THE CHRISTIAN FAMILY IN ASIA
Communion, Contemplation and Communication
The Family, Teacher of Human Values and Christian Values: The Global Vision
Talk delivered by Bishop Socrates B Villegas during the Theological Pastoral Congress of the VI World Meeting of Families held last January 16, 2009 in Mexico City
It was in Asia where the holy family was born. It was in Asia where Jesus, Mary and Joseph lived. The Asia where the holy family lived is not very different from the Asia of today. All over our continent, there is a prevalent natural longing for the divine and an inborn thirst for silence and contemplation. We in Asia are not confrontational. Dialogue is a natural characteristic of our lives. We seek harmony and complimentarity in community life, in social life, in family life. It is this disposition for contemplation, harmony and dialogue that made Asia fertile ground for the birthing of the religions of the world.
The Church was born in Asia. The Church is the gift of Asia to the world. Although it is ironic to see that the giver seems to hardly appreciate the worth of the gift it has given to the world, the rest of the world must always look at Asia with infinite gratitude for cradling the infant Church at its beginning. The Asian continent is the continent of the Church. It is the continent of Emmanuel, God-with-us.
The Church in Asia is the Body of Christ in Asia. The mission of Jesus Christ, God made man, continues in the world through the mission of the Church. If Jesus is God-Man and Man-God, so the Church must truly be Divine-Human and Human-Divine. The Church in Asia thus embodies, preserves and proclaims not only spiritual Christian values but universal human values as well.
In her mission of teaching, the Church in Asia proclaims a message that is truly human and fully Christian. Indeed the values of humanity and the values of the Gospel intersect and overlap. Human values and Christian values are not mutually exclusive; rather they complement each other and have many points of harmony and convergence.
The Church is communion. The Church is a communion of peoples called together by the Lord. Ecclesial communion constitutes the very nature of the Church. The diocese is really and actually a communion of communities.
If the Church is communion, so is the continent of Asia and its peoples. There is a natural longing for communion with nature. Communion in the family is manifested in the strong spirit of filial piety in the Asian family. The thirst for philosophy and the value of non violence runs in the veins of every Asian. We have a remarkable capacity for accommodation and tolerance. This strong passion and drive to be in communion is also displayed as intense longing for God.
The Church proclaims a message and carries a mission of compassion. This compassionate mission of the Church is a continuation of the compassion of Jesus Himself. This mission is not simply social action. It is not philanthropy. The mission of compassion proclaims that the kingdom is indeed among us.
If the Church continues Christ’s compassion, so is the Asian continent a land of compassion. Asia is poor. Where poverty abounds, humanitarian compassion also abounds. It is appropriate to pay tribute to Blessed Teresa of Calcutta who was known all over the world for her loving selfless care of the poorest of the poor. She is an icon of the compassion of humanity and the compassion of Christ’s Church.
The Church is by her very nature missionary. Her task is to communicate Christ to a world in search for meaning and purpose. Her mission to communicate love comes as a message that disturbs. The Church is neither a social trouble maker nor a sower of cultural strife. We are conscience trouble makers allowing the power of the Gospel to disturb so that more and more Christ may be formed in us. The Church as a communicator is, like its Master, a sign of contradiction.
The Asian continent communicates a message of hope to our world in the midst of contradictions and paradoxes. The values that accompany communication in Asia are respect, honesty, humility and truth. These authentic Asian values are at the core of our Christian values too.
In communion, compassion and communication, human and Christian values intersect in the continent of Asia. By the power of these human and Christian values, I believe all the troubles and challenges that Asia faces right now can be overcome.
Not everything in Asia, however, is congruent with the values of the Gospel. We have vast shadows hovering over our continent too. They contradict and attack traditional Asian values. Urbanization is giving rise to terrorism and crime and prostitution. Migration is causing cultural, economic and moral upheavals in what used to be solid and stable families. Irresponsible media is threatening traditional family values and the sacredness of sexuality.
There is a growing resistance to traditional values of respect for life and care for the weak and the old. Attracted by the progressive flavor of Western advertisements, our youth and children are developing an antipathy for spiritual things intoxicated by the lure of the almighty dollar.
There is brewing repression against Christianity and the Catholic Church in some pockets in Asia. Our Catholic missionaries in some parts of India suffer unimaginable torment. Our Catholic brethren in Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam are suffering from isolation because of repressive government laws. Peace continues to be elusive in Israel and Jerusalem, the heart of our Christian faith. As martyrs continue to shed their blood in Asia today, we pray that their blood may become seeds for new life in Asia.
Finally, an attitude of rebuke against institutions is creeping in. Influenced by the mass media and the internet, the youth indiscriminately reproach the value of human life, the sacredness of the human person and the spiritual roots of their religion. They rebuke government laws on good morals and decency. They reject institutions and consider them as obstacles to progress.
Faced with these shadows, the Christian family in Asia is called upon to preserve the values of communion and harmony, the primacy of charity and compassion and the spirit of dialogue and communication rooted in respect, honesty, truth and humility.
I close with a story.
A priest was assigned by his bishop to take photographs of the soup kitchen sponsored by the cathedral. Two hundred food stubs were distributed to poor people living near the church. Not far from the food distribution table, there were four children who had no food stubs but who wanted some food for themselves. The eldest of the four joined the line even if he had no food stub. When he got to the table, there was no food left except a piece of banana. The lay leader in charge of the distribution gave the banana to the little girl who immediately rushed to her three waiting siblings. There was brilliance in the eyes of the four children as they made a sign of the cross and prayed before eating the small banana. The eldest peeled the banana and divided it into three parts for her three siblings. What was left for the eldest was the banana peel. As her three siblings enjoyed one third of the banana, the eldest satisfied herself with scraping with her teeth the inside of the banana peel.
The priest told me he wanted to take a photo of the beautiful scene of love but he could not because he was crying. My priest friend was sure that if he would peep through his camera, he would see the face of Jesus. In the face of this young Asian girl, the compassionate face of God glowed. She is the youth that Jesus stays with. She is the image of the living Church in Asia—communion, compassion and communication.
God bless you all.
Bishop SOCRATES B. VILLEGAS
Bishop of Balanga, Philippines