M. Amaladoss, S.J.
Integral Evangelisation: Pre-Synodal Reflections


The 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.

The 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 other religions.

Mission: One or Many?

The 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.

Others 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).

One and Many

The 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 evangelising.

In 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.

The 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.

Dialogue 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.

The Many as One

Mission 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:

When 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).

The 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:

The 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).

That 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.

In 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.

If 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.

The Church and the Kingdom

Evangelisation 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.

Similarly, 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.

One 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.

Integral Evangelisation

To 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.

Some 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.

In 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.

There 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.

Proclamation and Dialogue

In 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.

Jesus 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 movement.

Following 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.

If 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. 56­7).

Evangelisation 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.

A Quest for Harmony

Asian theologians project rather a vision of harmony:

The 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, p. 54).

One 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.

Conclusion

The 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.

If 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.

Integral 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).

I 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.

Ref.: Vidyajyoti, Vol. 61, No. 4, April 1997.