Christians in this diverse continent should learn to embrace all in universal brotherhood and brotherhood
Pope Francis celebrates the Eucharist during a Pentecost Mass on May 23, 2021 at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. (Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP)
Asia appears to be closest to the beating heart of the Holy Father after he increased the number of his living cardinals to 25, the highest number ever recorded for this continent.
Last weekend, Pope Francis announced the creation of 21 new cardinals, including six from Asia, including Archbishop Lazarus You Heung-sik, South Korean prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy.
For the first time, Mongolia, Timor-Leste and Singapore will each have a cardinal. Italian-born Bishop Giorgio Marengo, 48, second vicar apostolic in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, will become the youngest cardinal in the youngest Catholic Church in the world.
Meanwhile, Catholic India rejoices with two of its prelates receiving the red hat: Archbishop Anthony Poola of Hyderabad and Archbishop Filipe Neri António Sebastião do Rosário Ferrão of Goa and Daman.
About 450 million born-again Catholics, Protestants and Evangelicals now constitute the Christian population of Asia. The Philippines has about 90 million adherents, China 70 million or possibly more, India 28 million, Indonesia 23 million and South Korea 15 million, among others.
Surprisingly enough, some demographers estimate that more Christian worshipers belonging to both the official Patriotic Catholic Church and underground Christian churches worship in mainland China on any given Sunday than in the United States.
Moreover, we can only be mystified looking at the intricate mosaic of popular religions in every Asian nation – so different from any American or European country.
Asia is the largest continent on Earth, home to the most diverse peoples, heirs of ancient cultures, diverse languages, beliefs and colorful traditions, with China and India accounting for half of the world’s population.
Asia is the birthplace of the world’s major religions – Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Hinduism – and many other spiritual traditions such as Sikhism, Zoroastrianism, Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism and shintoism. Moreover, we can only be mystified looking at the intricate mosaic of popular religions in every Asian nation – so different from any American or European country.
Saint John Paul II, in his apostolic exhortation of 1999 Ecclesia in Asia, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Pope Francis have confirmed that Asians are fundamentally religious, compassionate towards all beings, close to nature, respectful of their parents, elders and ancestors, with a highly developed sense of community. These are elements of human nature that our Argentine pontiff considers as ingredients ready to fratelli tutti or universal brotherhood and brotherhood.
Let us not forget that, geographically, the Holy Land – the land that Muslims, Christians and Jews consider holy – refers to the biblical territory roughly corresponding to the modern State of Israel, the Palestinian territories, parts of southern Lebanon, western Jordan and southwestern Syria.
“The land where Jesus walked” belongs to the Asian continent and is part of the Middle East region. In other words, the historical Jesus was Asian, was born, lived, preached, died, and rose from the dead in the Holy Land.
Jesus was a true Hebrew by blood, birthplace, and nationality. Jesus spoke primarily a Galilean dialect of Aramaic, the ancient lingua franca in much of Western Asia or the Middle East. Judaism was his religion and Jesus was a Jew when he founded the Christian Church.
Mary her mother and the twelve apostles were Asian. When the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost “to renew the face of the Earth,” the Second Person of the Holy Trinity descended upon Mary and the Holy Apostles in Jerusalem. Commissioned by Jesus and empowered by the Holy Spirit, the apostles and early disciples in West Asia went out to preach, baptize, and make “disciples of all nations” (Mat 28:19).
The Holy Spirit planted the seed of Christianity by preserving diversity among peoples, producing a community of growth and excitement
The first Pentecost was the birthday of the Church. Moved by the Holy Spirit, from within that little upper room where they were gathered, the first disciples quickly reached the streets. At that time, a huge crowd of devout Jews from “every nation under heaven” were present to celebrate Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks. Never was there a more international crowd than at the time of Pentecost in Jerusalem.
The diverse crowd of people speaking different languages from several countries were stunned, saying, “How is it possible that each of us can hear these Galileans speaking about the mighty works of God in his own language? (Acts 2:7–11).
Saint Peter, the first among equals in the ranks of the twelve apostles, delivered the very first kerygma and his sermon leads to astonishing results. The power of the Holy Spirit was manifested and approximately 3,000 of the diverse crowd were baptized. They joyfully joined the growing community of early Christian believers that day.
To fulfill the mandate given by Jesus – that is, to make “disciples of all nations” – Saint Thomas, one of the apostles, arrived in Kerala in 52 AD and established the seven churches in India. Eusebius, the 4th-century bishop of Caesarea, stated in his pioneering work History Ecclesiae that in this amazing continent a hierarchical structure was strongly organized under several bishops, who were present at the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD.
The Holy Spirit sowed the seed of Christianity by preserving diversity among peoples, producing a community of growth and excitement. As the apostle Paul said, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are various effects, but the same God who works all things in all people” (1 Cor. 12:4-6).
From the Old Testament we learn that God scattered the people of Babel around the world when they could not understand each other. The curse of the Tower of Babel has been reversed by the coming of the Holy Spirit. “Pentecost is the feast of human unity, understanding and sharing… Their [apostles’] fear disappeared, their hearts were filled with new strength, their tongues loosened and they began to speak freely,” Pope Benedict XVI said in 2012.
“In the dynamics of history and in the diversity of ethnic groups, societies and cultures, we see the germination of a vocation to form a community made up of brothers and sisters who accept and care for each other”
What the Holy Spirit created that day was neither religion nor theology. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit created a unity in diversity, a united community from diverse social conditions and rich cultures.
As Pope Francis nicely says in his encyclical Fratelli tutti, “the future is not monochromatic; if we are brave, we can contemplate it in all the variety and diversity that each person has to offer. How much our human family needs to learn to live together in harmony and peace, without us all being the same!
Therefore, the work of the Holy Spirit is not to proselytize or convert Asia to Christianity but, in my humble opinion, that Asians learn to embrace everyone in fratelli tutti or universal brotherhood and brotherhood. This Pope Francis has underlined this in all his pastoral visits to Asia since 2015.
“In the dynamics of history and in the diversity of ethnic groups, societies and cultures, we see the germination of a vocation to form a community made up of brothers and sisters who accept and care for each other”, continues the Holy Father.
And the secret weapon of the Holy Spirit is interreligious dialogue armed with universal love.
* José Mario Bautista Maximiano is the author of “The signs of the times and the social doctrine of the Church” (Salesiana, 1992) and “The Church can manage the truth: healing by mercy of historical wounds” (Claretians , 2017).