Institute of Missiology and Communications
Pune – India
August – 2008
India: A Unique Seminar on “Cultural Challenges for Christian Mission” held by CBCI at Ishvani Kendra, Pune, from 2 – 4 August, 2008.
In response to a call given by the Bishops of India, through the CBCI Commission for Education and Culture, we, lay persons, Religious, priests and Bishops – 140 in all, drawn from different parts of our country – came together to reflect on “Cultural Challenges for Christian Mission.” We reminded ourselves of a momentous change in human history: culture has moved to the centre of human life. Culture plays a decisive role in every aspect of life. Culture occupies the centre of people’s aspirations and anxieties. This was facilitated by the contemporary insights drawn from anthropology, affirming the cultural uniqueness of different ethnic groups, which demolished the prevailing myth of any one monolithic culture as the ideal human culture. Besides, the growing awakening of subaltern cultural groups empowered by modern education has also led to the assertion of their distinct identity with self-respect.
Culture weaves the threads of people’s deeper level identities; it is the memory disk of their historic experiences. It is the mirror reflecting their ethnic pride, their collective psyche, community ambitions, and motivations including their shared prejudices, fears and weaknesses. It catalyses them for change and action, empowering them to claim their rights, to resist subjugation and to protect their identity, beliefs and values. That is why we consider that the Church can ill afford to ignore the cultural challenges in mission. Those who run the world of globalised economy, market and business and who control people’s lives, the neocolonisers, tend to ignore culture, as did the colonial masters of old.
We brought our concerns into prayer, and we celebrated our hope in the daily breaking of the Bread. We listened to one another, as research scholars animated us. And we made a reality check with concrete life-situations of people’s lives through our group sharing. Through all this, we looked at the emerging cultural landscape at this juncture of our history.
A. THE EMERGING SCENARIO
We focussed on the following aspects of the emerging scenario as far as cultures are concerned. We looked at the positive and negative aspects of the currents and forces that affect cultures in one way or another. Our aim was to read the signs of the times and discern the direction for an authentic Christian response as individuals, groups and communities.
Globalisation, while it contains several positive aspects, is bent on homogenising culture and promotes market values of consumerism and individualism. Peoples everywhere experience its negative impact in every area of life. It subtly injects uniform norms of conduct, customs, markets, meaning and ultimately ways of life alarmingly threatening humanity with its inherent exploitative tendencies. Post-modernism and globalisation became the twin engines of progress in an unprecedented way opening up new ways of interconnectedness through internet, super-fast computation, transportation and international travel, transforming the world as a global village. It contributed to greater awareness of cultural diversity. Postmodernism, among other things, has stimulated a renewed search for religiosity and meaning. At the same time, these forces promoted unbridled individualism, consumerism, loss of community sense and breakdown of family. In addition to these forces that intrude from outside, we identified cultural nationalism as another monstrous force that destroys our cherished values of harmony and tolerance.
2. Cultural Nationalism and Cultural Intolerance
Foreign conquests, cultural insensitivity of colonial rulers and some overzealous missionaries, and the Orientalist romanticisation of Hinduism provided the backdrop for the birth of Hindu Nationalism. This was in stark contrast to the emerging liberal national movement for freedom grounded in secular and socialist vision. As a reaction, the threatened Hindu civilisation was anxious to rediscover its roots and affirm its supremacy. Organised resistance directed against Christian mission was first initiated with the foundation of Arya Samaj.
The emerging Hindutva ideology has three constitutive elements: a) nation (rashtra), race (jati) and civilisation/culture (sanskriti). The promoters of this ideology consider Hindustan as their fatherland (pitrubhoomi) as well as their “holy land” (punyabhoomi). Consequently, they hold that non-Hindus cannot have equal rights in this land. Hindu nationalism is embedded in an ideological agenda: to organise and mobilise Hindus on the vision of dharmaraj based on varnashramadharma of the caste hierarchical structure. The organisation of Rahstriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) was also enhanced by the concept of the Aryan supremacy of Hindus. Resulting from this exclusivist ideology is a hate campaign against its imagined enemies – Muslims, Christians, Communists and anti-Brahmin movements.
Through sustained vernacular media, ratha yatras, kathas and other popular means both the upper castes and the masses are being mobilised and organised. Further, the Sanghparivar has inducted even their religious heads into the movement. Bajrang Dal and other Sanghparivar organisations are founded to mobilise the youth. Violent attacks on places of worship, Christians, and their institutions, murder of priests and rape of sisters have accelerated.
3. Erosion of Democratic Ethos
The erosion of democratic ethos and the virus of corruption that eat into the vitals of political system, lack of accountability from the part of the ruling class, criminalisation of politics and politicisation of religions are other forces that impinge upon multicultural living. In this context, we are painfully aware of the lack of sufficient and effective presence of Christian laity who could act as leaven in the socio-political arena. Besides, sufficient efforts have not been made to promote their political participation and leadership. It is of utmost urgency to heed the call and warning of Vatican II: “The Christian, who shirks his temporal duties, shirks his duties towards his neighbour, neglects God himself, and endangers his eternal salvation” (GS 43).
4. Influence of the Media
We are aware of the external influences being brought to bear upon people in general and the youth in particular. New ways of thinking and behaviour are emerging as a result of over exposure to mass media and of the information-communication technology’s impact on our youth. It even creates a generational digital divide, with the older generation, on the one hand, being unable to cope with the fast developments, and, on the other, the youth always dreaming of ever new possibilities. It encourages anonymous and often ambiguous identities, leading to a sudden surge of independence, a daring to explore whatever is new. Nevertheless, the modern media can become a boon for promoting evangelical values.
As John Paul II cautioned: “…. Their beneficial effects can at times be outweighed by the way in which they are controlled and used by those with questionable political, economic and ideological interests. As a result the negative aspects of the media and entertainment industries are threatening traditional values, and in particular the sacredness of marriage and stability of the family. The effect of images of violence, hedonism, unbridled individualism and materialism is striking at the heart of Asian cultures, at the religious character of the people, families and whole societies” (EA 7).
5. Cultural Conflicts within the Church
We also are aware of the painful experiences of division and conflicts mainly due to a lack of recognition of the dignity and equality of various cultural groups within the Church. This factor continues to diminish and even threaten to destroy our fellowship of equal disciples of Christ.
As Christians from dalit, tribal and OBC background constitute the larger section of the Church in India, and as they grow in self-awareness and self-assertiveness, they rightfully challenge the domination by the caste Christians in some parts of India. Their self-respect and identity is the core issue. These communities can make a contribution at this time of history with their cherished values of community, joyful celebration of life, closeness to nature and other human values.
6. Formation in Indian Context
Looking at the emerging scenario with reference to the formation of religious and clergy, we recognise a lack of spirituality, vitality, dynamism, commitment and mission thrust. This is due to inadequate cultural integration in our formation programmes. The life-style of formation houses attached to heavily institutional structures uproots and alienates them from their cultural context, and creates in them an elitist mentality and behaviour. This severely diminishes their ability to meet the challenges of mission today.
B. OUR CHRISTIAN RESPONSE
Our Christian response to all these challenges must be born out of the values of the Gospel of Jesus and from the way he himself chose to respond creatively, critically and prophetically to his times. Ultimately, transformation of a society can be effected only by those who live the Gospel values of love, justice, reconciliation and peace. With a prophetic spirit, optimism of the Kingdom of God, and with deeper commitment to walk the path of Jesus we hope to contribute to the empowerment of people and nation building.
Finally, the most simple message and witness of Jesus’ self-sacrificing love should characterise our intercultural life, formation and mission. In working towards a deeper encounter between the Gospel and culture the missionary should live a spirituality of ‘passing over’, a dying to one’s own culture and preferences, and of being, as it were, born into the culture of the people with whom one engages in mission. We are convinced that without rootedness in the core elements of our faith tradition, we will be carried away by passing currents; we will not be able to make our own contribution as Christians. We are committed to all that we have reflected on and planned, so that through all this we can communicate to the world that Jesus has a relevant and unique contribution to make for the creation of new humanity founded on equality, fellowship and justice.
India: RBI to Issue Special Coin in Honour of Sr. Alphonsa
The Reserve Bank of India will issue a special commemorative coin in honour of India-born Sister Alphonsa Muttathupadathu to mark her canonization. An assurance in this regard was given by the Indian Finance Minister to the former Chief Minister of Kerala. The Indian government will announce its decision on October 12, the day Pope Benedict XVI will officially declare Alphonsa a saint (SAR News).
Rome: Demise of the Foundress of the Focolare Movement
Chiara Lubich, the Foundress of the Focolare Movement expired on 14th March 2008. She had a serene and peaceful death, surrounding by all her first companions and the many people who came to meet her for a last greeting before she breathed her last. The funeral was celebrated at the Basilica of St. Paul in Rome. Chiara Lubich’s achievements have been many, but what we may single out is the deep transformation that she provoked in people’s hearts and consequently in their existence. She in her own silent, humble style, did not create institutions for social assistance and human advancement, but dedicated herself to kindling in hearts the fire of love for God. ‘Focolare’ means fire place, where divine love burns contagiously and sets ablaze all who are close to it (The Voice of St.Jude, Vol.68, No.4).
Heredia, Rudolf C., Changing: Rethinking Conversion in India, New Delhi: Penguin Books, 2007.
The author in this book shows how mass conversions have alienated people from past traditions and lived beliefs. He advocates rethinking religious converison in India with determined religious disarmament, discarding aggression.
Leffel, Gregory P., Faith Seeking Action: Mission, Social Movements, and the Church in Motion, Maryland, USA: The Scarecrow Press Inc., 2007.
It is a book on how to become a contemporary missional Church. It is a description of contemporary social movements that are actively challenging today’s societies. We must never doubt that through the Gospel another world is possible.
Menamparampil, Thomas, Never Grow Tired, Mumbai: Pauline Publications, 2008.
This book is an anthology of talks given by Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil. A prolific writer and motivational speaker, to various groups based on lived experience of sharing the Gospel. In this book he suggests practical ways to translating the slogan Passion for Christ, Passion for Humanity into life.
Thomas, M.M., In Jesus the Kingdom of God is Near, Contextual Theological Bible Commentaries, CSS and BTESSC/SATHRI, 2008.
This is the ninth book in this series and is a joint publication of CSS and BTESSC/SATHRI. It has 127 pages and costs Rs.75/-. (Available at BTESSC/SATHRI, 73 Miller’s Road, Bangalore 560 046).
Dr. Joy Thomas, SVD (Director)
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