Jesus Christ as a Javanese prince (Photo supplied)
While Asian Catholics celebrate Christ King of the Universe and prepare to enter into a new liturgical year, sovereignty and governance remain hot topics in Asia.
Last week local elections in Bangladesh were marked by communal violence and numerous deaths. In the Philippines, candidates running for presidential election reveal once again how the nation remains under the grip of powerful families.
Meanwhile, China continues to reiterate its claims over Taiwan, while the USA prepares a Summit for Democracy with the hope to rally its subordinates against China.
In the midst of those uncertainties, what can Catholic traditions offer?
On Nov. 21, the celebration of the solemnity of Christ King of the Universe provided the first element to consider. Established by Pius XI in 1925 as a response to the rise of narrow nationalism and intransigent fascism in Europe, this celebration recalls how faith is connected with our sociopolitical system.
For Christians, Christ is the ultimate and real sovereign of all life, no matter the ambition, greed and strength of their nations.
As long as individuals and states refused to submit to the rule of our Savior, there would be no really hopeful prospect of a lasting peace among nations
Initially, this celebration was marked on the last Sunday of October — the one before All Saints Day. In this framework, the kingship of Christ was envisioned in relation to the uncountable beings who participate in it. The Christian Lord does not erase his subjects, the countless saints. He is sovereign with them.
But unlike what the Western liberal ideology promotes, his sovereignty is not a mere individual question. As Pope Pius XI said, “not only private individuals but also rulers and princes are bound to give public honor and obedience to Christ.”
Christ's lordship also speaks to governments and heads of state. These collective realities are called to reform themselves. And the matter at stake is not a mere spiritual obligation. It is material and worldly. “As long as individuals and states refused to submit to the rule of our Savior, there would be no really hopeful prospect of a lasting peace among nations,” Pope Pius added.
With the liturgical reform of Vatican II, however, this celebration was developed and transformed. Brought to the last Sunday of the liturgical year, it was renamed as Solemnity of Christ King of the Universe.
With this name, the Church’s highest authority decided to highlight the cosmological relevance of the lordship of Christ. Through him, the entire universe will find peace and the whole creation will be restored.
This shift was the liturgical enactment of Vatican II’s concern for the common good. As expressed in Pacem in Terris, real peace and social harmony can be achieved — in the Catholic tradition — only if the whole creation is considered and respected.
A second element that we need to consider in our reflection on sovereignty and governance is the synod on synodality. This broad consultation of the whole Catholic Church will last until 2023. It is a formal invitation that the Church has made to walk together, listen to each other, and express the concerns and hope we encounter.
Since last month, this synod is in its diocesan phase and finds its way to Asia.
Two weeks ago, when the Archdiocese of Singapore presented the synodal process to local Catholics, Archbishop Goh recycled a comparison made by Pope Francis: “The synod is not a parliament.”
In fact, taking part in the synod is not like joining political parties of modern liberal states. They fight inside parliaments and congress to push for their ideas, agenda and interests.
Instead, during these three years of the synodal process, the Church invites everyone to walk together, listen to each other and formulate what is emerging from them. Listening is central.
The goal is to build a synodal church, meaning that Christians — individually and collectively — need to renew their commitment to communion, participation and mission. Factionalism, clericalism and disengagement from our societies must come under question.
While the Church has long insisted on how Jesus is the truth, the synod recalls that he is also the way. A synodal church is a church walking on the same path, the one of Christ that Christians discern together.
But like a synod is not a parliament, Catholicism is not bound to Western liberal values nor to what the US defines as democracy
These guidelines might appear naïve. They could even become a new way to reassert clericalism and status quo. But synodality has a long and resilient history. It is prominent within the Orthodox tradition, and under other terms it structures various Protestant denominations.
In line with Vatican II, many church leaders and the bishop of Rome invite Catholics to reclaim it.
Surely, hyper-centrality, papal infallibility and tensions about truth have often dismissed the importance of synodality. But Catholics need to find ways to remember that the Sequela Christi — following Christ — is a journey, a collective process in which a variety of people, denominations and sociopolitical situations are involved.
To go back to Asia, Christ King of the Universe and the synod on synodality are precious beacons to face uncertainties on sovereignty and governance. Asian Catholics have religious resources to walk with non-Christian groups, Asian nations and marginalized populations to truly listen to them and to formulate suggestions.
Either at local or regional levels, they have long demonstrated this commitment to cooperation and dialogue. But like a synod is not a parliament, Catholicism is not bound to Western liberal values nor to what the US defines as democracy. The Catholic geopolitical tradition is deeper and wider than that.
While political activists can lecture the Church on what to do with Afghanistan, China, India and North Korea, 2,000 years of Sequela Christi teach that there is no easy solution. There is no one-size-fits-all system of governance that can address all problems of sovereignty and legitimacy.
Without pre-made answers, Christians are called to keep Christ as the ultimate reference, consider individual and collective spheres together and care for the whole creation. These are precious keys to easing Asian geopolitical tensions.
Michel Chambon is a French Catholic theologian and anthropologist. Twitter: @MichelChambon. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.
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