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Roman persecution rears its ugly head

Efforts to globalise the Church to reflect its composition have been overturned again

  • Father William Grimm MM, Tokyo
  • Japan
  • September 26, 2011
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Ever since Judas, tragedy has been part of the Church’s story.

Sometimes, there have been triumphant tragedies such as the cross or when Christians’ faith triumphs over persecution, in ancient Rome or present-day India.

But other tragedies in our history are unmitigated. They are purely and simply tragic. One of the greatest of such tragedies was in the 18th century, when the Vatican put an end to attempts to present Christianity with an Asian face in China, India and Japan.

The decision made then that Christianity must look, think and act Western aborted what had been exciting growth for the Church. It was only in the mid-20th century that Rome called once again to present Christ and his Church in ways that speak to varied human hearts and cultures and carry no reminders of 16th-20th century Western imperialism. Those efforts have barely begun to bear fruit, but the buds have been promising.

Now, however, a new tragedy for the Church is looming. Once again, Rome has decided that Catholicism throughout the world must have a southern European face.
BRINGING ASIANS INTO ADMINISTRATION
Following the 1998 Extraordinary Synod for Asia where the assembled bishops complained that there was insufficient Asian representation in the curia, there was some attempt to bring Asians into the central administration of the Church.

The most visible example was the appointment of a Japanese bishop, Fumio Hamao, as president of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerants. That did not result in much openness to influence by Catholics of Asia. But, at least it was a start, a recognition, perhaps, that Asia’s Christians might have something unique to say to and for the whole Church.

Now, even those tentative "baby steps" are being retraced as the curia becomes once again Europeanized and worship and theology are forced into an increasingly restrictive straitjacket made in Italy.
ITALY-CENTRIC AGAIN
Robert Mickens, the Rome-based correspondent for The Tablet, has presented a tabulation of the national composition of the curia under Pope Benedict XVI. Though the Catholic Church is growing outside Europe while shrinking within, and more than half the world’s Catholics live in Africa, Asia and Latin America, under Pope Benedict more than 86 per cent of the Vatican’s highest-ranking positions have been filled by Europeans and North Americans. More than half of major appointments in the past six years have gone to Italians and only three to Asians. The westernization, actually the re-Italianization, of the Catholic Church’s administration is proceeding at top speed.

In Japan, weddings, funerals and Sunday Masses are opportunities for evangelization because many of those present have never encountered the Church before. After one funeral, a friend of the deceased told me how he appreciated a liturgy that spoke so clearly in its form and language. He contrasted it with the often obscure language of Buddhist rites.

Now, Rome is insisting that Catholics in Japan must use liturgical translations that are closer to Latin, but farther from Japanese, and Mediterranean gestures that mean nothing or something totally different on Pacific shores.

When one Japanese bishop tried to explain that there is no equivalent in his language for the Latin word spiritus (as in "with your spirit’), the curial cardinal to whom he was speaking did not take the opportunity to expand his vision of the many ways peoples of the world see reality. Instead, he said the bishop obviously did not know his own language.
RULE OF THREE
In Japan, children are taught that one must give thanks three times for any favor, but that anyone who apologizes three times is insincere. How will evangelization be served when Japanese who encounter the Church’s liturgy for the first time hear meaningless words or the apology mea culpa (through my fault) three times?

Such questions have been put to Rome not only from Japan, but from around the world, even from places in the west. But the sole answer has been a repetition of the assumption that the only people who knew how to praise, worship and petition God died more than a thousand years ago in Europe and so even today we must duplicate their prayer. Calling this denial of the continuing work of the Holy Spirit 'nonsense' is too kind.

In the last century, the Church’s rulers momentarily accepted a new chance to better share the Gospel in Asia. Tragically, the Vatican has decided to once again abort that opportunity. How many centuries will it be this time before Roman persecution ends and we can openly express our Christianity through, with and in Asia?

Father William Grimm is a Tokyo-based priest and publisher of UCA News, and former editor-in-chief of “Katorikku Shimbun,” Japan’s Catholic weekly.
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