Cardinal Kim and Religious Pluralism in Asia

By Dr. Paul Hwang

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the opening of the 2nd Vatican Council, and it is also the year to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Cardinal Kim Soo-hwan, who has passed away some 10 years ago and most passionately introduced and spread the results and documents of the council to the Korean church. In honor of the deceased, for the readers of this month news letter of ALL Forum, I would like to briefly talk about the spirit of poverty and religious and cultural pluralism that Cardinal Kim usually emphasized.

Not much is known about the relationship between Cardinal Kim and FABC. However, according to the testimony of Thomas Fox, founder of the Catholic weekly in the US, and Catalino Arevalo SJ, dubbed the “Father of Filipino theology,” one of the actual founders is Cardinal Kim. In particular, Cardinal Kim’s the ‘spirit of being poor’ seems to have gained great resonance and sympathy when Asian bishops first met in Manila in 1970, and also inspired the famous Triple Dialogue of FABC, especially dialogue with the poor which is its founding spirit. Pope John 23, who convened the council, advocated the “Church of the Poor” ahead of CELAM or liberation theology, which must have influenced cardinal Kim’s view of the church as well as the council.

Therefore, the link between the council and Cardinal Kim can be said to be this spirit of poverty, and it can be said that it was deeply engraved in the spirit of FABC through Father Arevalo. Therefore, it is presumed that Cardinal Kim was the one who inspired Father Arevalo, who formalized the three-dimensional dialogue with poor people, various religious traditions, and rich cultural diversity at the 1st General Assembly of FABC in Taipei in 1974.

This reasoning includes that not only cardinal Kim’s spirit of poverty but also religious and cultural pluralism stemming from the multi-religious situation in Korea influenced the spirit of triple dialogue. In this way, it can be said that Cardinal Kim had a great influence on the basic theological principle and pastoral direction of FABC as well as the structure and formality of the establishment of it.

While inheriting the spirit of dialogue in the council, the Asian face of God’s salvific economy is revealed by placing it in the context of religious and cultural pluralism in the triple dialogue. It is said that there is an inseparable relationship between the great religious traditions of Asia and the lives of the people, that is, religious and cultural pluralism, and the lives of the poor as subjects. Through this relationship, Asian Christianity forms ‘wholeness’ as holiness. In other words, salvation in Asia is not limited to the walls of churches, but is realized within these relationships with other religions and cultures.

In this regard, of course, Vatican II has something to say. This is because the Gaudiem et Spes or Joy and Hope, one of the most important documents of the pastoral council, clearly shows the advocacy of religious and cultural pluralism by saying, “We foster within the church herself mutual esteem, reverence and harmony, through the full recognition of lawful diversity” (para. 92). If the council accepts diversity and pluralism in such a basic form, the FABC differs in that it comprehensively turns it into the context of “true value” and “something that should be honored and promoted.”

Cardinal Kim’s inclusive and open view of other religions also seems to have had a great influence on the triple dialogue. He said, “The Council emphasizes the study of discovering appropriate spiritual values not only in Confucianism and Buddhism but also in shamanism.”

The Cardinal did not only mention shamanism, but ask to embrace it by putting it side by side with the great religious traditions calling for active inclusion. He also said that the church should try to open its heart to other religions. In another place, he once again talked about it by saying, “Korean Catholicism is still deeply immersed in the way of conversation in life with other religious traditions and philosophy such as Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, shamanism, etc.”

The fact that this proposal came out in the 1970s and 1980s shows how open Cardinal Kim is to the reality of life of religious and cultural pluralism in Korea and Asia. This is all the more so “religious pluralism” in the churches in the world including Asian’s, almost 50 years after he mentioned it as such, is being treated like something to be avoided or suspected of.