Contribution to the X FABC Working document and End Notes 30 July 2012 FABC at Forty Years – Responding to the challenges of Asia

Your Eminences, Your Graces, Your Excellencies, Brothers and Sisters,

A.   Remembering: Triple Dialogue (FABC W.doc.n.5)

Suggesting: Quadruple Dialogue

     Reviewingthe past, the FABC recalls the orientation that was outlined from the decade of 70, according to which the Church in Asia would pursuit the dialogue in the relation to the three areas: the poor, cultures, and religions (No. 5). To my mind, the following points should be noted:

     1/ In Asia, it is not easy to distinguish between culture and religion but this distinction is really necessary and useful because a Christian cannot follow another “religion" (e.g. Buddhism), but can follow another “culture" (e.g. Confucian culture). What could a religion be defined? We should not disregard "folk beliefs" with their pros and cons.

     2/ The Bishops of South Vietnam have become members of the FABC since its inception. However, in 1975, less than a year after the First FABC Plenary Assembly, Vietnam, which in the past had been divided into two parts, now was united and named " The Socialist Republic of Vietnam". This is a challenge but also an opportunity for the Church in Vietnam to think about her presence and mission of evangelization in a new context. We hope to receive contributions from the FABC for our thinking efforts. Does atheism belong to the areas of FABC’s dialogue? If it does, to what area it belongs: the poor, culture, religion? Should we extend the “triple dialogue” to "quadruple dialogue"? Can we think about the "Courtyard of the Gentiles"? Or the "new forums” ?

     3/ The Holy Father Benedict XVI has opened for the Church in Vietnam a positive direction which is fully consistent with the Gospel. In his teaching to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Vietnam (CBCV) on the occasion of the Ad Limina, 27th June 2009, he said: " The Church invites all her members to be loyally committed to building a just, supportive and fair society. Her intention is certainly not to replace government leaders; she wishes only to be able to play a just role in the nation's life, at the service of the whole country, in a spirit of dialogue and respectful collaboration" (Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI to the CBCV on Their “Ad Limina” Visit).

    4/ We have witnessed a big change on the political map of the world for the last 20 years, with the collapse of the Berlin wall. This event has also caused a greater or lesser impact on the socialist countries in Asia. They no longer stick to the Marxism dogmatically as they did before, but have tried to apply this ideology to the new situations flexibly and creatively. Through economic trade transactions, travels, and especially the mass media, Vietnamese people have received new ideas and lifestyles of foreign countries, and had opportunities to compare them with the traditional cultural values of the nation and with the policy of the State.

B. Mega-trends: Secularization and “post-secularization” (N. 17)

     The working document of FABC (No. 17) mentions a new culture with characteristics of secularity, materialism, consumerism, and relativism, which is spreading in Asia and disrupting traditional values, due to the impact of globalization.

     1/ In my mind, when mentioning "religion" and "secularity", we should pay attention to a few different viewpoints between the Western and the Eastern cultures, especially in countries influenced by Chinese culture.

                 a) In these countries, the distinction between "philosophy" (culture) and "religion" is not clear. For instance, Buddhism has its own organization and cult, but the structure is not very tight. Both Confucianism and Taoism offer a vision on the world and human life, but neither of them has a "liturgy" to be celebrated, nor an organized structure as a “church insitution". Therefore, their members have no clear idea of ​​their "belonging" to a fixed religious community. The concept of "relativity" is latent in "religions" in East Asia. People often think all religions are good! There are persons who go to both the Buddhist and Confucius temples for worship, and practice the Taoist rites, and so on.

                 b) The phenomenon of “secularization” could be comprehended in a meaning that is different from the context of Western countries. Some observations could be presented.

         - In Vietnam, before the period of French colonialism, there was no clear distinction between the "religious authority" and the "civil society" . There was no government who needed to escape from the religious authority, and nor was there the conflict betwen science and religious belief.

        - On another level, perhaps due to the influence of the Chinese culture, religions in Vietnam are "pragmatic": people going to the temple and practicing cult (religious ceremony), not so much by interior motivation or spiritual ideal as by the need for peace and material success.  As a result, the content of religious beliefs cannot have a great impact on the way of thinking and daily activities of the people.

    2/ For over the last two decades, the political regime in Vietnam, although still claiming itself to be Marxist-Leninist, has paid more attention to economic development, and imported a kind of "market economy". Together with the economic growth is the phenomenon of "secularization" which has affected everybody without distinction of ideology or religion.

     Instead of saying "secularization", nowaday people often refer to new “idols" such as “American idols”. This is the “newest” mentality which is called "postmodern", "post-secular". People look for immediate "happiness", rather than an ideal that requires an enduring effort to achieve. They are most concerned about satisfying their personal needs, rather than the common good of the community.

    3/ Due to the impact of the phenomenon of "globalization", the characteristics of the present time’s mentality, especially in young people, are partly the same in the Western as well as in Asian countries. More and more people think that the sacred things are abstract and impractical while the earthly realities are concrete and immediate. However, in Vietnam, people still feel spiritual needs, which are expressed through religious festivities, even in superstitious customs. In particular, for Catholics, participation in community activities remains dynamic, and there are still plenty of religious and priestly vocations.

C. Reflecting and Praying

     The X FABC Assembly takes place in “the Year of Faith".  This is an opportunity for all of us to rediscover the meaning of faith: To believe is not merely accepting a doctrine, but above all is trusting in the One who loves us. We need to "return" to Christ (Porta fidei, No. 6), change our "mind" which is still involved in mundane factors and attached to a kind of "earthly messianism”, we must strive more to seek the wisdom of the cross.

     We pray to God for granting us a greater faith which is convinced that the Gospel of Christ can bring to our peoples the best things they are longing for: complete freedom, true happiness, respect for human dignity, social solidarity.   In Vietnam, we need to overcome the inferiority complex of being a "foreign religion". The Vietnamese people is willing to open to Western values ​​(derived from Christianity) ". In fact, Christianity has contributed a lot to our Vietnamese nation. It was the Catholics who are the first to apply the "Latin alphabet" to transcribe the ancient Vietnamese character, which became the Vietnamese language used today. We thank God for the witnesses of the faithful in developing the life of the poor, advancing the intellectual life of the people through education, and contributing to the social progress. (See "The Message of the 2010 Congress of God’s People in Vietnam ").

     We try to bear witness to the Good News of Love and Justice. In a world that has gradually inclined to individualism and led many people to despair in loneliness, our communities demonstrate the solidarity of the spiritual family. One cannot deny that in Vietnam, even though facing with restrictions and limitations, the Catholic Church is vibrant with highly communal activities. We try to build authentic communities on the faith in the Word of God, nourished by the Body and Blood of the Lord, and animated by the Holy Spirit.

     While society is facing a crisis of moral values, the Catholic Church, through emphasizing ethics, is the school training good citizens. We try to cultivate a spiritual life, in a society where many people are on the way of searching for a spiritual direction. How to show that the path of the Beatitudes truly leads to authentic happiness!

     Following the example of Blessed John the twenty third, when he convened the Second Vatican Council, we search out a way to proclaim the Gospel in a language that the contemporary people can understand: the language of love, of truth, of beauty; recognizing the "signs of the times" even through adversities; discerning the seeds of truth in cultures and religions; especially, recognizing the image of God in every person, even those who deny God. We pray for this Assembly of FABC to fulfill the wishes of Blessed John XXIII  50 years ago: a new Pentecost for the Church in Asia.

+ Paul Bui van Doc, Bishop of My Tho, Viet Nam



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