Easter blessings from UCAN
There is no more important week in the year for Christians than this Holy Week. We call it Holy because of the mystery we celebrate - God's gift of His son who loves us to his death on Calvary and beyond.
Because of that love, we wish each other Happy Easter even when we know there is a lot of tragedy about it - Good Friday. As Christians, we know that what we see happening with and in Jesus goes to the heart of what we know from our own experience of life.
At the Second Vatican Council, the Christian lives we all lead were described as being shares in the Paschal Mystery. We have our share in the death and resurrection of Jesus every day. Our lives are part of the Paschal Mystery.
At UCAN, we work to describe that mystery in the unfolding tragedies and astonishing blessings of the people we seek out and report, feature and comment on.
While at times deeply distressing work, this effort of ours gets its coherence in the same way the death of Jesus did - because of the astonishing grace of a God who never gives up on life and love.
Because of that, we can wish you Happy Easter.
Fr. Michael Kelly SJ
St Francis Xavier and the 21st century
Nearly five hundred years later, he remains relevant to today's generations
- Desmond de Sousa CSsR, Goa
- December 2, 2011
There his sacred remains reside in a glass-paneled silver casket for pilgrims to revere. But to what extent is this 16th century apostle of Asia still relevant to our times?
Francis Xavier (born April 6, 1506) arrived in Goa on May 6, 1542. Just one decade of missionary work made him one of the best-known saints in the history of the Church.
He died on December 2, 1552, on the island of Sancian, near the coast of China.
Both accolades and criticisms of the saint have accumulated over nearly five centuries since his death. His burning zeal to â€śGo and set all on fireâ€ť (the parting words of his mentor St Ignatius) drove him to travel over 80,000 kilometers to people and places unknown to him.
Criticisms include that the saint was prejudiced against Indians because he opposed their recruitment to the priesthood.
St Francis Xavier was a poor linguist and could not have possibly converted the more than 10,000 souls attributed to him. He also brought Portuguese imperialism to India along with Christianity, though preceded in the latter respect by St Thomas.
Â Francis Xavier described his method of evangelization in a letter to the Jesuits in Rome. â€śAs they do not understand me, nor I them, their native language being Tamil and mine Basque, I sought out the more literate among them and chose some who knew our language (Portuguese) as well as theirs.
â€śThen after many days and meetings and much labour, we translated (the prayers) into their language and committed them to memory. I went all over the place with a bell, and collected as many children and adults as I could. After I had brought them together, I taught them twice each day, until, after one month, they had learnt the prayers.â€ť
Some of Francis Xavierâ€™s Jesuit confreres who arrived in India after him employed much different methods of evangelization.
Robert di Nobili (1577 â€“1656) started his mission in Madurai city in 1606. He mastered the Tamil language, memorized the Vedas in Sanskrit, dressed and lived as a sanayasi, or Hindu mendicant, and strove to inculturate Christianity in the temple city of Madurai among the upper-caste Brahmins. His mission was later developed by fellow Jesuits St John de Britto (1647â€“1693) and Fr Joseph Beschi (1680 â€“ 1747).
Fr Constans Lievens (1856 â€“ 95) worked among the adivasis (local tribals) of Chota Nagpur, in central India. At the time these tribal people were being deprived of their ancestral land by the landlords of the area.
How does one assess the effectiveness of such radical differences in the methods of evangelization?
Jesuit Fr Aloysius Pieris explains that the core of any religion is the liberative experience that brought that religion into being. Religious beliefs, practices, traditions and institutions are the means to communicate this particular liberative core experience to future generations of adherents. Otherwise the religion fades into mere external ritual like a body without a soul.
Did Francis Xavierâ€™s method of evangelization communicate the liberative core experience to his converts? Or did the mass conversion strategy of the Portuguese colonizers, usually associated with him, merely communicate the external rituals?
St Francis and the Church in Asia
The Federation of Asian Bishopsâ€™ Conferences have defined the uniqueness of the Asian continent from Latin America and Africa. With its counterparts in the global South, Asia has â€śislands of wealth in oceans of poverty.â€ť
But unlike them, Asia is the cradle of all the major world religions that are in a process of revival and resurgence. Asian identity is the point where religion and poverty coalesce: Poverty is not a mere economic concept, but a religious value.
In Asia a deeply religious person must of necessity be a voluntarily poor person. Therefore, the Asian Bishops mandated the Church of Asia to become the â€śChurch of the Poor.â€ť
Would all this sound alien to St Francis Xavier who came from the present-day rich global North to the poor global South? He certainly opted for the poor when he left his noble class status of wealth and education in Europe to work among the poor pearl fishermen of south India. He would certainly be very happy with a Church for the poor; that is, a Church with a preeminent pastoral concern for the poor so that they could be converted to the faith.
But would he be distinctly uncomfortable with a Church of the poor â€śthat makes use of the talents and gifts of the poor, relying on them in the mission of salvation,â€ť in the words of Blessed John Paul II, given the colonial, triumphalist mindset of the Tridentine Church of his times?
Evaluating St Francis Xavierâ€™s relevance to todayâ€™s Church amid the myths and realities that have accumulated since his death is a daunting task. But certain aspects of his multifaceted personality and his missionary zeal in Asia are beyond doubt.
The choice of some of these aspects and the reflection on their relevance for our times in the India and Asia of the 21st century mark St Francis Xavier as a man for all times.