Integral Evangelisation: Pre-Synodal Reflections
Catholics in Asia are preparing for a Special Synod of Bishops focused
on their continent. The theme has been chosen: Jesus Christ the Saviour
and his Mission of Love and Service in Asia: "... that they may
have life and have it abundantly". The meaning and challenges
of mission in the Asian context are therefore being discussed all over
Asia. All the People of God are invited to contribute to this discussion.
The following reflections on the theme of the Synod are offered as one
contribution to the ongoing discussion. They aim at clarifying the horizon
of understanding which conditions the interpretation of mission in Asia
and elsewhere. They do not claim to be a summary either of the official
documents or of Asian theology on the matter. They are personal reflections
on what I think is the focus and manner of evangelisation in Asia.
horizon of understanding in which we read and interpret a particular
text or theme is important. For instance, if one starts with the idea
that mission is primarily the transplantation of the Church in ever
new areas then one is likely to perceive promotion of justice, inculturation
and inter-religious dialogue as means towards this goal. Another who
thinks that the aim of mission is to struggle with the poor for justice
will not feel the need of sharing the Good News or of dialoguing with
One or Many?
General Assembly of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences in
Taipei in 1974 described evangelisation as a threefold dialogue with
the realities of Asia, namely its many poor peoples, its rich cultures,
and its great religions. This may be interpreted to mean that the promotion
of justice, inculturation and interreligious dialogue are different
tasks of evangelisation. From such a perspective one could add to the
list of tasks. Some would add 'proclamation', even specifying it further
as 'direct proclamation', which supposes that the other tasks are 'indirect
proclamations'. John Paul II, in his Encyclical Letter Redemptoris
missio, chapter V, presents a long list of tasks as 'The
Paths of Mission'. A missionary can engage in one or other task according
to the need of the situation and his/her own competence.
however think that these various tasks mutually involve each other in
such a way that together they constitute evangelisation or proclamation
of the Good News. Evangelisation is not an activity that stands apart
from them. One does not simply proclaim Jesus without proclaiming his
Good News and entering into dialogue with the many dimensions of human
reality, like religion, culture and the socio-economic situation, challenging
them all to conversion. To say that they are mutually involving does
not confuse them. They remain different activities. But they converge:
one cannot be done adequately and authentically without also doing the
others. This mutually involving character of liberation, inculturation
and interreligious dialogue as integral dimensions of evangelisation
has been pointed out by Asian theologians (cf. M. Amaladoss, "The
Challenges of Mission Today" in Trends in Mission. Toward the
Third Millennium. Ed. by William Jenkinson and Helene O'Sullivan,
Maryknoll: Orbis, 1991, p. 364), and has been strongly affirmed recently
by the 34th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus
(Decree 2, 1419).
Good News can be presented to free human beings only in a dialogical
way that takes into account their living situation. The Gospel comes
as Good News particularly to the poor who live in unjust and oppressive
situations. But they cannot be liberated from their poverty and oppression
unless there is also a cultural transformation that challenges and changes
the worldviews and value systems that underlie the oppressive economic,
political and social systems. In a society where the same culture is
shared by people of different faiths, cultural and social transformation
can take place only when the Gospel enters into dialogue with the different
religions, challenging prophetically their legitimating aspects and
encouraging their prophetic dynamism that can bring about change. Thus
liberation involves transformation of culture and interreligious
dialogue. Otherwise it remains mere social activism and does not become
taking shape in a culture the Gospel necessarily challenges elements
of its worldview and value system that are oppressive, and seeks to
transform them. But it cannot do so adequately without transforming
the economic and sociopolitical ground that sustains that culture.
Besides, the worldview and value system of a culture cannot be transformed
without a transformative dialogue with the religions that provide legitimation
by reference to the Ultimate. The dialogue of Gospel with culture therefore
necess-arily involves liberation and dialogue with other religions.
Merely reexpressing the Gospel in a particular culture is a necessary
first step, but is not evangelisation. It is a pity, of course, that
even that first step is often not taken.
dialogue of the Gospel with other religions will remain academic and
even alienating if it does not contribute to the transformation of worldviews
and value systems and to the change of oppressive economic and sociopolitical
structures. Interreli-gious dialogue is meaningful only when there
is cultural and social transformation. Otherwise religions (and the
Gospel) become alienating and oppressive, legitimating or at least tolerating
unjust sociocultural structures. Mission as proclamation of the
Good News and call to conversion is meaningful only when it causes sociocultural
and religious transformation. Otherwise it is empty and alienating.
with cultures and religions and action for liberation have different
formalities. But they constitute together one integral mission so that
one cannot be done without the others. This does not mean that one person
has to do every thing. These activities require different kinds of expertise
and, at advanced levels, different people may be engaged in them. But
they have meaning only when they are done together corporately, mutually
influencing each other. Exclusive concentration on any one of them will
not produce the desired fruit of an authentic and total conversion,
leading to the emergence of the new human community that is God's Kingdom.
Many as One
is therefore a complex activity. But the complexity must not make us
confuse the different identities of the various dimensions and the particular
way in which they are interrelated. The Gospel is primarily preached
to the poor as a good news of liberation. It is the message of the Reign
of God which is manifested in a new humanity characterised by freedom
and fellowship, love and justice. The call to conversion is an invitation,
not only to personal transformation, but also to societal change. George
SoaresPrabhu points this out in an oftquoted passage:
the revelation of God's love (the Kingdom) meets its appropriate response
in man's trusting acceptance of this love (repentance), there begins
a mighty movement of personal and societal liberation which sweeps through
human history. ("The Kingdom of God: Jesus' Vision of a New society",
in The Indian Church in the Struggle for a New Society. Ed. by
D.S. Amalorpavadass, Bangalore: NBCLC, I981, p. 601).
process of this conversion and the building up of a new society involves
a struggle, that is often seen in the Bible as a conflict with Mammon.
Mammon's power is shown precisely in the structures of unfreedom and
injustice that enslave people, particularly the poor. The call to conversion
is therefore a call to liberation:
vision of Jesus summons us to a ceaseless struggle against the demonic
structures of unfreedom (psychological and sociological) erected by
Mammon; and to a ceaseless creativity that will produce in every age
new blueprints for a society ever more consonant with the Gospel vision
of man. Lying on the horizons of human history and yet part of it, offered
to us as a gift yet confronting us as a challenge, Jesus' vision of
a new society stands before us as an unfinished task, summoning us to
a permanent revolution (ibid., p. 607).
is why one can say that action for liberation or promotion of justice
is the primary, though not the exclusive, focus of mission as proclamation
of the Kingdom.
the context of this struggle with Mammon, people are challenged to transform
their worldviews and value systems as well as to purify their religious
orientation and commitment.
we look at what happens a little more closely, the process of evangelisation
in the three cases is not the same. We speak the language of struggle
with Mammon's forces of injustice and unfreedom. But with reference
to cultures and religions, we speak rather of dialogue. The reason for
this is that, while injustice and oppression are seen as sinful situations
that have to be abolished, we see in cultures and religions, side by
side with human sin and imperfection, also the signs and the presence
of God's selfrevelation in the histories of peoples. While true
and total liberation is not possible without the transformation of culture
and the revitalisation of religion, the focus of the proclamation of
the Good News is the building up of a new human community that is God's
Kingdom. When we speak of integral dimensions, we cannot subordinate
one to another. But we can see a certain structure among them.
Church and the Kingdom
can be seen as integral also from another point of view. Speaking about
the goal of evangelisation in the context of our experience in Asia,
Asian theologians have also spelt it out as the promotion of the Kingdom
and of the Church as its symbol and servant. (Cf. M. Amaladoss, "Evangelisation
in Asia: A New Focus?" in Making All Things New, Maryknoll:
Orbis, 1990, pp. 103120; "The Kingdom of God as the Goal
of Mission," Vaiharai 1 (1996), pp. 277292).
The concrete goal one is able to pursue in a particular situation depends
not only on the wishes of the evangeliser, but on the situation, on
the freedom of God who ultimately invites people to the discipleship
of Jesus, and on the freedom of the individuals or groups who listen
to the Gospel. To call the process of evangelisation integral from the
point of view of its goal means that whatever be the manner of response
of those who hear the Gospel in a particular situation, everything is
a contribution to the overall goal of evangelisation, namely the Kingdom.
Some may become disciples of Jesus in or outside the community of the
Church, others may be challenged to a personal conversion that makes
them better human beings, more committed to love and justice, still
others may be challenged to transform their culture and revitalise their
religion. In every case evangelisation is taking place, because the
Kingdom is being built up. A too hasty identification of the Church
with the Kingdom, making the Church the exclusive goal of evangelisation,
does not take into account these articulations.
we see a tendency to identify the Kingdom with Jesus. Jesus proclaimed
the Good News of the Kingdom. But sometimes one goes on to say that
Jesus himself, as the Word of God, is the Good News and that he realises
the Kingdom in himself. Therefore to proclaim Jesus is to proclaim the
Kingdom. If responding to such proclamation in faith means doing what
Jesus did, namely, love the other, especially the poor and the marginalised,
struggle for justice and building community, then there is no problem.
It is a faith that does justice. But if it means confessing faith in
Jesus in an abstract manner which does not involve any real transformation
of life and action, then it becomes a fundamentalist proclamation in
the manner of some of the teleevangelists, who offer Jesus as
a personal saviour without conditions. This is not integral evangelisation.
consequence of evangelisation being integral is that, given its complex
character and its dialogical process, it is ongoing. It is never finished.
Just as the Church is always a pilgrim marching towards the fullness
of the Kingdom, evangelisation is a continuing process. It is a constant
call to conversion and to change and build up the human community. It
needs ongoing discernment and commitment. As the world - people and
cultures - is changing, the prophetic challenge of the Gospel too changes.
As generation succeeds generation and new actors come on the scene,
the challenge has to be repeated. That is why, from the point of view
of integral evangelisation, one should speak of continuing evangelisation
rather than of new evangelisation or reevangelisation.
think of evangelisation as integral is therefore to see its various
dimensions as mutually interconnected in a holistic way. What one is
able to do in a particular situation may be limited by the possibilities
of the situation and by the charisma of the people who are evangelising.
In a place where there is no real religious freedom, for example, all
that one can do is witness to one's faith convictions in life. In every
situation, the evangeliser(s) will have to discern possible courses
of action and even priorities. As I have pointed out above, the will
of God and the response of people are also factors in this discernment.
For their part, the evangelisers are open and ready to engage in all
the dimensions of evangelisation - that is, integral evangelisation.
But it is possible that they limit their activity, not according to
the signs of the times, but according to their own particular narrow
perspective or ideology. Unfortunately this seems to happen rather often
and is detrimental to integral evangelisation. Let us sample some -
not all - cases when this may happen.
people are challenged by the poverty and oppression that the poor suffer
from. They feel that religions, including Christianity, often legitimate
oppression. Therefore they are on the whole negative to religion(s).
They throw themselves heart and soul into the sociopolitical movements
and struggles oriented to liberate the people. They perceive this as
part of the ongoing struggle against Mammon. They see themselves as
promoting the values of the Gospel and therefore as evangelisers. But
they are not doing authentic evangelisation, which is integral, because
they are ideologically limiting themselves to the economic and sociopolitical
dimensions. I am not talking here about what someone is actually able
to do in a particular situation, but rather of an intentional exclusion
of any other dimension of evangelisation on ideological grounds.
the opposite direction, some people think that real evangelisation is
to make people, through Baptism, members of the Church as the only vehicle
of salvation. Every other activity is seen as secondary or preparatory
to it. Such activity also falls short of integral evangelisation. Salvation
itself is seen as spiritual, individual and otherworldly. It is
basically made available through the sacraments. When salvation is seen
in this way, then promotion of justice and dialogue with cultures and
religions, even if they are engaged in, are not seen as integral to
evangelisation. Therefore they are done half-heartedly or not at all.
In such a situation, the Gospel is imported together with foreign cultural
and cosmic religious structures. People then are not only culturally
alienated in their own country but lose the possibility and credibility
to challenge the local culture in view of its transformation, since
they themselves have abandoned it and are seen as foreign. There is
no interest in inculturation.
is no real dialogue either with their own religious past, which is rejected
as unChristian. But since the Christian rituals, especially in
their contemporary, secular versions, do not meet the real needs of
the people, people tend to live in two religious spheres simultaneously,
when they do not simply pass over to some of the new religious movements.
When they are not able to handle the complexity of their own religious
needs and perspectives they can hardly dialogue evangelically with the
believers of other religions. Similarly, becoming members of the Church
is seen in ritual terms, so that no real transformation of life is demanded.
In the early Church people had to change their way of life over a period
before they qualified for Baptism. Today, people are first baptised,
sometimes with mixed motives, and a change of life is hoped for in the
future. And so people can continue to practice caste discrimination
and yet be considered as Christians of good standing. The priests themselves
seem to show the way in these matters. The lack of interest in inculturation
and in creative, ongoing dialogue with other believers seems to indicate
that their perspective of evangelisation is quite narrow and far from
integral. I wonder whether even the drive towards a new evangelisation
or reevangelisation on the occasion of the Year 2000 goes beyond
promoting personal conversion through renewal of the faith to include
a drive towards authentic inculturation, interreligious dialogue
and social transformation.
the context of evangelisation people speak of proclamation and dialogue
as different activities. Sometimes the two are even opposed to each
other so that one has to opt for one. In the context of integral evangelisation,
such opposition is incorrect. We cannot oppose different dimensions
of evangelisation that mutually involve each other. Since we cannot
really proclaim the Gospel to people who are free without dialoguing
with their own religious perspectives and since we cannot dialogue with
another person's religion without prophetically challenging it in the
name of the Gospel, while being ourselves open to the challenge of the
other, proclamation is dialogical and dialogue is proclamational. The
opposition between dialogue and proclamation comes from abstract definitions,
not from evangelical praxis. In practice they are closely related.
proclaimed the Good News of liberation against the oppressive forces
of Mammon. He sided with the poor, the oppressed and the marginalised,
the sinners and the publicans. He challenged the love of power and money
and false and hypocritical religion. He presented the Church as a countercultural
Jesus, we too engage in a conflict with Mammon in our proclamation of
the Gospel. In this struggle, the other religions are seen as allies,
not enemies. We seek to collaborate with them in the promotion of human
and spiritual values and not to vanquish them (cf. John Paul II's talk
to the leaders and representatives of other religions in Madras on 5
February, 1986. Text in Origins 15 (1986), p. 598. Also The
Pope Speaks to India. Bombay: St Paul Publication, 1986, pp. 84f).
As John Paul II has said, what unites the different religions is deeper
and more divine than what separates them.
it is the order of unity that goes back to creation and redemption and
is therefore, in this sense, "divine," such differences -
and even religious divergences - go back rather to a "human"
fact, and must be overcome in progress towards the realisation of the
mighty plan of unity which dominates the creation (cf. Bulletin,
The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, 22 (1987), pp.
is therefore directed not against other religions but against Mammon.
In such a context it is not proper to oppose proclamation to dialogue
and to suppose that we have to choose between them. On the contrary,
integral evangelisation sees them as different dimensions that have
a mutual influence on each other. The opposition between proclamation
and dialogue can be understood only when the establishing of the Church
as a religion is seen as the goal of evangelisation. The other religions
then become the quarry from which the Church gathers its adherents.
Such an opposition between religions is unevangelical.
Quest for Harmony
theologians project rather a vision of harmony:
community of Christ's disciples, as tiny minority among the teeming
millions of Asia, as a "little flock" (pusillus grex),
will never be able to do it alone. They are, with an open mind and a
humble heart, to recognise in all sisters and brothers, of whatever
faith conviction and culture, fellow wayfarers to God's Reign.
It is through a triple dialogue with cultures, with religions and with
the poor (FABC I), through a mutuallyenriching interchange in
its various modes and at various levels, not the least in the dialogue
of life with people of other faiths and religious traditions, that Asian
Christianity is to strive for human and cosmic harmony in Jesus Christ.
(The Theological Advisory Commission of the FABC, Asian Christian
Perspectives on Harmony, FABC Papers, 75, Hong Kong: 1996,
should not misunderstand this text as if it is a special recipe for
the Churches in Asia because of their being tiny minorities in most
countries. Though this experience may have given rise to a vision of
harmony, the vision itself is equally valid for Churches all over the
world, because it is not a special strategy in a particular situation,
but an insight into the essential nature of integral evangelisation,
which is seen as a quest for harmony.
Christians in Asia are particularly sensitive to the ongoing presence
and action of the Spirit in the believers of other religions (cf. John
Paul II, Redemptoris missio, pp. 2829). This encourages
them to an attitude of kenosis (selfemptying), dialogue,
and service from which aggressivity and anxiety are absent. Such attitudes
do not seem to be shared by people who do not share the same experience.
evangelisation is seen as integral, then one must see it active in all
its dimensions, even if the action may not show equal dynamism and speed
in every area. Just as evangelisation loses meaning and credibility
if it does not go beyond social activism, it also loses relevance and
credibility if it shows no interest in inculturation and in interreligious
dialogue. I wonder whether any one has any right to alienate groups
of people from their own culture and make them feel foreign in their
own country in the name of evangelisation. And yet one does not see
any real enthusiasm to build up authentic Local Churches, with their
liturgy, theology, organisational structures and spirituality. There
is a gap between profession and practice and efforts at inculturation
seem blocked all along the way. People are not given the freedom to
respond to the Good News with their own human and cultural resources.
Attempts to dialogue with other religions and to reflect on its implications
to our own beliefs and practices are looked at with suspicion and branded
as syncretism. There is much talk about pluralism and communion. But
attempts to take pluralism seriously are suspected of being relativistic.
What finds favour is uniformity and conformity rather than communion.
Is evangelisation under such circumstances credible? Perhaps the idea
is still prevalent of evangelisation as saving souls through a sacramental
system that is independent of social and cultural contexts. Today one
would not say so. But one acts as if it were.
evangelisation can be understood and practised only if we move, as Vatican
II did, from looking on evangelisation as Church-extension to contemplating
it as God's own mission in the world, with which we are called to collaborate,
in particular as disciples of Jesus. The Church's mission has its origin
in the mission of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. In accordance with
his plan for the whole universe, God "generously pours out, and
never ceases to pour out, his divine goodness, so that he who is creator
of all things might at last become 'all in all' (1 Cor 15:28)"
(cf. Ad Gentes, n. 2). Salvation is not just individual,
but social and cosmic and embraces all dimensions of the human (cf.
Rom 8). The mission of the Son and of the Spirit and the mission of
the Church are in furtherance and at the service of this mission. God's
own mission is ongoing everywhere and at all times and embraces all
aspects of reality, transforming them and leading them to the fullness
that has been destined for them (cf. Eph 1:10).
think that the real challenge for the Churches in Asia in the Third
Millennium is to become authentic Local Churches - a task which they
had set for themselves more than 20 years ago in the first assembly
of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences in Taipei (1974), but
which is still far from realisation (cf. Theological Advisory Commission
of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences, Theses on the Local
Church (FABC Papers, 60). Hong Kong: 1991). If we are credible and
relevant witnesses to the Gospel, God's mission will find its own way
of appropriate fulfilment. The Synod for Asia will be evangelically
successful if, instead of getting lost in a rhetoric of numbers, it
discerns the ongoing mission of God in Asia through a careful reading
of the signs of the times and enables the Churches in Asia to be at
the service of this mission by becoming authentically Asian in the perspectives
of integral evangelisation.
61, No. 4, April 1997.