At the moment the Espiritanos missionaries we are present in six countries of Asia. The first mission had its home in 1977 in Pakistan and Papua New Guinea. On 1997 we founded missions in the Philippines and Taiwan; in 2007 the inauguration of a new mission in Vietnam took place; in 2010 it was the mission of India. This year we will see the first espiritano missionary enter and work in China. Our mission in Asia was, partly, an answer to the call of Pope S. Juan Pablo II, who requested to the congregations missionaries that this millenium went to Asia. Asia is the home of most of the world-wide population; it was here where the great religions were born from the world; on the other hand, Asia is the continent where the percentage of Christians reaches the lowest values.
A thing we must consider: the great cultural and religious diversity of Asia, in degree superior to any other continent. Thus also our missions are very different some from others and each requires a specific approach. Our missions border and coexist with religious current forts of Asia: Islam (in Pakistan), Hinduism (in India) buddhism (in Vietnam, Taiwan), Christianity (Philippine and Papua New Guinea) and secularism (Taiwan). We are working in very diverse political situations, from dictatorial democratic democratic countries or average to another means. A common situation to all these countries (excluding the Philippines and Papua New Guinea) is the fact that the Christian community is a small minority.
Another point that I believe that we must consider is the fact that Asia is becoming more and more the point from convergence of the policy and the global economy. To China and India constantly are considered they as global superpowers; but many other countries deserve this title. There is a pile of energy and initiatives that come from Asia. The Church must be an integral part of this energy and this initiative. If on the one hand, Asia is a religious continent with current forts of spirituality, on the other hand, it is becoming more and more materialistic, without no religious reference. Hinduism and the buddhism are religions of Eastern Asia where we worked. We can be asked what is what the Christianity can add to these so old religious traditions. Under the religious point of view, we can classify them as a life form, a life philosophy, more than a religion. There are three areas in which the Christianity can produce impact: the concept of God; what happens after the death, subject nothing clear for the followers of these philosophies; and the third area is the social participation of the Christian organizations and, with less projection, of the Islam. The Church always has provided services of education and health to all the population, including the poor men. This attracts Chinese and Vietnamese. These two countries always have been more open to the Christian message for several reasons. Both were influenced by the philosophy and the ethics of Confucius, closely together of the values and the Christian ethics. In few China years it will be the country with the greater number of Christians, catholics and protestants, even more than Brazil and others. But so far, it will continue being a small minority. (The confucianism emphasizes the social harmony. Mayayo buddhism in China and Vietnam; Thereveda buddhism in Thailand, Cambodia and Laos).
The future: Asia will more and more play an important role in the political and economic development of the world. The Church must be there and give testimony to a society that not only it has to be impelled by the materialistic values. The Church is called to speak of God according to the Christian vision. Asia is a religious continent, but their image of God and of life needs to be questioned. In Vietnam, the church is established, but it needs to reach the majority of the population that is nonbelieving or has one vague image of God. Also it must be more missionary. In India, we are called to give testimony of life of a simpler way.
Our congregation, that has one long experience of work in new and different cultures and to comprise of these cultures, particularly in Africa and South America, can also be part of the church of Asia in the heat of growth. There is an enormous challenge in terms of Christian presence, for example in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, where the Christian presence is small. And China, that has been always a place where we wanted to work. The mission of Taiwan was created partly to provide a springboard for continental China.
Now we have members of Asia, they must be in the vanguard of our work. Both first Philippine espiritanos could be ordered in a year. Two brothers in India would have to be ready for appointments in two years as also a espiritano of Hong Kong. In three years the first Vietnameses could be arranged to be named, and soon there will be a constant flow of brothers. The vocations in the Philippines are falling, but Papua New Guinea could be a source of new members.
We have to open new missions in Asia? China is the great challenge.
Pat Palmer, CSSp.