Asia poses unique challenges to the spreading of the Catholic faith, and the Church must respond by evangelizing through personal encounters, insisted the leading Filipino cardinal.
“We have to admit, even up to now, in some parts of Asia Christianity is perceived as alien to Asian cultures,” Cardinal Luis Tagle of Manila said at a Mar. 2 lecture at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
“It is part of the mission of the Church in Asia to show the richness of the Gospel in its universally valid truths, values, open to all human beings. But this should happen in human interactions,” he continued. “Evangelization can never neglect concrete men and women.”
Tagle delivered the annual Cardinal Dearden Lecture at Catholic University, speaking about “Gaudium et Spes After 50 Years: an Asian Reception.” That document, which translates as “Joy and Hope,” was one of the four main Apostolic Constitutions of Vatican II and focused on the Church and the modern world.
The lecture honored Cardinal Dearden of Detroit for his work in spreading the teachings of Vatican II.
Pope Francis’ “culture of encounter” is crucial to Asia, where Christianity is a tiny minority and looked upon with suspicion by many, Cardinal Tagle explained.
Although Asia is the largest continent and holds two-thirds of the world’s population, Christianity makes up a meager three percent of the populace, and half of that is in the Philippines, he said.
Poverty is rampant. Asia is filled with “teeming masses of the poor” which include migrants, victims of human trafficking and sex tourism, and persons smuggled for cheap labor, he added.
“In some parts of Asia you have refugee camps that no country claims, so you have stateless people. No country wants to protect them and their rights,” the cardinal said. This would include the massive Rohingya Muslim population in Western Burma, not recognized as citizens and thus not legally protected. An estimated 300,000 live in refugee camps in surrounding countries, according to the State Department.
Asian culture has been shaped by the “ancient religions,” many of which are older than Christianity itself, which is seen as “alien,” the cardinal continued.
Therefore, in light of Gaudium et Spes and its focus on the Church in the modern world, Cardinal Tagle proposed evangelization that above all is a person-to-person encounter. This is easier said than done, he admitted, in cultures that persecute Christianity.
When a government enacts an anti-Christian law, for example, “Will we continue dialoguing?” he asked.
Cardinal Tagle drew some inspiration from Pope Francis’ recent visit to the Philippines and Sri Lanka.
Francis “pays attention to the reality,” and this is expressed in his “attentiveness to human beings,” the cardinal explained, sharing the story of Francis listening to victims of a recent typhoon describe the loss of their loved ones or their own corporal suffering from the storm.
Cardinal Tagle heard Francis elicit small groans as he listened, a sign that he was actively sharing in their suffering and expressing solidarity with them.
“The poor have a wisdom unique to them,” the cardinal said, adding that if one is humble he will listen to and learn from the poor and the suffering. Sometimes the Church does not have an answer for suffering, but he quoted Pope Francis that sometimes tears are the only answer.
One needs go no further than a shopping mall to see the poverty of loneliness in the modern world, he concluded, whether it occurs through one’s “excessive protection of privacy” or a “lack of trust” between persons. “We must create the conditions of trust,” he insisted, of “fraternity” and “sorority.”