The Conversion Agenda

"Freedom to convert" is counterproductive as a generalized doctrine. It fails to come to terms with the complex interrelationships between self and society that make the concept of individual choice meaningful. Hence, religious conversion undermines, and in extremes would dissolve, that individual autonomy and human freedom.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Synod calls for evangelisation of Asia

George Iype in New Delhi

Pope John Paul II this evening promulgated the crucial Asian Synod document, 'Ecclesia in Asia', that calls upon Church leaders on the continent to step up conversion and evangelisation and spread Jesus Christ's mission of service and love.

The document that the Roman pontiff signed and released in New Delhi's Sacred Heart Cathedral reaffirms the Catholic Church's "ardent affirmation of faith in Jesus Christ as the only Saviour".

It also calls for "conversion so that the Church in Asia might become ever more worthy of the graces continually being offered by God". Urging the bishops "to make greater efforts to spread the gospel of salvation throughout the length and breath of the human geography of Asia", the Pope said universal salvation lies only in Jesus Christ.

Issuing a set of guidelines to bishops, theologians and priests on how to spread the church in Asia, the Pope termed the Synod's exhortation as "the Magna Carta of evangelisation in the continent in the third millennium". The guidelines include respect for messengers of love and compassion, adaptation of disparities, understanding the local culture and meeting the challenges of 'inculturation'.

The Vatican's head of state said Asian Christians dwell in lands scarred by conflicts that are at times presented as the effect of religion. "But what a travesty of belief this is," he exclaimed, adding that such a belief is "unfaithful not only to the Gospel but also the great insights of the religions of Asia, which in their different ways teach tolerance and goodness". "People of all religions must emphatically show that religion and peace go together," he said. "There should also be peace for religion."

Touching upon controversial issues like conversion, especially in countries like India, the Pope said the right to freedom of belief and worship should be respected in every part of the Asian continent. "For if this most basic of rights is denied, then the whole edifice of human dignity and freedom is shaken," he warned. The document thus said emphatically that "in parts of Asia explicit proclamation is forbidden and religious freedom is denied or systematically restricted". But "in such situations the Church bears witness through taking up her cross, all the while urging governments to recognise religious freedom as a fundamental human right", it added.

"Christians expend immense energies in practical charity, and in human promotion and liberation, in obedience to the Lord's command that we love one another as He has loved us," the document said. It said, "Let no one fear the Church in Asia" because the Church's ambition is to continue Christ's mission of service and love. The document also calls for disarmament in Asia, respect for human rights, dialogue between nations and solidarity between the Church and various other religions in the continent.

The Pope accepted that Asia suffers greatly from the wound of divisions among Christians and asked various Christian denominations to work ever harder "to be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind". He said most of the churches in Asia are comparatively small in number, but have shown themselves to be second to none in fidelity to Christ and the Gospel even in times of persecution. "They are churches that have shown the shedding of blood, and the host of Asian martyrs is surely their greatest glory," he said.

The Roman pontiff said that from such unforgettable martyrs, the churches of Asia learn the way of love and loving service and that an eminent fruit of love is justice. "It is surely the work of the Holy Spirit that Asian Christians are turning more and more to the defence of human dignity and in pursuit of justice," the Pope said.

The Pope described himself as "a pilgrim to Asia". "I pay homage to the continent which is the cradle of great religious traditions and ancient civilisations. How can we not be moved by Asia's ceaseless passion for the Absolute, for what is beyond our earthly vision," he said.

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