Evangelization in Asia amid Pandemic and beyond
di Santosh Digal
The Covid-19 pandemic and protracted lockdown in many countries have added woes to people. With the health crisis that has impacted people, missionaries, Church personnel and the laity have been doing their best to help people in solidarity. Members of the Catholic Church in Asian countries continue to help others who are in distress because charity springs forth from faith and it is the first mean of evangelization
Opportunities and challenges of the Catholic Church’s missionary work in Asia, the world’s largest and most populous continent with 4.463 billion people (2016), are always new. It is in Asia, where all major religions, such as Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Shinto, Sikhism, Taoism, and Zoroastrianism, had their origin. Christians in Asia, are 350 million, and it is estimated that by 2025, the number may increase to 460 million. However, Christians remain a minority in the region or in 48 countries, though they are the majority in countries like the Philippines, Timor Leste, Asian Russia, Cyprus, Armenia, and Georgia. Amid the diversity of religions, cultures, and traditions, the church in Asia, being a minority in number, has been called to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ and proclaim the Gospel as a collective commitment to mission and evangelization.
Different Challenges, Opportunities
Given the speed of the population, different religions, multicultural and multiracial and other distinct mosaic characteristics of each country, Asia faces wide-ranging challenges. The presence of rampant poverty, inequality, and gender disparity, and unemployment, lack of proper education, housing facilities, migration, the refugee crisis and conflicts fueled by religion, politics, and social and economic imbalance plague and jeopardize the development of the peoples. Increase of authoritarian regimes, populism, communalism, majoritarian tendency, trade conflicts with western powers and countries in Asia struggle to maintain peace, harmony and solidarity. The marginalization that religious minorities, ethnic communities and indigenous or aboriginal people face are enormous.
Besides, the Covid-19 pandemic and protracted lockdown in many countries have added further pain to people. Given these realities, the Church’s contribution to society in Asia has been phenomenal in terms of its contribution to nation-building through options for the poor, healthcare, education and social service.
With the coronavirus-induced health crisis that has impacted people, missionaries, church personnel and the laity have been doing their best to help people in terms of providing them food, shelter, medical assistance and other forms of assistance to people of all walks of life. Members of the church continue to help others who are in distress because it is the church’s legacy – charity as a way of life that springs forth from faith. This has become a witnessing value for others in these painful times.
Family, a domestic Church
Due to safety measures and health concerns caused by the pandemic, churches across Asia, like the rest of the world, have shut and community worship and the sacramental life of Catholics have been suspended for months. While common liturgical activities are impossible in a given scenario, prayers, faith formation programs, retreats and catechesis are being carried out through virtual services in the meantime, although virtual services cannot replace personal participation in the liturgy.
Several bishops, priests, nuns, lay missionaries and youth are engaged in online liturgical events that help the faithful. This will continue until things return to normality. Following this, church leaders across the region remind and urge their members to stick to faith and hope with renewed hearts in their families amid the surmounting challenges they face.
The pandemic situation has enabled the church to undertake more efforts and resources in social communication in proclaiming the gospel. The value of social communication is being felt urgently now more than before, though the Vatican II document “Inter Mirifica” or ‘On Means of Social Communication” (1963) had already been emphasized. In Asia unfortunaltely means of communication are not the same in rural and remote areas as in urban regions.
Many Catholics cannot afford access even to virtual religious services that are available.
Amid these pressing challenges, it is important to remember that family is the cradle of missionary work where the seed of faith is implanted in the lives of members of a family and it grows in the long run with the accompaniment and participation of a larger Christian community. Amid the global health crisis, parents and elders become agents of faith, teaching their children and other members of the family with the reading of the Bible, prayers and other home-based religious and spiritual activities. In this way, they witness their faith and inspire one another to live in hope for themselves and others. Pope Francis also reiterated this calling Christians around the world to be “bearers of hope”.
In some regions of Asia, family members and elders are called to teach catechism to children and pass the tacit knowledge of faith and experience of their religious traditions to other younger members of the family with compassion and commitment. This makes sense that every baptized person is a missionary in the backdrop of the current public health outbreak which may continue for some time.
Ministering the Youth
One way to address or enhance the church’s social communication apostolate is to engage young people, who have a vast knowledge in the digital world, in the media ministry in the church.
According to the United Nations World Population (2010), youth in Asia and the Pacific make up about 19% of the region’s total population. Over 60% of the world’s youth live in Asia-Pacific. This translates into more than 750 million young women and men between 15 to 24 years of age. This calls for the church in Asia to have ministers that help accompany young people in discerning their life of faith as catalysts of societal transformation with gospel values.
Dialogue towards harmony and peace
As said earlier, Christians in Asia are a minority and yet the contribution of the church to society in terms of education, social development healthcare has been remarkable. It is widely accepted as indispensable involvement of the church’s role for nation-building in each country in the region. Furthermore, Christians inevitably live and work with the vast majority of people belonging to other religions, beliefs and faith traditions.
Finally, Mission Month (October) as announced by the Church is a reminder for every Catholic to carry out missionary work by the very fact of one’s baptism in Asia and beyond. In the words of Thomas Menamparampil, Archbishop Emeritus of Guwahati, Assam (India), “evangelization is like whispering to the soul of Asia. This is exactly what every Catholic in Asia is called to do”.