William J. Grimm

Challenges Facing the Church in Asia

The greatest challenge facing the Church in Asia today is, of course, the increasing persecution in many places throughout the continent. In the face of that challenge from outside there may be little that Christians can do besides enduring in faith, hope, and love.

There are other challenges that are not so drastic, but nonetheless threaten the Church’s ability to fulfill its vocation to be the light of the Gospel for all the peoples of Asia. It will take creativity and commitment to remedy them, but unlike persecution, the needed changes must take place within the community and are therefore within our control.

In this new series of reports, UCA News reporters will look at four issues, showing the nature of the challenges and how local Churches are finding creative ways to face them.

The four issues will not be dealt with in any particular order but are: lack of lay participation in the mission and direction of the Church, clericalism, sex abuse by clergy and others, and language barriers in theological, pastoral and catechetical formation.

In many places, the model for lay involvement is, “pray, pay and obey.” Evangelization in its various forms is often considered the responsibility and domain of clergy and religious, “professional Christians.” But the Church’s evangelizing mission belongs to every baptized person, especially in a synodal Church.

In Asia where hierarchical societies are common, clergy and laity both come to view clerics and religious as some sort of untouchable caste that is entitled to deference, protection and absolute authority. What should be a servant ministry becomes status.

The sexual abuse that has shaken the Church in the West is not a uniquely Western phenomenon. In Asia as well, there has been abuse and coverup, and as more people who have been victimized come forth the crisis will hit Asian Churches with perhaps even more damaging effect than in the West.

The education of clergy, religious and laity in Asia is hampered by the difficulty of accessing the thought and practices of other Churches in Asia and the rest of the world. Much of that material is in European languages, especially English. But with few exceptions, such works are beyond the linguistic abilities of seminarians, novices, clergy, religious and laity. Imported books and other materials are too expensive for general use. Much of what is translated into local languages are works of piety that lack the sophistication needed to exercise a varied and in-depth ministry.

These four challenges are not unconnected. Weak lay leadership reinforces clericalism that can result in abuse and all of this can be dealt with in part by improved theological, pastoral and catechetical formation.

This new UCA News series will present the challenges but also responses that may be beneficial examples to Churches in various parts of Asia.

William Grimm

William J. Grimm
UCA News

In This Series