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VII General Conference - 06 September

08/09/2005: Sri Lanka

Asia as seen by the specialists
<269.jpg alt=Sri Lanka - 06/09/2005 >In the work plan of the General Conference, today was dedicated to the reflection on the challenges that Asia poses for the Church and for the Marist Institute. Asia needs a pathway to God. And we also need the richness that Asia brings to be close to God. It is not a matter of a study or of an intellectual analysis but of a “very fine and greatly sensitive evolution” for that which Asia means for each one of us, for the Church and for the Marist Institute. The work that was realised this day intended that each one of the participants in the Conference have an “affective heart-felt contact” with the reality of this great continent. This proposal is in accord with one of the objectives of the General Council that intends to re-establish the mission “ad gentes” for the entire Institute. Four experts were invited to share their experience and their knowledge of Asia, through a panel, to motivate reflection. Here are some features that were highlighted in the presentation to the assembly.

Father Aloysius Peiris S.J.
A Jesuit priest, founder and director of the Tula Research Centre in Kalania, Colombo. He has studied Hindu themes. His doctorate was entitled “Buddhist Studies ever awarded to a non-Buddhist” in the University of Sri Lanka. He has made an important academic contribution in North America, Europe and Asia as a professor and researcher in civil and religious universities. He has published more than 160 articles, has collaborated for the magazine “Concilium” for eight years and has written five books. The first of these was about liberation theology in Asia. Some of these have been translated into nine languages. As well as this, he has cultivated his musical talent, giving public organ recitals. His personal life style is simple and austere.

Sister Noel Christine Fernando
Sister is a member of the Congregation of the Daughters of Charity of Jesus and Mary. She works with poor working women from the now called “Investment and Promotion Zone” of Katunayake, close to the international airport. Previously this was called the “Foreign trade zone” or “Free trade zone”. Sister works with poor people trying to educate them so that they can defend their rights.

Brother Emmanuel Nicholas, FSC
Brother is a member of the Congregation of the Brothers of the Christian Schools. He has been a teacher and the Director of a secondary school in Pakistan where the teaching was carried out in the mother tongue and in English. He has also been Inspector of Schools and Director of the Committee for Catholic Education in the Diocese of Multan, in the province of Punjab, Pakistan. He is a Master of Psychology and Educational Administration from the University of Fordham, New York, Doctor of Education from the University of Columbia, New York and member of the Executive Committee of the World Council of Curriculum and Instruction. As Provincial of the Brothers of the Christian Schools in Sri Lanka and Pakistan he urged the young brothers to be close to the poor and he is personally committed to the communities of the suburbs of Colombo.

Lae Wijesinghe
A layperson, with a degree in sacred Scripture from the Biblicum in Rome. He has a Doctorate in Biblical Exegesis from the University of Louvain. He is well recognised as a professor in the University of Kelaniya, in Sri Lanka and in religious circles within his country.

Asia today: religious and cultural aspects and the place of this region in the world
The theme, “Asia today: religious and cultural aspects and the place of the region in the world”, was entrusted to Father Aloysius Peiris S.J. Some highlights from his first talk in the morning follow:

<269a.jpg alt=Sri Lanka - 06/09/2005 >To evaluate the Asian reality and the Christian option in Asia, one has to start from two concepts used habitually: Occidentalism, created in the West and its opposite, Orientalism, also created in the West, which has given origin to a eurocentric vision of Asia. This mentality has been largely accepted even though it is theoretically unsustainable. “The West contemplates world wide nature of its own culture as an operation of salvation that the Asians, scientifically behind, politically indecisive and incorrigibly indolent, must accept for their own good and an East that perceives this process as an invasion of its own cultural space, a violation of its political sovereignty and a desacralisation of its religious patrimony.” The nuclear powers of the West, for example, manifest their own confidence in their own moral rectitude for the utilisation of atomic energy, but show themselves to be not only suspicious and fearful but critical and severe with the idea that Asian countries, such as Iran or North Korea, can use nuclear energy.
This mentality, admittedly unconsciously, proceeds from the Christian eurocentralism, born of the eurocentric Christianism, and ignores that the eastern Churches, neither western nor colonial, have made valiant and peaceful missionary work in central and eastern Asia from the first centuries of the modern era.

Dilemma of Christianism
The geopolitical implications of this vision of Christianism are alarming. It is understandable that Blair condemned the terrorism of the “extremist Moslems” for the fifty-six innocent victims of London. But also we understand the group of Moslems who reviled a group of “extremist Christians” from the West for the loss of more than 56 victims during each day of the first days of the unjustifiable invasion of the Moslem Iraq.
We see that India and China, the two principal Asian civilisations, are transforming themselves into two great nuclear powers and are associating commercially, which makes it possible for Asia to exercise a great influence in the international political area. But the Christian participation in the emancipation lends itself to a geopolitical interpretation. The patriotic Church and the subterranean Church are perceived in China as a tension between the Christians allied to the West (Vatican) and those that are faithful to their own nation. Through this perception, one meets the explicit accusation that Christianism is drawing benefits from the Western world power and of the growing Eastern poverty.
In this context Father set the new paradigms in which the Asian religions deal with separating themselves from every type of discourse based on the geopolitical East – West, two false concepts when applied to religion, and those that ground the reconstruction of Christianism.
The first way of exiting the western – eastern bog is that all religions find their common Asian sources of spirituality in the idea of a life of detachment not idolatry. Every model of development or of education that militates against this pan-Asian spirituality must be avoided. The contrary can be interpreted as an anti-evangelical connivance with anti-Asian forces of universality. And the second is to dewesternise the received Christianism consulting the Asian sources of Christianism in order to meet the God of Moses who claimed to be the one and only God who participates in the liberation of slaves and of servitude. Yahweh revealed the distinct sign of the true God defining himself as the guarantee of the Alliance for the liberation of the slaves for all time. It is He who goes out to our meeting in Jesus, God made man, who was born poor and who knew the ignominious death of a slave on a cross, crying out until his spirit left him for all to understand: “It is Me, Your God, Whom you kill when you rob my people of their life”.
We are always in the wrong place on the battlefield if we do not embrace a Christianism faithful to this original revelation, that Christianism that we have separated for so many centuries. (To continue)
Given the extensive richness of the intervention of Father Aloysius Peiris we will offer the continuation of this synthesis of his discourse in a second delivery of this diary chronicle. Also, once the whole presentation has been translated into the four official languages of the Institute, you will be able to read the entire text in the section entitled “Documents” on this webpage.

Brother Emmanuel Nicholas, FSC
Brother Emmanuel, conscious of the calls that the Second Vatican Council had made to the brothers to return to the sources of our charisms to encounter the poor, described his experience of being with the marginalised of society. “I am convinced that the Holy Spirit is working in us,” he affirmed. And as the Holy Spirit guides us towards the poor, we are going to discover the face of God. We do not go towards the poor to tell them something, but “to listen to them”, he affirmed. The poor and the poorest of the poor, so numerous in this part of the world, have a voice but “few are capable of hearing it”. The Church asks us as brothers to listen to the poor. This listening can make us disposed to tell them some good news that they can understand. The poor are calling us to be poor and simple with them and like them in order to be able to educate them.

Lae Wijesinghe
Lae Wijesinghe affirmed before the brothers at the Conference that in Asia the poor are becoming more and more poor while the rich and becoming more and more rich. The Christians have interpreted this phenomenon in theological terms from the principle “create in order to liberate”. Before this growth in poverty, degrading for human dignity, he emphasised the necessity to pass over these theological principles and to go towards the true Jesus of history. Jesus lived close to the poor and shared their limits and reality.
He also emphasised the need of an education as a service and not as a privilege of the rich. For that, he proposes the creation in Asia of an educational service which is inspired by the spirituality of Exodus. God wanted to liberate the slaves and at the same time also the oppressors.

Sister Noel Christine Fernando
Sister Christine gave the Conference Assembly her testimony as a religious committed to working with poor women workers. The daily salary received by these women is one dollar. Sister’s work consists in educating the women so that they know how to defend their rights when faced with injustice and exploitation. Sister Christine affirmed that there are a lot of people in this category and that they are victims of globalisation. How can this challenge be confronted through education?

Open questions and reflection in groups
The brothers posed some questions on various topics to the panel members. One of these questions concerned how to look to religion to bring science and faith into harmony. They answered that without technology, we cannot survive. The poor need a base technology, but “it is not the essential need of the poor” (Christine). There are technologies that isolate us and separate us from the poor. And then she asked, “What technology do we offer to the poor and where does this technology lead them?”
Another response used the metaphor of bread, as used by Saint Paul. Bread is good and we only have to produce enough of it to suppress hunger. If we share it, it is sacrament. If it stays in the hands of some, it is a sin. That can be applied today to technology.
The work of the afternoon started with the second part of the talk by Father Aloysius Peiris, the summary of which we will provide tomorrow morning. The Assembly continued its work of reflection in small groups, followed by a sharing in common of the groups’ work.

Messages of support
We have received a message of support from the brothers of Nairobi. The Assembly listened to the whole message and each of the names of the signatories. A large number of Brothers Provincial felt themselves linked to these names.
We have also received a message from the brothers at El Escorial and from Korea, addressed to the Brother Superior General and to all the members of the VII General Conference, expressing their best wishes and success at this Conference.

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