“Excellent!” it is Antoine’s favorite word. He always said this when I was doing Asian youth programs. I really thought the program was Excellent, but Antoine gave this compliment to many people. Such a generous word was not limited to people. When we ate together, or took a short walk in the park around the conference venue, I couldn’t fail to hear the very word. Perhaps it’s not because Antoine’s emotions and language are loose, but because it was an expression of his attitude toward to life. It is just like “life is beautiful”, one of his last words left us in the four-minute video he made ahead of his own death. It is not only my feelings of him. When Nicola from France shared her grief with me on his passing away in an email, she said he was “a brilliant and funny person with a deep love of life.”
The memory of Antoine was always pleasant to me. Perhaps I first met Antoine at an international conference on the theme of the IMF crisis, hosted by the Woori Theology Institute in Seoul in the late 1990s. In 2013, we held the Asian Youth Academy(AYA)/Asian Theology Forum(ATF) in Chiang Mai, Thailand. In the morning liturgy, participants came out to a large, woody garden to pick out what they liked best around them and explain why in one word. I saw Antoine then pick up a piece of fallen leaves from a large mango tree and tell the joiners around him why he chose the word “Serenity” in his turn. I guess he chose the word for “stillness” out of many meanings of the word. He was a pleasant and outgoing person with the word “Excellent!” in his mouth, but inside he seemed to aim for such calmness, and I thought it might be the power to support Antoine. With wide range of knowledge of religions, cultures, history, people and societies in Asia and other parts of the world as well, Antoine had been asked for teaching CSTs for young ones whenever I invited him to Asian youth programs. It was because he was a “Walking CSTs.” When he was stubbornly criticized by a participant who was tied to a “traditional and transcendental spirituality” rather than critical thinking and approach seen well in CSTs, he said to me “It was nearly killing me!” But even after that, he didn’t keep distance from her and gave her time to generously listening to her. Antoine I know was such a person.
Antoine got a haircut nearly every time he went abroad. “It’s cheaper than Paris,” he replied in smile, but I didn’t think it was just because of money. I could imagine it was because Antoine loved the street or small road he h ad taken, a barber shop and the person who cut his hair. I did get a haircut whenever I went abroad following Antoine since that time. It is because it is cheaper than Seoul indeed like what Antoine said, and because the scenery of people and things on my way to barber shops were memorable. Now I have one more reason for doing this. After the pandemic is over, when I go abroad again and get a haircut, the loving memory of him will surely come to me. Antoine would be with me for quite a long time if I won’t forget my hair cut there. Thank you so much for your love for us, from the bottom of our heart Antoine, our dear friend.
Father Stanislaus Lourduswamy, SJ, an ailing 83 year old Indian Jesuit priest and a tribal rights activist for several decades, has been arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and accused of “Maoist terrorism” in India. But in reality, he has been defending the rights of the tribal communities living in Bihar and Jharkand areas in the country.
It is well known that Fr. Stan has been at many times in disagreement with the Indian government over tribal rights. He has been a thorn in its side. His work on empowering exploited tribals was a problem for the government which has been stubbornly determined in allowing private companies to exploit and use the abundant natural resources of Jharkhand.12
Fr. Stan had been interrogated multiple times for over 15 hours by the NIA at the Jesuit residence in Bagaicha, Ranchi in July and August. His arrest on 8 October was alleged to be in connection with the controversial Bhima Koregaon-Elgar Parishad case in which investigators claimed activists made inflammatory speeches and provocative statements that led to violence. Fr. Stan has strongly denied any allegations linking him to the Maoist forces and believed the state has gone after him because of his dissent position with several policies of the government.13
As a part of a global community that believes in democracy, social justice and human rights protection for all, we are called to be part of the solidarity and advocacy campaign for the release of Fr. Stan and other human rights defenders who have been unjustly accused and imprisoned without trial.
Therefore, through this statement we urge and demand the National Investigation Agency, Ministry of Home Affairs and Government of India to release Fr. Stan Swamy and 15 other human rights defenders, and for the repeal of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.
By. Fr. Jojo M.Fung, SJ For Jesuit Conference of Asia Pacific Website
Many of us have been inspired by Fr Stan Swamy SJ through his talks and writings as the former director of the Bangalore Indian Social Institute and an unflinching Adivasi human rights activist in Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, and Odisha, India. His recorded remarks: “I am ready to pay the price whatever be it” inspires us to engage more avowedly in the struggle for a green and just world.
The 83-year-old priest is being detained under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act that allows the state to declare anyone a terrorist and arrest them at will. Alas, Fr Stan is the 16th person arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) for his alleged involvement with the Bima Koregeaon Elgar Parishad gathering of around 345,000 people on 31 December 2018, in which organisations serving the Dalits convened an event to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the battle of Koregaon Bhima, a rare occasion when the Dalits prevailed over the dominant Brahmin. The event erupted in violence that left one person dead and several injured and arrested. Fr Stan has been charged with criminal conspiracy and sedition, terrorism, and complicity with the Maoist Communist Party of India – the penalties for which range from seven years’ imprisonment to death.
Religious Teachings on Ecological and Human Sustainability (Indigenous Religion)
Norma M. Gonos 2018 Asian Youth Academy/Asian Theology Forum Mary Ridge Retreat House. August 4, 2018
Ing kabisibus aw kadayudu ng al-law! A Blissful and peaceful day!
I come from one of the most colonized indigenous communities in the Philippines, where foreign religion, is a major imprint left by the colonizers. They arrived at the time the faith and spirituality of our ancestors, was strongly and deeply rooted in our connection to land, nature and environment. But their influences, the presence of the dominant and oppressive cultures subverted indigenous knowledge and caused intense cultural disintegration and desolation of indigenous communities.
Their large economic “wants” had wantonly disturbed the forests and its ecology, that some of us cannot anymore tell the cosmic relationship of our economic needs, from our traditional lifeways. All these had also resulted to remarkable loss of our religious leaders, the Balyans, whose task is to transmit and nurture this traditional environmental knowledge, and the rituals accompanying the said knowledge. This is not to mention the continuing loss and diminishing ecological diversity, that has deeply affected our interconnectedness with the environment and Magbabaya, the God of the universe, and the giver of life. But to this day, despite the fact, that some had embraced the religion of the colonizers, the indigenous peoples have remained rooted to our beliefs systems.
Affirming our indigenous faith and Ecology
We continue to strongly affirm, that not all our traditional or indigenous knowledge, have gone with the continuing disregard of our forests and ecology, or that, our environmentalism and ecological homelands are extinguished or vanished. That even with our wounded environment, our communities remained connected with our beliefs, our indigenous faith. These are as varied as the number of ethno-linguistic groups, yet, we have one accord that bound us all together and that is–we all are stewards of God’s creations, whatever name we call our God, in our case, the Magababaya. These beliefs are entwined with our relationship with environment and ecology.
So that, we care for it so much as part of our life. For how could we not? It sustains life of the entire race to thrive, and live on to this day, albeit the failure of the forerunners of development aggressions, to recognize, or that they continue to humiliate, the sustainable interactions of indigenous people and the forests, the land, the ecology and the environment. Yes, we may survive outside the environment, but part of our life will be meaningless and empty. Our cultural integrity will no longer be intact and whole, it will be disconcerted, will be disconnected, and life will fall apart. So our beliefs systems and interconnectedness with the environment and its ecology, is not simply for conservationist’s point of view, but rather, it is our traditional and indigenous lifeways, because these are essential to our cultural integrity, and it makes us whole and intact as community.
Teachings of our Faith and spirituality As a respectful race, we ask permission even of unseen creatures. We recognize two good spirits—Mansilatan and Badla (father and son), and two bad spirits Pundaognon and Malimbong (man and wife); and the bad and evil one below the earth is tal’lagbusaw. So we are taught not to destroy their dwelling in the forests, in the rivers, in the sacred and ritual grounds, and below the earth just beyond the depth of a graveyard. So that bad spirits will not disturb us. For them to shun away from us, we should respect these dwellings and economic activities must not disturb them. We always ask permission from the spirits based on “needs” or when we use the grounds we believe they live. Anything that is beyond the depth of the graveyard belongs to tal’lagbusaw, who will castigate the transgressors.
We are taught that humans do not transgress the grounds below the depth of the graveyard, and respect where spirits on earth dwell, so we do not suffer castigation. That even gold is watched by the spirits in the core of the earth. We ask gamawgamaw, the spirit who watches the river when we do fishing, so we get only what we need, to allow the water bounties to flourish. We ask puwanak, for good hunt but hunters must share with the community and other families in a form of andog, that is a way of conserving the bounties of the forest. We ask dagaw, the spirit that dwells and watches the farm, and offer tamo to the kuwaaw, the bird spirit, not to send famine and food scarcity. We call on the goddess of art, the tagamaling, to give the weaver the intelligence to reflect the designs in their luwang–a dagmay design serving as insignia of the clan.
The role that my faith play in the sustainability of life
We believe we do not own the land because it outlives us. We care for the forests, nature and environment because we nurture being stewards of these God’s beautiful creations. And as such, we only get what we need to survive. Anything taken out of need leads lead us to gaba (bad karma). Caring for the earth and the environment helps us maintain our cosmic relations, which is vital for cultural and economic activities.
Our ancestors taught us that good and bad spirits relate and respect human beings, based on how we relate with the land, the trees, the rivers and the forests. And respect means proper use and conservation—that way we would able to sustain them for the present and future generations. Our race will thus vanish if we do not care for them or properly use what the earth could offer. It is thus, our responsibility to take care of them, to conserve them, as the only way to sustain each other, so that the race shall continue to thrive and flourish.
Nurturing the teachings of my faith
We have highest regard for the teachings of our kaompowan (ancestors). We nurture the teachings of the balyan and kal’lal’laysan (religious or spiritual leaders). We heed the signs of spirits and deities, and we look up to one Supreme Being, our Magbabaya. Whatever our kaompowan told us remains in our hearts and are followed, even if some of us have embraced Christian faith. Our Balyans may have slowly diminished in number, but we remain with our inevitably special connection with the environment.
We continue to heed and be mindful of the teachings that we must replace what we get from the earth. Replacement is best expressed by allowing the earth to rest and regenerate, by having cycles of crops and farm areas. Our interconnectedness with all forms of life in the forest, the land, the rivers, the entire environment, the cosmic energy, the ecology– all these emanate from our faith and spirituality. This sustains our role and responsibility to preserve, develop, conserve and protect the land, nature, and environment.
We believe what befalls the earth, befalls the race. The earth and everything in it also defines man’s relationship with Magbabaya, the giver of life, the Almighty (Yagbaya), the One who rainbows the sky (yagbal’langaw sang pagawanan), the One that look upon us from heaven (yanguob sang tiwayan). We believe that Magababaya watches over the pagawanan (heaven), the mandal’luman the earth, and those below it, the sal-ladan. No one escapes from Magbabaya.
The Cry of Jesus Abandoned on the Cross (Mt. 27:46): Toward a Theology of Mission on the Cry of the Earth and the Cry of the Poor
By Andrew G.Recepcion
After the publication of Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’, many commentators have discussed quite extensively the vision of an integral ecology. In fact, going through articles and write-ups, one can have the impression that nothing more could be discussed or written about integral ecology for much of the themes have been extensively treated in many publications.
The issue on the environment particularly on caring for the earth and its consequences to humanity today and to the future human generations has been sustaining opposing poles of arguments and discourses in the on-going ecological debate. On many occasions, the ecological debate all over the world are fought on ideological platforms and action plans that have nothing to do with faith in Jesus Christ. The transforming power of Jesus Christ through the Gospel has never been adequately given space to influence not only ecological awareness but also ecological conscience thus bring about a genuine ecological revolution from within and not simply from a superficial “fashionable” advocacies. The crux of the matter is a Christian’s ecological conversion as a fundamental orientation of Christian identity and mission in the context of the earth’s and the poor’s cry for eco-justice.
We can explore profoundly in this presentation the significance of the paschal mystery especially in the setting of the passion narrative, the missiological interpretation of the relationship between the cry of Jesus on the cross and the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor. Allow me just to point out in broad strokes the key elements of mission and the ecological implications of the cry.
The Cry of Jesus Abandoned in the Cross: A Christological Foundation of Mission for Integral Ecology
For many Christians, Jesus Christ suffered most at the garden of Gethsemane. Others locate the suffering of Jesus from the horizon of the total paschal mystery thus a particular attention is given to the question: “When did Jesus suffer most?”
It is from the perspective of the total paschal mystery of Christ that we can affirm that Jesus suffered most not only when he was crucified on the cross but at that very moment when he cried: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Mt. 27:46/Psalm 22)4 The cry of abandonment was the moment of Christ’s deepest suffering when he felt in his human nature the separation of sinful humanity and of creation from God. It was not, however, a cry of anger, hopelessness, discouragement and despair but instead it was a cry of immense hope in and surrender to God’s love. It was in that cry of Jesus that he became the “bridge” between God and humanity, between God and all of creation, between humanity and all of creation thus restoring creation and humanity to their original Trinitarian design, and in the language of the youth today, one may well speak of “restoring to original settings”, to “default settings” that only Jesus Christ, our savior, could carry out on the cross through his paschal mystery.
Some commentators on the cry of Jesus, that is, on his abandonment on the cross, indicate the profound and intimate relationship between Jesus Christ and his Father, his Abba, as the very essence and foundation of Jesus Christ’s work of salvation–the wellspring of his mission.
When Jesus experienced in his humanity the separation between God and human beings and creation, it was a tremendous, unfathomable, and unexplainable mystery that can only be understood in the language of Trinitarian love. In other words, the cry of Jesus on the cross reveals to all human beings and the community of creation that the fundamental DNA of all creation and of humanity is harmony of relationships rooted in unity between God and humanity, between God, humanity, and creation. The break down of relationship and the absence of unity due to selfishness continues, from the optic of faith, the cry of Jesus on the cross that calls for an existential response, not by occasional individual action of solidarity with the poor and a superficial initiative to attenuate the destruction of the earth but by a collective chorus of unity in the diversity of creation.
Christian mission is not about going out to solve all the separation, problems and brokenness that we, Christians, find in the world. From the standpoint of Jesus’ abandonment of the cross, however, mission is being a bridge of love, unity and harmonious relationship in our world. Crucial to mission today in the context of ecological destruction is to recognize in any form of the exploitation of the poor and of the earth’s creatures the face of Jesus crucified and abandoned calling out for liberation, justice and wholeness.
The response of Christian mission to the cry of Jesus in the cry of the poor and in the cry of the earth’s creatures echoes Samuel’s attentive, vigilant and audacious answer (1 Sam 3:4): “Here, we are” ready to embrace you, Jesus crucified and abandoned in all situations of the poor and of earth’s creatures that echo your cry on the cross.
The Cry of the Earth and the Cry of the Poor: The Ecological Context of the Cry of Jesus Today
Pope Francis has affirmed in Laudato Si’ that the ecological crisis we are facing in the world today does not consist of two crises but only of a single crisis that affects both the earth and the poor. In fact, we find in Laudato Si’ a clear description of the roots of this crisis: “the analysis of environmental problems cannot be separated from the analysis of human, family, work-related and urban contexts, and of how individuals relate to themselves” (141). “We are not faced with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather one complex crisis which is both social and environmental” (139). Furthermore, Pope Francis’ vision of integral ecology points out more than before that we need to affirm our interdependence and interconnectedness with the community of creation “which respects our unique place as human beings in this world and our relationship to our surroundings” (15). In fact, “nature cannot be regarded as something separate from ourselves or as a mere setting in which we live” (139).
The cry of the poor and the cry of the earth constitute a single yet complex ecological crisis because we live in one common home. Mission considers integral ecology as a context for understanding the different pathways of mission today. Ecological crisis is mission in crisis. In what way do the cry of the poor and the cry of the earth’s creatures impact on the meaning and practice of mission? Allow me to highlight a few shifts in missiological thinking.
In the past mission was associated with colonization of territories, exploitation of peoples and resources, and subjugation of the “godless or damned” in the name of Christ. Today, mission speaks of a radical Gospel-based transformation, stewardship, and full realization of human dignity. Today it is more adequate to speak of mission in the language of being as subjects and not as objects of missionary activities. When Jesus Christ made his cry on the cross, he showed us that mission is about the primacy of being before doing; the primacy of fidelity to God’s will before success; and the power of selfless love before the power of domination, human force, and strategy.
In the past the images of the tower, wall and fence as architectural metaphors do indicate a defensive stance that is always alert to any possible invasion with a constant sense of alarm and danger. Our contemporary global world more than a determined geographical territory with fixed boundaries is about human space which entails “an open structure, an agora, a park or piazza, and in economic sense a marketplace.”5 Mission today means “creating new structures that facilitate global interaction, opening doors”,6 reaching out to the peripheries, especially the least, the last and the lost7 , investing in community and not in buildings, and in facilitating life-nourishing relationships8 among creatures that is rooted in the Gospel’s way of life.
In the past mission has been identified with the boundaries of nation-states and mission territories where missionaries have been sent to carry out specific mission works according to different circumstances or situations. The permanent validity of territorial boundaries remains. But it is necessary to indicate that the global world has a new map where boundaries are re-interpreted as human frontiers that need the saving mission of Christ. Mission today encompasses all of humanity and creation that resemble the face of Jesus Christ crucified and abandoned. Mission can either be understood as ad altera9 or inter gentes10 for mission takes seriously not only peoples in distant lands of Asia and Africa but also people who live in the jungles of skyscrapers in urban metropolises that are multi-cultural, multi-polar, pragmatic, materialistic, and even atheistic. Mission is ad altera because it considers the rest of creation as partners in the search for the fullness of life in Jesus Christ (cf. John 10:10) who continues to cry in the groaning of creation, in the midst of the destruction of the earth as our common home and the lamentation of the poor. Mission today enters different human frontiers of the global world as the new Areopagus of mission.
Toward a Theology of Mission in the Cry of the Earth and the Cry of the Poor and its Implications to Integral Ecology
The cry of the earth’s creatures and the cry of the poor are two foundational elements of Christ’s missionary mandate. In other words, a theology of mission today cannot simply be reduced to the nuances of ad gentes which continues to be necessary in other contexts. The mission of the Trinity is at the heart of our missioning. In the light of the Trinitarian relationship as the setting of the cry of abandonment of Jesus on the cross, in the drama of the paschal mystery, we can highlight in a rather cursory way the elements of a theology of mission in the context of the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor and we shall attempt to propose some implications to integral ecology with a special focus on the ecology of daily life, that is, on a missionary spirituality as “attentive listening” to the many voices of the cry of the earth’s creatures and of the poor.
Mission is seeing the new creation and redeemed humanity in harmony through the eyes of Jesus crucified and abandoned.
When Jesus cried out on the cross, it was a movement from lamentation to praise. In other words, Jesus Christ’s cry was an affirmation that reality is upside down when seen from the pupil of the eyes of Jesus crying on the cross. What seemed from the outside as complaint and utter desolation, turned out to be a powerful Word of new creation renewing all creatures and humanity from within. Jesus crucified and abandoned is the creative Word per excellence of the new creation. Thus, when seen from the cry of Jesus on the cross, mission is bringing about a new creation, a new humanity in the image of the Trinity.
Mission is going beyond the wound of disharmony, disease, destruction, and division through the absolute and total surrender of Jesus crucified and abandoned.
The struggle for human domination and control of the earth and the poor has created many wounds that continue to reflect the cry of Jesus for reconciliation, harmony and unity. Only when humans learn to see creation not as a resource to be used and abused but as a gift that eco-justice and harmony can be realized; only when the poor do not become faceless numbers that a life-nourishing relationship of solidarity can begin. When the earth is abused and exploited, the poor become even poorer. When the poor are exploited to serve the greed of a powerful few, the earth cries with the poor for it feels that everyone has the right to receive the gift of the earth. Thus, when seen from the cry of Jesus on the cross, mission heals the wounds of the earth and the poor; mission restores the balance of creation and humanity.
Mission is reaching out to the least, the last and the lost through selfless and humble service and through a witness of powerlessness.
The world’s poor have become more numerous and only a few control the wealth of the earth. The poor can be the least that barely have enough food to survive daily. The poor can be the last that have no voice to fight for their rights as human beings. The poor can be the last that can hardly improve their situation because of violence, persecution, gender and social marginalization and so on. Thus, when seen from the cry of Jesus on the cross mission is reaching out to those who are the human and existential margins of our communities. Mission is knowing the name of a poor person and making him or her feel that we belong to God’s family.
We may never totally respond always to the cry of Jesus crucified and abandoned in the ongoing cry of the earth and cry of the poor. What counts is to start with what we can do in the sphere of our influence and not to remain indifferent to the voices that challenge us to get out of our comfort zones in order to cry with Jesus on the cross. The cry of Jesus, however, is not sentimentalism but a powerful Word that renews and builds up, that reconciles and heals, that restores and uplifts, that transforms and nourishes, that empowers humanity and creation to walk together toward the fullness of life in Jesus Christ. The cry of Jesus crucified and abandoned gives us a new missionary spirituality in which
God sees the world through the pupil of the wound of the abandonment, which also unfold for us a totally different vision of things. It is a vision that goes to the root of the issues and sheds light on how to read and deal with challenges, creating a new style, a new mentality, a new way of acting. Because the Spirit of God was poured out on humankind from the wound of Jesus Forsaken, it is from him, that an innovative intelligence can spring forth, able to “flood” with light the various fields of culture, from politics to psychology, from philosophy to sociology, and renew them from within.11
4 This verse from Matthew quotes Psalm 22 5 Ferrara, 6. 6 Ibid. 7 See Antonio Spadaro, “Svegliate il mondo!”, Colloqui di Papa Francesco con i Superiori Generali, in La Civilta’ Cattolica 165/1 (2014); 5-6. 8 Cf. Luigino Bruni, The Wound and the Blessing: Economy relationships and happiness (Manila: NEw City Press, 2013), 1-115. Also see Fabio Ciardi, OMI on “Reciprocity, The Hallmark of Christianity” in Charisms in Unity 23/1 (January-March 2015): 3-6. 9 Schreiter, 6. 10 Alfred Maravilla, “Missio Inter Gentes: Asia’s Gift to the Universal Church,” in Excelling in Mission (Shillong, India: Don Bosco Press, 2014), 51-2 11 Hubertus Blaumeiser, ed., in Chiara Lubich, Jesus Forsaken (Manila, Philippines: New City Press, 2016), 128.
MY EXPERIENCE WITH THE ASIAN YOUTH ACADEMY & ASIAN THEOLOGY FORUM 2019 CHIANG MAI, THAILAND
As an Oblate seminarian I would like to share my experiences from the great opportunity to participate as one of the delegates from Sri Lanka in the Asian Youth Academy and Asian Theology Forum 2019, Chiang Mai, Thailand, 1st to 11th August 2019. This was held at the Communal Life of Love and Unity of the Mountain People (CLUMP) Centre.
First, my heartfelt gratitude goes to the Asian Lay Leaders (ALL) Forum and International Movement of Catholic Students (IMCS) for inviting us to participate with the Young Christian Activists from 12 Asian countries that brought together people from distinct professions and backgrounds. The 70 delegates along with excellent speakers discussed and shared diverse issues under the theme “Wisdom of Religions/ Cultural Traditions in Asia as Responding to Ecological Crisis and Human Security”.
“Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs”
At this point, I will recall a few personal experiences that touched me during the programme. One was our exposure in Pa Pae village which is located 120Km away from the CLUMP Centre. The village is blessed generously with natural resources viz., rivers, natural springs, fruit orchards, fertile soil and intriguing flora and fauna. This serene atmosphere gave me immense opportunities to reflect on the beautiful spiritual bond that is established between humans and nature. We experienced a ‘home stay’ in the village for three days which was inspiring and educational for all our group members. We were able to explore the unseen rich culture of KEREN and LAWA tribes (both tribes have migrated to Northern Thailand territories over a hundred of years ago from Myanmar and Cambodia). Many among the hundreds of families of the village recognise themselves as Christians and Buddhists while few still follow tribal spiritual and ritual activities and practices. It is worth noting that none of the villagers seem to have not forgotten their local culture and traditions which certainly contributed to the progress and unity of the community.
We visited all three religious centres of the village, i.e., Christian, Catholic and Buddhist; Royal initiated organic farming project, rice bank project and a village school. We also participated in a meeting with the Chiefs and Elders of the community and they voiced their concern regarding the government’s proposed plan on declaration of a national park in the area, which will be a faltering obstruction for the inseparable unity between nature and the mountain people. “…It is essential to show special care for indigenous communities and their cultural traditions. They are not merely one minority among others, but should be the principal dialogue partners, especially when large projects affecting their land are proposed. For them, land is not a commodity but rather a gift from God and from their ancestors who rest there, a sacred space with which they need to interact if they are to maintain their identity and values” (LS: 146).
We were well served with organic food and beverages (babycose and rice wine was my favourite) by our host families and their hospitality towards us was indeed remarkable and will be remembered. It should be mentioned that although the villagers have many links with the outside and developed world, they have chosen to live a life of simplicity and with minimum recourses. It is amazing to see the young people who work in the city, come back to the community during weekends. This is a clear sign of how deep rooted their culture is in them and what they envision about the future of the community of Pa Pae village.
In the academic forum we discussed topics such as Neo Liberalism, Need to establish a Synodal Church, women leadership and decision making role in the Church, Roman sex abuse summit and breaking the culture of silence in Asia, gave me an insight and a broader vision into my religious life and spiritual practice. It reminded me continuously of my social responsibilities. It is about first waking up to the realities of the world and signs of the time and then working to build an inclusive Church which embraces the earth community with respect, love and sensitivity. Our Academic discussions on various topics are to be commended in many respects for its unique message given to all of us in order to recognise the urgency which is required to address climate change, disproportionate effects on the poor, peace building and creating inclusive communities in Asia.
Our many visits to the NIROTHARAM VIPASSANA meditation centre, which was located close to the CLUMP centre, gave me an incredible opportunity and insights to ponder and reflect deeply on the role of women leadership and empowerment in our communities. I was deeply convinced after speaking to the Buddhist Bhikkunies, who had been brave enough to travel to Sri Lanka for women ordinations, in the midst of a very much male dominant and patriarchal institutional pressure. Phara AJahn Nanthayani, Foundress of the community and eminent Dhamma teacher explained about their monastic life style and young Bhikkuni Achirya taught us meditation skills and techniques in a very elaborative manner which got us all interested.
As delegates from Sri Lanka, we presented our country report on the topic “After the recent terrorist attack, what should be the “possible” and “practical” ways for interreligious dialogue? This was timely and relevant to the given theme of the forum and Asian context. We explained the present situation of the country after the heinous acts on Easter Sunday and presented some root causes for such a tragedy from what we have observed over the past several years in the country and the world. Identifying Muslims as a kind of degraded species from the world and particularly in the country was clearly described as an obstacle for an effective inter-religious dialogue. In our lengthy presentation we stressed the following components: transformation of attitudes towards Muslim community, positive interactions with Muslims in the country and the value of listening as some of the practical and effective ways to engage in inter–religious dialogue in the country.
As an Oblate seminarian I’m not only grateful for the opportunity given me but also for the establishment of a valuable link between ALL Forum and Oblate Family through AYA/ATF 2019. I consider it something beneficial to continue our Oblate heritage which we have received from St.Eugene De Mazenod, our beloved Founder, who put youth at the centre of our call to mission (36th General Chapter Art 18). ALL Forum also aims to empower Young Catholic leaders of the Church at social ministry levels which includes similar objectives of the Oblate JPIC (Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation) programme such as education and advocacy, efforts on behalf of the disadvantaged people in our society and promotion of the integrity of creation through education and advocacy. It should also be mentioned that two Oblates viz., late Frs. Peter Pillai OMI (1904-1964) and Tissa Balasooriya OMI (1924-2013), contributed immensely to cause of social justice in Sri Lanka and established Sri Lankan University Catholic Students’ Movement, with a strong vision towards forming young social activists locally and internationally. Finally, their dream has become a reality through the IMCS in which Fr.Balasooriya motivated youth and, as the first Asia-Pacific chaplain of the movement, which play a major role in supporting for the ALL Forum today.
In response to a request from AYA/ATF 2019, we presented an action plan for the Oblate Seminary and for the Sri Lankan University Catholic Students’ Movement for a year. The presented document is dedicated mainly to establish an effective inter-religious dialogue within our own communities and neighbourhood in order to eradicate antiIslamic and anti-Muslim discriminatory practices and sentiments from many Sinhalese and Tamil people in our society especially after the Easter Sunday terrorist attack in Sri Lanka.“Our Congregation, an “expert in internationality”, cannot be absent from these debates on Islam. Now, by our presence in various Muslim contexts where Christians are a tiny minority the Oblates living in these areas are an essential resource for understanding the phenomenon in its complexity” (36th General Chapter on Islam).It has also highlighted the importance of caring and that ‘the earth’ is our common home and has given possibilities and ways to respect and acknowledge a person’s dignity. Flora and fauna are an important link and source to acknowledge the sensitivity of all that is around us and the environ we live in.
Inter-faith dialogue is a challenging process which advocates differing religious traditions to encounter each other to break down man made divisions that stand at crossroads or centre of most misunderstandings and conflicts. It should be a platform for people reciprocating and understanding different faiths and cultures which then let them live in harmony. Communities of diverse faiths should need come together to develop a neighbourhood and its environs. It is crucial that participants lay aside attempts to evangelise with an attitude of exclusive supremacy or dominance. Interfaith Dialogue therefore, should not be something that takes place officially or academically but rather be an essential part of daily life, with the intermingling of different cultures. Inter-faith Dialogue should be a channel for peace-building based on respect and should always remain an open forum for interaction and discussion.
Amila Perera OMI, Oblate Scholasticate, Ampitiya, kandy, Sri Lanka
Moving School program is truly a useful and effective program for the young. It had not just brought about the new dimensions and diverse perspectives of the program, but also created the new values for the young. By joining the Moving School program, I got to be more familiar with the rhythm of life of the other countries, I saw the new ideas of the young were established, searched for ways to build and make them a reality. The program was organized from experience of reality to theories, from a micro view to a macro (broader) view, from individual issues to social problems. In summary, it is a mission and at the same time a challenge for the young to contribute to this changing world. Well, I think it is so appropriate to the young. Since they are the future of the Church, having a wide and open view of their time. They are ahead of the trends, knowing how to turn back to the right path and able to adjust well their steps. What I want to express is about the important role of the young in the modern world. They are suitable and have potentials to become leaders. Therefore, the Moving School is a useful program for future young leaders.
In general, I was so impressed with all the program’s sessions. However, I preferred a more experiential and realistic point of view. Therefore, I chose to come to the young people of Maisen Bistro. In there, I have heard the inspiring stories from them, the struggles of the managers, and a life direction that they have set for themselves. I loved those stories as they gave me the ideas for my own action plan. I have seen, understood, and felt the upstream and downstream of their hearts. They are the signs of perseverance, they know how to raise up the importance of their dignity and values, and make themselves inspiring. These qualities are the must-have in our generation, as we know what we need to do to contribute and make a better world for all of us.
What I learnt can be described through 3 main values. First thing first, it is Sympathy. Sympathy is the most important value during the program journey. Sympathy comes from listening, observing, and reflecting. When an issue is raised within the auditorium, the receiver has to image about the provided scene and his/her heart dominates the movement of the problem. If only the brain is used, it will be difficult to realized all perspectives, but if you put emotion into that scene, you will know that the perfection is necessary. The best emotion could be the Sympathy. Secondly, I want to talk about Sharing. We shared our views when we discussed a problem. The key to success is everyone giving their opinions, including the theory and life concepts. We have worked in contributing spirit and together we created conclusion for a problem. In general, sharing is essential for a group to come up with many ideas and keep harmony with each other. Commitment is the last value. Because when you have sympathy and sharing, you will realize more or less the role of young people in the modern life and you will immediately action because you want to do something. There will be countless jobs waiting for young people like us, when we are received so much, and commitment is a way for young people to go, lean on and give more. These are values I summarize during the program, and I will live with these values during the remain of my life.
The program has many strengths, which can be developed more. Instead of making it as a small program for small groups of young people, it can be expanded, to reach out more to the young people who have limited time or with less advantage geographically. Furthermore, sharing time is one aspect that could be added/ expanded. During the session and discussions, the allotted time for dialogue/conversations could become more effective and a potential for a powerful/ effective program. We also need a detailed handout, reading materials, or a summary of highlight of each session. Those materials can be a reminder for us not to forget or miss out the importance part of the program.
It’s been more than a year since the Corona virus began to spread across the world. People who never imagined it would last that long are getting tired and contributing to the increasing number of confirmed cases by being a little passive or sometimes violating the “Social Distancing” norms. Religious circles including Christianity in Asia had temporarily suspended various religious services including Mass and Sacraments in cooperation with the governments’ emergency measures. Then they resumed the services and meetings after the situation was a bit better but it depended totally on the Corona pandemic situation.
Since many people including scientists and medical experts ave predicted that the pandemic won’t have gone easy and rather last longer than a year with ups and downs in degree, ALL Forum had to decide to focus more on online courses on basic theology, spirituality, and CSTs including major documents of Vatican II and Papal documents, especially from Pope Francis.
ALL Forum has several online courses out of the subjects mentioned right above for the young ones from partner organizations and also for young people from other organizations and networks in connection with ALL Forum. The longer and deeper they learn from the online courses, the better they could relate/apply to their struggles in daily life in Asia. We aim to provide “basic” Church teachings combined with current and urgent problems in real life of people especially the poor in Asia, as not many lay organizations have a concern about the necessity of basic knowledge of the church and the CSTs, especially on Vatican II and Pope Francis, as well as relevant theologies and spirituality together with socio-economic and cultural realities for young ones in Asia. At this moment, there are two ongoing courses, which has been start from November 2020 and will be finish on January 2021, joining by 38 participants from Pakistan, Sri Lanka, India, Nepal, Myanmar, Indonesia and Taiwan.
Once the Young begin to find that the theologies, CSTs, and spirituality can be related to their daily life interestingly and easily, then they would be excited to learn more. Such connectivity is important, but what we must not forget is the fact that the young are very much thirsty about faith “seeking understanding and feeling (of God)”. It might not be easy to make them realize that faith in God has both personal and social dimensions at the same time. Therefore, participants need to first feel deeply and strongly why believing in God makes them happy, joyful, and meaningful in their concrete lives.
On 17th November 2019, a Chinese person was confirmed suffering from Covid-19, a new Sars-like virus which was emerging in the city of Wuhan in Hubei province. Now exactly a year later, Covid-19 has 63.9 million confirmed Cases, 1.48 million deaths world wide and is still counting2.
The Covid-19 pandemic, brought the world to a standstill and made us realise how important it is for us to take responsibility of our planet, people and creation at a whole. During the initial lock down period, we witnessed an immense drop in pollution figures, Natural bodies of water renewing themselves, Species of birds and animals returning to original habitats. A kind of normalcy returned to nature when humankind stepped off the industrial strain. But right now, many countries are facing the rise of the second wave of Covid-19 cases, while other countries haven’t been able to bring the initial surge in cases under control. In addition to this, Hurricanes and Typhoons in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Vietnam and Philippines have worsened the lives of millions of people during this pandemic.
Environmental experts and even UN’ environment chief, Inger Andersen has said that nature is sending us a message with the Covid-19 pandemic and the ongoing climate crisis. There are many scientific proofs about the connection between the massive spread of virus with the environmental crisis. In October 2020, The Intergovernmental SciencePolicy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) reported that the same human activities that drive climate change and biodiversity loss also drive pandemic risk through their impacts on our environment. Changes in the way we use land; the expansion and intensification of agriculture; and unsustainable trade, production and consumption disrupt nature and increase contact between wildlife, livestock, pathogens and people. 3
Moreover during this critical period, we as human beings in many circumstances have failed to equip our health care systems with adequate skills and infrastructure. We have failed to design proper implementation plans for when the lockdown would be relaxed; have failed to take responsibility of low-income and suffering communities as their livelihoods worsened and have also failed to educate the masses on the long-term impacts of Covid-19. Amidst the pandemic we also witnessed unemployment grow to new heights. Poverty, Indifference, Racism, Casteism, Untouchability and Exploitation, have all grown in newer dimensions. Pope Francis in his encyclical letter the Laudato Si has stressed that the ecological crisis is indeed inseparable from the social crisis, that the cry of the earth is the cry of the poor. “We are faced not with two separate crisis, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.” (N.139). Hence, looking at the current situation of our world, one can say that the world is in need of urgent transformation, both personal transformation of human being and profound social political change.
“What you’re supposed to do when you don’t like a thing is change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it. Don’t complain.”
Maya Angelou, Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now
As one of the ways of adapting with the current pandemic situation. ALL Forum, keeping in mind the limitations on travel and large physical gatherings, has shifted our annual program AYA-ATF into smaller scale programs. For the upcoming year, ALL Forum aims to focus on Moving Schools, Online theological courses and E-newsletters as a way of communication, building capacities, fostering dialogue and expanding networks.
Therefore, in this first issue, we are inviting you to join us in reflecting the whole experience and journey in 2020, before taking the next steps of changes in order to build a better post Covid-19 world.
“Catholic Youth as a Good Citizen Contributing to Collaboration of Religions and Civil Society for Betterment of the Society in Vietnam”
About Asian Lay Leaders (ALL) Forum
Uniqueness of ALL Forum Following Pope Francis’ teachings, ALL Forum promotes the spirit of “reaching out” to the marginalized as a Church. In this, three elements are distinguished: 1) Collaborations among diverse-oriented organizations, 2) providing on-going and holistic programs for youth formation on pan-Asian level and 3) promoting “wider ecumenism”. Put it more closely, ALL Forum is based on concretized and praxis-centered collaborations among five partners: social issues-specialized Center for Asian Peace and Solidarity (CAPS), spirituality-centered Fondacio Asia, Indigenous Peoples (IPs) & ecology-focused Jesuit Companion for Indigenous Ministry (JCIM) & Research and Training Center for Religio-cultural Community (RTRC), and IMCS-AP (International Movement of Catholic Students) as a major Catholic student movement in Asia. Secondly, from its close collaborations of the groups, ALL Forum could provide on-going and holistic formation programs for young lay leaders in the whole Asia. Lastly, ALL Forum focuses on Catholics but is not limited to them. It promotes a wider ecumenical, inter-religious and inter-cultural encounter and learning for mutual growth.
Purposes of ALL Forum and Its Methodology Young lay leaders working for “social ministries” have played an important role in bridging Church to societies in Asia, but reality of encouraging and empowering them is mostly none except some lay organizations. But their supports have often stopped at a short term or an event-based occasion. Recognizing it deeply, ALL Forum is to provide them with a solid and systematic formation programs for them. In order to realize the People of God as a genuine local Church of Asia, ALL Forum is committed to training and educating young Church workers about urgent matters in Asia today such as youth, women and girl children, ecology, migrants, Indigenous peoples (IPs) and other marginalized whom Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) has designated as the subjects of “special pastoralconcerns” by harnessing the Catholic Social Teachings (CSTs) and “Pastoral Spiral” methodology of FABC. Especially ALL Forum is to provide young lay leaders with a combined program like Asian Youth Academy (AYA)/ Asian Theology Forum (ATF), a “Moving School” for those who cannot afford to join AYA/ATF which has been holding on a national or regional level and Spirituality & Peace-building Pilgrimage in Asia. As an effective and relevant spiritual formation project for young activists, the AYA/ATF places much emphasis on their religious identity amid the all-things-mixed global world. It also aims to make them what Pope Francis calls “missionary disciples” armed well with strong Christian identity with socio-political awareness, socio-cultural analysis and spiritualties from various religions. Combination of AYA with ATF is to be an intensive and effective tool for “witnessing the Gospel” by developing and strengthening the youth’s Christian identity and deepening their critical idea and knowledge on the society in Asia including the matters of interreligious dialogue, peace-building and working together for common good knowing Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism and other religions predominating the largest continent in the world. ALL Forum has done the AYA/ATF for the last 10 years so far. All the three programs are based on theo-spiritual approach as a contextual doing theology, or “theology of relevance” to Asian peoples and cultures.
Moving Schools in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam in 2020
Purpose The “Moving School” for young Vietnamese people focuses on Catholic youths fostering their capacity. It seeks ways of dialogue and cooperation between various religions and ethnic groups, especially Buddhism and ethnic religion, including Cao Dai(高臺), Catholicism, Confucianism and Taoism, and offers a place to learn what the Catholic youth can do for common good and betterment of the country. It also puts emphasis on strengthening the Christian identity of young Vietnamese people including young church workers in Vietnam through Church’s social doctrines, especially the documents of the Second Vatican Council and those of Pope Francis. Asian Lay Leaders (ALL) Forum (ALL Forum) plans to hold a “moving school” in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, in February 2020, followed by the moving schools in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, in August and in Kerala, southern India, in October in the same year. The Ignite the Fire of Love Group (IFLG) as the local host will organize the mobile school in Ho Chi Minh. The main themes of the mobile school include freedom of religion, Catholic youth for the realization of the kingdom of God, Catholics as mature citizens working for the better world, and spirituality getting over materialism, individualism and “globalization of indifference” strongly criticized by Pope Francis.
To achieve this goal, ALL Forum seeks to provide various training programs, especially for young Catholic, to help their leaders become peacemakers. Using Catholic Social Teachings (CSTs) as the main tool, follow faithfully the principles and methods of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) such as “Methodology from Below”, “Triple Dialogue” and “Pastoral Spiral” that start from specific Asian experiences. As an effective youth formation program, the moving school cares about programs to strengthen the religious identity of Christian youth in the era of “global village,” the time when everything has been being mixed up. On the one hand, however, the program encourages young people to take deep root in the Vietnamese culture and emphasizes the role they can actively serve in society. The following is the general purpose of moving schools:
Witnessing the Gospel through Interreligious Collaboration for Common Good as Efficient Evangelization Method: Young lay leaders are invited to learn and become vibrant actors for promoting interfaith harmony led to peace for ethnic groups and the country. Considering the situation of predominant Buddhist or Islamic culture and or political uncertainty, that how Christian young workers could accomplish their evangelizing mission works coupled with “double” tasks has always been a great challenge to them. They have tried hard to show their loyalty to the nation and its people on the one hand. At the same time they also want to protect and develop their Christian identity and faith which leads to a tension sometimes between the Christians and the government or majority Buddhist or Moslem followers. One way to solve the task is to promote interreligious dialogue and cooperation among Christians, followers of other religions and the governments. For this Christian youth should be equipped with a better and deeper knowledge of Christian tradition and the meaning of being a Christian today. We have often witnessed that many young church workers working for social ministries have some knowledge in those fields while little knowledge of the church teachings including Vatican II and FABC which is a serious weakness to overcome. The other is for the youth to be given a new and big picture of socio-cultural situation in their countries so that they could figure out what they have been doing and will do in the future. The following program is for the next year’s moving school.
Providing a New Vision and Spirit for Lay leaders based on FABC & CSTs: The moving school is a youth forum which will be based on “integral human development” often expressed in the Pope Francis’ documents like Joy of the Gospel(2013), Laudato Si(2015). And the recent papal exhortation titled “Gaudete et Exsultate”(2018). On the other hand, it stresses the “spiritual dimension” in human development by placing more emphasis on respecting local people’s spirituality based on various cultures peculiar in Asia in building their communities where the Spirit of God works. It has a close relationship with practicing interreligious dialogue and collaborations as “dialogue in daily life” suggested by the Vatican document “Dialogue and Proclamation” (1991) which must be “the whole People of God-centered” simply because like what Pope Francis said all the people of God should be “missionary disciples” who live out actual lives at every corner of lives in the world.
Providing “Asian Theologies and spirituality” based on the Context of specific countries in Asia: The program will encourage lay people to become good church workers and activists by reflecting their concrete lives in the light of the Bible, their concrete lives reflected in the dialogues with the poor, diverse cultures and religions. Therefore, the theologies we mention should be localized and contextualized. It could be a momentum for lay workers to become “contemplative actors” equipped with “praying in action”. It is so that the Church of Asia could get great help from them in her mission. Church workers should work together with theologians, scholars on religions, experts on cultures and many others in various fields, to make Christian theology relevant to the concrete realities in Asia.
Key words or main themes of the 2019 moving school are as follows: Realities in Asia, Asian Churches, Catholic Social Teachings (CSTs), Vatican II, FABC, Evangelizing Mission, Triple dialogue and Interreligious/Intercultural Dialogue and Cooperation, Ecological Sustainability, and Climate Change.
Provisional Schedule February, 2020
Day 1: Arrival/ Orientation
Day 2: Opening Mass / “Exposure-Immersion” (Field Visit)
Day 3: Workshop 1 – Realities in Asia, Asian Churches, Efforts for sustainability of the Earth and Peoples Morning session: “Socio-economic Analysis of the Unsustainability of the Global economy: Extreme gap between the Rich and the Poor esp. in Asia” By Local Speaker Afternoon session : “Vatican II and Asian Churches: “Triple Dialogue” and Spirituality on Diversity” By Speaker fromALL Forum
Day 4 : Workshop 2 – Vietnamese Catholics as Good Citizen Working for Integral Human Development and Betterment of the Society in Vietnam Morning session: “Catholic Youth as Advocate for Collaboration of Religions and Civil Society for Integral Human Development” By Local Speaker Afternoon session: Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation among Religions for Common Good” By Local Speaker
Day 5 : Workshop 3 – Pope Francis’ Teachings on Integral Ecology; Vocation and Virtues Responding to God’s Calling & Synthesis Morning Session : “Integral Ecology, Vocation and Virtues Responding to God’s Calling in light of Laudato Si andGaudete et Exsultate” By Speaker from ALL Forum “Synthesis and Integration of the program” By Ms. Felicia Dian (ALL Forum) Afternoon – Evaluation and Cultural Night