ucanews.com reporter, Hong Kong
Updated: August 17, 2016 08:19 AM GMT
A Korean participant performs a song in Mandarin in the Taize East Asia gathering held Aug. 10-14. (ucanews.com photo)
More than 200 East Asian Christians joined a five-day Taize program of common prayers for peace in Hong Kong, where they also got to discuss — on the side — their individual concerns about political tensions in the region.
Taize Brother Han Yol said that many of the young people who attended the program, "Pilgrimage of Trust and Reconciliation," on Cheung Chau Island, had already served as volunteers at the Taize Community in France.
A lot of them faced cultural challenges in a European setting, said Brother Han who said that an Asian setting for many of them was easier for them to navigate through.
"The 'chopstick culture' makes it easier for East Asian participants to communicate and familiarize themselves with each other," he added. "It's different for Asians joining similar gatherings in Europe."
Hong Kong is also a convenient location for participants from mainland China, Japan, Macau, South Korea and Taiwan, said Brother Han.
One of the Japanese participants, Inoue Yuriko said she has joined three European gatherings before.
Yuriko said that she felt like an outsider at the European gatherings but was more at home at her first East Asia gathering.
"There are not many Christians in Japan," said Yuriko. "The smaller scale East Asia gatherings don't make me feel like a minority. Unlike the European gatherings, where people eat individually, we eat together in the Asian style which gives us a chance to talk to someone we don't know."
Brother Hon Yol at the Taize East Asia gathering. (ucanews.com photo)
Politics on the side
But it will take more than a love of communal eating to solve the political tensions in the region between China and Japan regarding island ownership and also between China and Taiwan over the "one China" issue.
While Brother Han said that the Taize gathering is "not a place to discuss politics" and that everyone "prayed in an atmosphere of love and communion" some of the participants said that they discussed social and political issues privately during meal times.
"People also talked about social issues at the European gatherings but they were all European issues," Yuriko said. "In the East Asia gathering, the issues we talked about are closer to us and more connected to our life. That gives us the opportunity to reflect how to be a bearer of peace in East Asia."
A Catholic laywoman from mainland China who asked not to be named said that she discussed the China-Taiwan political situation with Taiwanese participants during meal times as she thought it was easier to talk in an all-Christian environment.
"In China, I dare not talk about politics as I don't know how [people] would react to my political views," she said.
Taize East Asia participants light up candles to prepare for the midday prayer. (ucanews.com photo)
Besides the prayers, singing and silence that typify Taize gatherings, participants also carried out cultural performances that introduced their own countries or districts. There were also workshops on painting holy icons and making Japanese paper lanterns.
The last East Asia gathering was held in 2013 in Daejeon, South Korea.
The one just held, Aug. 10–14, was the first time Hong Kong hosted the gathering although there was a small unofficial one of 50 participants in 2015.
"It is a breakthrough for the local ecumenical movement as 60 local Christians, mostly newly baptized from different denominations, came to join us on the last day," said James Kwok, program coordinator.
The Taize Community is an ecumenical monastic society in Taize, Saone-et-Loire, Burgundy, France, started by Brother Roger Louis Schutz in 1940. It was formed as a sign of reconciliation between divided Christians and to foster ecumenism.
Today, it is made up of hundreds of brothers, including Catholics and Protestants, from around 30 nations.
The community proposed The Courage of Mercy as their theme for 2016 in the same spirit as the Year of Mercy launched by Pope Francis. "Joy, simplicity and mercy" will be the three themes that will further guide the community through to 2018.
Watch this ucanews.com video of some of the Taize activities:
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