet of the Kingdom, we have to go to the streets, public squares, along the hedgerows, at the crossroads (cf. Lk 14, 21:23) so as to seek «the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind» (Lk 14:13). Are they not perhaps those existential peripheries which Pope Francis readily speaks about?[ At the peripheries of existence Pope Francis hinted for the first time in the first public audience of his Pontificate, at St. Peter’s Square, March 27, 2013.From there “existential peripheries” have become the constant element in his addresses. Cfr. N. Capovilla e B. Tusset, Esclusi. Nelle periferie esistenziali con Papa Francesco, Roma (Paoline) 2015.]
The Church of charity is poor
The charitable initiatives of the disciple, has to be an act which, even in the manner that it is being done, should manifest the charity of God. A Church might be for the poor and act for the poor only if she herself is poor; and the Christian whose subject is directed to the poor, has to be poor himself. What is urgent for the Church is not first of all, so much about offering many things but instead to assume poverty as a lifestyle. Only in this way can the Church bring the Good News to the poor.[ Prophetic words are seen contained in the text from the Synod in the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church: «As Christ fulfilled his redemption through poverty and persecutions, the Church is called in the same way to walk the same path so as to communicate to all men the fruits of salvation. .Jesus Christ « who was of divine condition… emptied himself, assuming the condition of a slave » (Phil :,6-7)and for us «though rich, he made himself poor » (2 Cor :,9) so in this way, the Church, even if to fulfill its Mission needs human intermediaries, has not been instituted to seek earthly glories, but instead to spread itself with its example of humility and renunciation» (Lumen Gentium, n. 8).]
Poverty is a theological category, because the Son of God humbled himself so as to walk in our streets. Thus, a Church that does not accept the dynamics of deprivation (kénosis),will never be capable of bringing the Good News of the Gospel to the poor nor to touch for themselves the skin of Christ.
Right after his election, Pope Francis told the journalists: «Ah, how much I would like a Church that is poor and is for the poor!»[ Audience with media representatives, March 16, 2013] He keeps repeating it obsessively, like someone who sides with the poor, because he knows about their lives and tries to deprive himself of something daily.
2.2.2 The Church of charity is humble
The second characteristic style of the Church and of the Christian regarding charitable actions is certainly humility which can also be defined as spiritual poverty: it allows one to reach men and women who can only be recognized by him who feels humble like them, needy like them, of the mercy of God. Also regarding this, Jesus warned that He did not come for the just, the healthy, the visionaries (cf. Jn 9:39-41), but for sinners, and for this reason «the publicans and the prostitutes», will precede those who consider themselves righteous in the Kingdom of God (cf. Mt 21:31).
For this reason the Church and the Christians do not impose themselves but propose meekly and gently; the disciples of Jesus do not feel being attacked nor militant in the face of a society considered as an enemy; charity does not love epiphanies or easy testimonies…
From this standpoint, it would be worth re-reading the Apostolic Exhortation of Paul VI Evangelii nuntiandi (1975), defined by Pope Francis as the best script of the Magisterium on Evangelization but as well as the Ecclesiam suam, with his words on “sympathy” of the Church for the world.[ Cfr. ES, n. 81. Brilliant also was the discourse pronounced by Paul VI in Bethlehem for the Solemnity of the Epiphany, 1964, in which the following affirmations shine out: «Nous regardons le monde avec une immense sympathie. Si le monde se sent étranger au christianisme, le christianisme ne se sent pas étranger au monde, quel que soit l’aspect sous lequel ce dernier se présente et quelle que soit l’attitude qu’il adopte à son égard», in AAS, LVI, s. III, vol. VI, pag. 177.]
Furthermore, humility reminds us that the Christian Gospel is not an exclusive privilege of just a certain group of people of a particular culture, but is destined and addressed to all peoples and cultures, of all seasons and generations. The Church is not “master” but only a collaborator and servant of the Gospel, as St. Paul writes to the Corinthians: «We are not dictators over your faith; but are fellow workers with you for your happiness» (2 Cor 1:24). We propose the Gospel in this way as humble and credible witnesses, so as to enter in dialogue with others and to seek, in the light of the Holy Spirit, what God wants to tell those who open themselves up to the Gospel of the Kingdom.
The Eucharist builds the Missionary Church
In Asia which is preparing for the Congress, «Eucharistic celebration, family meal and sacrifice, is the best way to announce the Good News that God offers salvation through the gift of His Son: He sacrifices Himself so that all of us enter to become part of his family, we are enriched with His Word, revitalized by his broken body and nourished by his bread. In this way the Eucharist opens up to the Missions and pushes us to share life with others».[ Cf. «Christ in you… cit.», p. 44.] A Mission that configures today with the new method of the missions inter gentes.
The Filipinos have not forgotten that the Gospel arrived to them through missionaries, and that their faith has developed thanks to strangers coming from Spain, Portugal, Italy, Germany, Ireland, and France. They know very well that by now the Mission is no longer unidirectional. In fact, the number of missionaries who go from south to north have consolidated, traveling back in reverse through the road ad gentes; but, there’s a growing number of missionaries from the South who go to Asia, Africa and Latin America . We speak of the missions with a circular Movement, “from South to South”.
This new method of the missions inter gentes is due to the increasing phenomenon of the mixture of races, or so to speak, of the multicultural aspect that today characterizes the major part of the world. As a consequence of the phenomenon of mobilization greatly facilitated by the communications media, international migration has multiplied and today, the number of emigrants estimated to be about 220 million and the number of refugees or forced to migrate are more than 50 million; there’s one for every 120 persons.[ Cfr. Michael Blume, The Global Phenomenon of Immigration, Pontificio Consiglio della Pastorale dei Migranti e degli Itineranti, Città del Vaticano, 2000.] Furthermore, the influx of migrants is no longer unidirectional, but multidirectional. That is to say, the emigrants come from all parts of the world and are headed towards every part of the world. The phenomenon of mobilization establishes new frontiers to the Missions.
In this regard, we are reminded that, for example, from the United States of America, Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Italy, and Saudi Arabia, there are approximately ten million Filipino immigrants. These lay faithful bring along with them their faith; wherever they go, they witness the Gospel with their lives; this is an aspect to consider attentively. Among these emigrants, at the service of the missions, there are more than a thousand priests as well as two or three thousand sisters.
In this context, to speak of the missions inter gentes means to speak, first of all, of the missions as “a dialogue with people”. It deals here with the dialogue of life which is accomplished with non-Christians in whichever human background: in public squares of western cities or other social milieus. If the direct announcement of the Gospel continues to be a necessary element of the missions, also dialogue is an indispensable element.[ The document from the Secretariat for non-Christians Mission and Dialogue affirmed in 1984that «Dialogue is the norm and the necessary procedure of every form of Christian mission and in every aspect» (n. 29). Besides, the Council spoke about evangelization that has to begin with the search for “seeds of the Word” (AG 11) that the Spirit disseminates everywhere. This is Dialogue with Culture; this is not an option but an imperative of the Missions.]
Think of the witness given by Catholic immigrants in a Muslim country in the Middle East or by Catholic immigrants, hired as domestic helpers in the houses of secular Europe. The missions are characterized always more as the responsibility of every baptized person and the entire people of God in its being out-in-the world.[ On the Reality of the Missions inter gentes cfr.: Jonathan Y. Tan, Missio inter gentes, Towards a New Paradigm in the Mission Theology of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC), Koninklijke Brill NV 2004; D. J. Bosch, La trasformazione della missione. Mutamenti di paradigma in missiologia , Biblioteca di Teologia contemporanea 109, Brescia (Queriniana) 2000; C. Dotolo, Un cristianesimo possibile. Tra postmodernità e ricerca religiosa, Brescia (Queriniana) 2007. Per un primo approccio a questi problemi è interessante anche la conferenza di P. A. Pernia, Verbita filippino, al 3° Congresso Missionario Americano di Quito (agosto del 2008): «Mission among peoples: global prophecy» in: http://www.missionline.org/index.php?l=it&art=945.]
The Mission inter gentes is characterized then as “a dwelling in the midst of people”. It is a permanent commitment in the midst of people to announce the Kingdom and collaborate to the promotion and enculturation of its values. This is accomplished according to the logic of the Incarnation, by which the Word of God «came to dwell among us» (Jn 1:14).
Also here, for instance., I remember that Saint John Paul II, on 1st December 2002, in his message to the Filipino community in Italy, emphasized how many of them who had come to the West in order to find work, had conserved also the mission of bringing the Catholic faith to Italian families.[ «Proceed, therefore, with trust and determination, along the road of faith and solidarity,indicated distinctly by motto mentioned by your Chaplain, who invites you all to “communion”, to “witness” and to the “proclamation of the Gospel”. The witness of an authentically Christian life will keep you all united and will continue to conquer you to respecting and to helping others. I ask whoever will give you work to welcome one another and to love one another as beloved brothers and sisters in Christ. All of us have to cooperate to build the civilization of love». For the complete text cf.: http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/it/homilies/2002/documents/hf_jp-ii_hom_20021201_philippine-community.html.]
At the end of this expo, it can well be understood that the celebration of the 51st International Eucharistic Congress in Cebu is, above all, an important timeline to strengthen the missionary /evangelizing perspective of the Church in Asia. At its core – from way back 1521 when they appeared in the horizons of Cebu, Magellan’s galleons reached this land with the announcement of the Gospel – there would be the rapport between the Eucharist and the missions: evangelizing mission that develops in Asia. Not only that, but also with the methods, abovementioned of the dialogue with culture, with religions, with the poor and with the youth.
The “missionary” dimension of the upcoming Congress, is put into evidence, in addition, by the geographic position of Cebu, as well as its urban physiognomy. Here, we realize that for the celebration of an International Eucharistic Congress, there is no need of a metropolitan of the First World, replete with structures, public places or of consolidated organizing capacity. What is useful, however, is human space even relatively poor because it is found at the margins of the world of well-being; but rich of faith, a people with generous and open arms, a soil where the missionary proclamation of the Eucharist can adhere and bear fruit. Therefore, «hic manebimus optime».
In conclusion, if we are here in Cebu, it is to remind us that Mission means an exchange of gifts [ Cfr LG, 13: «By virtue of Catholicity, ,each individual member brings his own gifts to other members or to the entire Church, in such a way that all as well as the individual person may grow by universal and mutual exchange and by common effort towards the fullness of unity».] between who announces and who receives the evangelical announcement. The Eucharistic Congresses are here to give and receive, to evangelize and be evangelized, to speak but also to listen. In this human context which is not linked to the labyrinth of rationalism, we can still make an appeal to the intelligence of affection, to the necessity to experience poverty and suffering, and the narration of the story of Jesus still is able to open hearts and to build communities which desire «to eat the bread in the Kingdom of God» (cf. Lk 14:15).