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Asian, Pacific Island Catholics in U.S. gather for first Convocation July 26, 2006

Posted by peterong in Asian American Ministries, Christ and Culture, Christian News.

By Alfonso Aguilar and Julie Asher

Hundreds of Catholics of Asian and Pacific Island heritage from all over the country gathered in Arlington June 30-July 3 for the first National Asian and Pacific Catholic Convocation.

“We are witnesses of a historic moment,” said Paulist Father Ricky Manalo from San Francisco, who was master of ceremonies for the event, which drew religious and lay leaders, diocesan ministry directors, social workers, theologians, educators and youths.

“We gather together to give thanks for the many gifts of the Asian and Pacific cultures and traditions,” added Father Manalo, also a published liturgical composer. “This weekend we gather to praise God most of all, and the power of the Holy Spirit.”

“We meet at a hopeful moment in this world,” said Auxiliary Bishop Dominic M. Luong of Orange, the nation’s first Catholic bishop of Vietnamese origin. “A time when more people have a chance to claim the freedom God intended for us all. It’s also a time of great challenge.

“In some of the most advanced parts of the world some people no longer believe in hope. The Catholic Church rejects such a pessimistic view. We offer a vision of human freedom and dignity rooted in the same self-evident truths of American founding.”

The June 30-July 3 convocation, with the theme “Harmony in Faith,” was organized and hosted by the National Asian Pacific Catholic Organization, based in Ontario, Calif., in cooperation with the Office for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services.

The California-based organization, according to its brochure, was established in 2004 to bring to the U.S. church’s attention issues affecting Asian and Pacific Island Catholics, to dialogue and to advocate on their behalf with bishops, dioceses and other national Catholic organizations. Its aim is to strengthen these Catholics’ connection to the local church, and to advocate for social justice in their communities.

Participants in the first national event, which had as its theme “Harmony in Faith,” included Filipinos, Tongans, Samoans, Chamorros, Chinese, Vietnamese, the Hmong and Kmhmu peoples, Indians, Laotians, Koreans, Indonesians, Sri Lankans, Bangladeshis and Pakistanis. Attendees represented eight geographical Asian and Pacific Island regions.

Cecile L. Motus, interim director of the MRS Office for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees at the USCCB, said that the historic convocation responded to an invitation from the U.S. bishops to promote opportunities for building and strengthening the nation’s Asian-Pacific communities, such as continued education and formation in theology, liturgy and ministry with diverse ethnic groups.

“At this gathering we celebrate the bountiful gifts offered by the Asian-Pacific communities to the Catholic Church in this country,” Motus said.

In addition to plenary sessions and colorful liturgies and prayer services, the convocation agenda included workshops on immigration reform, human trafficking and social justice for immigrants in the U.S. and around the world.

“Free societies need high moral standards,” said Bishop Luong, episcopal vicar for the National Asian Pacific Catholic Organization. “The Catholic Church and its institutions play a vital role in helping citizens acquire the character we need to live as free people.”

Convocation participants also made a pilgrimage to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. Bishop Luong was the presider of the eucharistic liturgy.

There are 12.8 million Asians and Pacific Island peoples in the United States. Of that number 11.9 million are Asians, including Chinese, Filipinos, Indians, Koreans, Vietnamese and Japanese, according to the 2000 U.S. Census. Asian and Pacific Island Catholics constitute 4 percent of the U.S. Catholic population of about 69 million.

‘Radical denial of self’
What U.S. Catholics from Asia and the Pacific islands bring to the church is vitally important, Father Peter C. Phan said in a July 3 plenary address.

And they bring much, he said, from their ancestors who shed blood dying for the faith to a strong practice of popular devotions that animates their faith life, from their experiences of “the fruits of mission” and interreligious dialogue to the long history they have in this country as lay leaders who have pushed church leaders to meet the spiritual needs of their communities.

The “radical denial of self” seen in the martyrdom of Asia’s saints and “hundreds and hundreds” of others not canonized is a vital message for a U.S. culture “obsessed with self-fulfillment,” the priest added.

He called Asian and Pacific Catholics the “pioneers of interreligious dialogue.” Coming from Hindu, Buddhist and other cultures, “we have Confucian DNA in our souls,” said Father Phan, a theologian who came to the U.S. as a refugee from Vietnam in 1975.

A priest of the Dallas Diocese who holds the Ellacuria chair of Catholic social thought in the theology department at Georgetown University, Father Phan noted that cultural and language differences among Asian and Pacific Catholics are many. So what is it they have in common?

One tie that binds them is the fact that their faith is ancient, he said. “It is as old as the apostolic age.”

In India, he noted, the Catholic Church traces its origin to St. Thomas the Apostle, who is believed to have reached India’s Malabar Coast, in what is now the state of Kerala, in A.D. 52. In many Asian countries Christianity was brought not by foreigners but by their own people, he added.

Most Catholics think Christianity is “a Western religion,” moving after Christ’s time to Rome and “then around the world,” but it is time to dispel that myth, Father Phan said. “Christianity is an Asian religion, not a Western religion.”

The richness of the Eastern church’s liturgy and its rituals is another contribution to the larger church, he noted.

All Asian and Pacific Catholics also have their feet firmly planted in two worlds — their own cultures and the larger U.S. culture. “We are neither ‘this’ nor ‘that,’ we are both ‘this and that.’ … Immigrants are border crossers par excellence,” he said, which holds lessons for the larger church.

“We cross borders every single day. We cross languages, cultures, customs every single day,” he said.

Father Phan said Asian and Pacific Catholics also can learn from the U.S. church, including its emphasis on social justice; the generosity of American Catholics, shown by their volunteer work as well as monetary donations; and the church’s consultative, collaborative style of ministry.

U.S. Asian and Pacific Catholics have come a long way in being recognized by the larger church, he said.

As signs of progress he pointed to the U.S. bishops’ 2001 statement titled “Asian and Pacific Presence: Harmony in Faith” and to the convocation itself. And in society at large, the Asian-American community is coming into its own economically and politically, he noted.

But there still is a long way to go, he said. To seek recognition of their heritage and their place in the church “is not an ego trip,” he said. After all, he said, “Christ was Asian.”

Asian and Pacific Catholics are beginning a “new phase in American society and church,” he said, and “Jesus himself has shown us the way.”

‘Many worlds around us’
In baptism Jesus calls everyone to be a missionary, and “we don’t need to go to other lands” to do mission work, Filipino Bishop Luis Tagle said at a workshop on mission and evangelization July 2.

“There are many worlds around us, many worlds even in the same family” that are mission territory, he said.

Bishop Tagle of Imus, Philippines, said that just as God sent his son, Jesus sends the faithful today to “wherever you find human beings” — whether the setting is one’s own family or the halls of Congress — to spread the good news that “God rules.”

The Second Vatican Council expanded the concept of mission from just being about leaving one’s own country to serve the church to the notion that mission is also a “day-to-day reality,” Bishop Tagle said.

He noted that sometimes people get so involved in their parish’s mission work, like feeding the homeless, that they leave their own children spiritually malnourished.

Bishop Tagle said there are three aspects to mission: somebody is sending, somebody is being sent, and someone is sending someone for a purpose.

“The original sender of missionaries is God the Father. The missioner par excellence is Jesus,” he said. “As part of his mission … he assumed the human condition.”

God sent his son out of love, and “mission is always permeated by love,” he said. “Out of love Jesus sends his disciples so they will bear much fruit.”

“Where does the Father send Jesus and where does Jesus send us?” Bishop Tagle asked. “Jesus says as the Father has sent me into the world, I send you into the world. … When we’re talking about ‘world,’ it’s not so much geographic space (as) it is human space. The world is not just a construct of rivers and valleys and mountains. It is a human construct.”

Humans come in all shapes, sizes, colors and cultures and are in different stages of life and walks of life, he said. Jesus went to the different worlds inhabited by human beings, whether they were children, women, widows, the ostracized or the might and the lowly, he said.

When Jesus entered those worlds, he used their language, Bishop Tagle said. For example, he said, to recruit his disciples from among fishermen, he asked them to become “fishers of men.”

Like Jesus, the faithful “must cross borders and frontiers to penetrate the worlds of others” and become familiar with the conditions of humanity, Bishop Tagle said.

Too many people close themselves off in their “own little petty world,” he said, and don’t know anything about youths, the hungry or the homeless.

Missioners are sent to evangelize, “to spread the good news that God reigns … that God rules, that God will intervene in history,” the bishop said. That intervention will mean “a triumph of God over sin, death, anything and everything that destroys human life,” he said.

But for the faithful to proclaim the good news effectively, God has to rule in their lives, Bishop Tagle said. “We cannot be good missioners unless we are prayerful and reflective.”

“The reign of God requires a radical decision on our part. Belief in the Gospel … requires reform, turning away from everything that destroys life … greed, pride, selfishness. If we are not happy to be in the reign of God, how can we share that?”

About 1,000 participants registered for the event. It drew pastors, religious and lay leaders, social workers, diocesan ministry directors, educators and youths from throughout the U.S. Delegates included Tongans, Filipinos, Samoans, Chamorros, Chinese, Taiwanese, Vietnamese, the Hmong and Kmhmu peoples, Indians, Laotians, Koreans, Japanese, Indonesians, Sri Lankans, Bangladeshis and Pakistanis.

Pam Koloamatangi of San Francisco, who is Tongan, said the convocation broke down barriers and highlighted for her that despite their cultural differences there is unity among Asian and Pacific Catholics.

Koloamatangi, who attends St. Timothy Church in San Mateo, Calif., and St. Francis of Assisi in Palo Alto, Calif., added that she felt the gathering was especially important to “strengthen the young ones” and help them “stick with their beliefs and culture.”


1. naisioxerloro - November 28, 2007

Good design, who make it?

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