Each month the BYTE will publish sections of the U.S. Bishops Pastoral Letter “Encountering Christ in Harmony: A Pastoral Response to Our Asian and Pacific Island Brothers and Sisters.”
In his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis urges the faithful to “a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them.”3 Jesus Christ is constantly reaching out to all persons, but there needs to be a response from us. We need not fear that the invitation is meant for someone else and not us. We can respond with a sure hope. “The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step toward Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms. Now is the time to say to Jesus: ‘Lord, I have let myself be deceived. . . . I need you. . . .’ God never tires of forgiving us. . . . [and no] one can strip us of the dignity bestowed upon us by this boundless and unfailing love.”
Pope Francis also acknowledges the fact that our response to the encounter with Christ is partially shaped by our backgrounds and personal experiences, especially our cultural, social, and ethnic diversities. “God attracts us by taking into account the complex interweaving of personal relationships entailed in the life of a human community.” The cultural diversity of a community, therefore, is necessarily an integral factor in the encounter with the Gospel. “Grace supposes culture, and God’s gift becomes flesh in the culture of those who receive it.”
This is to say that, on the one hand, through the encounter with Christ, culture is transformed by the power of the Gospel. And on the other hand, culture is integrated into the life of the Church and enriches the Church as a whole. Pope Francis writes, “In the diversity of peoples who experience the gift of God, each in accordance with its own culture, the Church expresses her genuine catholicity.”7 “In this way,” he continues, “the Church takes up the [positive] values of different cultures and becomes the sponsa ornata monilibus suis, ‘the bride bedecked with her jewels’ (cf. Is 61:10).”8 One of those jewels offered to the Church from Asian and Pacific Island cultures, although not solely unique to them, is the concept of harmony. Harmony is a very common theme in Asian and Pacific Island cultures, and therefore it makes sense that in the encounter with the Gospel, the Holy Spirit would transform this jewel of Asian and Pacific Island cultures and make it a blessing to the Church.
Through the concept of harmony, the various Asian and Pacific Island cultures are open to encountering the Lord precisely through their cultural understanding of unity in diversity. In the Asian and Pacific worldview, harmony does not mean leveling off differences in order to arrive at consensus at any cost. Rather, harmony includes diversity as a richness to be embraced and nurtured. At the same time, attaining harmony requires never losing sight of our unity in Christ, which is the goal. In this view, a crucial aspect of personhood is the placing of others— the family, the community—before oneself. Of course, as in every culture, the concepts of self and family need to be purified by the Gospel, but the importance of harmony in Asian and Pacific Island communities offers a fruitful cultural analog to help us deepen our insight into the revealed mystery of the communion of the Church.
This pastoral response seeks to weave together the rich tapestry of Asian and Pacific Island histories, cultures, and faith, in order to celebrate and support Asian and Pacific Catholic communities in the United States. It recognizes, however, the difficult task of bringing together the disparate communities from Asia and the Pacific Islands into a single unifying voice. Yet, while there are many distinctions between these communities, there is a common thread of Catholic identity.
In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis exhorts all faithful believers, no matter their ethnic background, to embrace their baptismal call to go out and proclaim the Good News to all peoples.
To engage the Asian and Pacific Island communities in the United States, a year-long study was commissioned, which included an online survey, available in thirteen languages, as well as in-pew questionnaires, small group discussions, and in-person interviews. From this study, four major components surfaced as central concerns for the Asian and Pacific Catholic communities:
IV. Culture of Encounter and Dialogue
Each of these four components will be examined through two lenses: our faith expressed and our faith engaged. The first lens, our faith expressed, views the stories of Asian and Pacific Island Catholics as part of the larger Catholic tradition, and at the same time, emphasizes the uniqueness of particular communities. The second lens, our faith engaged, provides suggestions for a pastoral response to specific Asian and Pacific Island Catholic needs and challenges. These suggestions are not limited to Asian and Pacific Island Catholics and communities but are offered to all pastoral leaders within the wider landscape of cultural and generational diversity in the United States. To that end, we group these pastoral suggestions into three levels:
• National level
• Diocesan level
• Parish level
Both of these lenses—our faith expressed and our faith engaged—underscore the contributions made by Asian and Pacific Island communities, while acknowledging the challenges that still confront many today.