Of Fork and Spoon or Fingers and Chopsticks: Interreligious Dialogue in Ecclesia in Asia

Resources »Eapr »East Asian Pastoral Review 2000 »Volume 37 2000 Number 3 »Of Fork And Spoon Or Fingers And Chopsticks Interreligious Dialogue In Ecclesia In Asia

Edmund Chia, F.S.C.
EDMUND CHIA, F.S.C. is affiliated with the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Coneference (FABC). He is the Executive Secretary and Inter-religious Secretary of its Office of Ecumenical and Inter-religious Affairs.


John Paul II was in for an exciting treat when he invited Archbishop Francois Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan to preach this year’s Spiritual Exercises to members of the Curia. “The Lenten meditations never inspired so much interest, as this year’s, from a man who spent 13 years of his life in Vietnamese prisons” (Zenit News Agency, Rome, 21 March 2000). The Vietnamese Archbishop used a combination of stories, personal testimonies, humour, Biblical reflections and theology to present the 22 meditations, regarded by many as ‘simple but very profound.’ One Cardinal who took part in the retreat said that it “was an evangelically simple talk” and that “clearly, we must continue on that road” (ZNA 2000). When commended on the originality of his presentation, Van Thuan said: “The content is always the same. But the way of cooking it is Asian.  Because of this, in the year 2000, instead of eating with a fork, we ate with chopsticks” (ZNA 2000).

Whether he realized it or not, in that last statement the Archbishop more or less summed up the crux of the difference between the Roman Curia’s vision of Christianity and that of Asia’s. Like Van Thuan’s preaching, the content of Asia’s vision of Christianity is always the same. What is different is the way in which it is expressed. In presenting the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Asia of Pope John Paul II to the bishops of Asia, Cardinal Paul Shan pointed out that “the big question presently confronting us, given the religious and cultural context of Asia, is not why should we proclaim the Good News of Christ’s Salvation butHOW”(Shan 2000:136). Likewise, Divine Word Missionary John Prior who was the liaison with the English-speaking press during the Synod for Asia, held in Rome from April to May 1998, had this to say: “Looking again at the 191 interventions and remembering the informal conversations during the Synodical coffee breaks, I can say with absolute certainly that not a single Asian bishop would disagree with the who of mission, with the subject of proclamation... The key issue that the bishops grapple with is the how of mission” (Prior 2000). In another context, Jesuit theologian Michael Amaladoss, in discussing accusations levelled against Indian theologians, had this to say: “Reflecting on the mystery of Christ from their multireligious context they are trying to say something new. But they are not being listened to, let alone understood. This may not be due to illwill. I think that one of the problems is methodology” (Amaladoss 1999a:327).

Thus, in reviewing Ecclesia in Asia, it is important to bear in mind that it is not so much the who or the why of mission that is in dispute as is the how of mission or the methodology for theological reflection. The dispute is especially evident when one looks at how Ecclesia in Asia treats the subject of interreligious dialogue, which is the task of the present paper. Of course, in looking at the theme of interreligious dialogue, one also needs to look at related themes such as proclamation, evangelization, inculturation and mission. This paper will also look at the treatment of interreligious dialogue in Ecclesia in Asia especially with reference to the context in which Ecclesia in Asia came into being. Moreover, the paper will compare the theses advanced in Ecclesia in Asia with other theses proposed, in connection with or in response to, the release of Ecclesia in Asia.


To begin, let us look at what exactly is Ecclesia in Asia and how it has been presented to us. In the words of Cardinal Paul Shan, Ecclesia in Asia is “the Magna Carta for the evangelization of Asia in the Third Millennium” (Shan 2000:125). Shan seems to be right on target, for that is exactly what Ecclesia in Asia is - a manual for the evangelization of Asia. In fact, Ecclesia in Asia itself is explicit about its aims. No attempt is made to hide the fact that it “is a strong affirmation of the need for a new drive for evangelizing Asia and expresses a fervent hope that Asia will turn to Christ in the third millennium” (Amaladoss 1999b:3).

To be sure, Ecclesia in Asia begins by expressing this hope “that ‘just as in the first millennium the Cross was planted on the soil of Europe, and in the second on that of the Americas and Africa, we can pray that in the Third Christian Millennium a great harvest of faith will be reaped in this vast and vital continent’” (EA, 1). It then continues by saying that the Synod of Bishops for Asia was actually part of a “program centered on the challenges of the new evangelization” (EA, 2). Quoting his earlier apostolic letter, Tertio Millennio Adveniente, John Paul II goes on to point out specifically that “the issue of the encounter of Christianity with ancient local cultures and religions is a pressing one,” and that “[t]his is a great challenge for evangelization, since religious systems such as Buddhism or Hinduism have a clearly soteriological character” (EA, 2). He ends that section on theBackground to the Special Assembly by indicating that the theme was carefully discerned “that the Synod might ‘illustrate and explain more fully the truth that Christ is the one Mediator between God and man and the sole Redeemer of the world, to be clearly distinguished from the founders of other great religions’” (EA, 2). In the next passage the Holy Father declares that the actual celebration of the Synod was an “encounter in dialogue of the Bishops and the Successor of Peter” (EA, 3) and that through the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation he wished “to share with the Church in Asia and throughout the world the fruits of the Special Assembly” (EA, 4). 

All of the above, one must bear in mind, is but from the Pope’s point of view. John Paul II sees the Synod for Asia as an “encounter in dialogue” and thus looks upon Ecclesia in Asia as the “fruits” of this encounter. In other words, Ecclesia in Asia is supposed to be the voice of the Pope in dialogue with the voice of the bishops of Asia. Upon analyzing the document, John Prior cannot but disagree and asserts in no uncertain terms that Ecclesia in Asia is “a papal document.” It is “the Pope’s response to the voice of the Asian Bishops” (Prior 2000). Hence, it is more the voice of the Pope than that of the Asian Bishops. Pointing out that in Ecclesia in Asia John Paul II quotes himself 68 times while making “not a single direct reference to any intervention by an individual bishop, nor to interventions by bishops in the name of their Conferences,” nor to “regional episcopal bodies such as the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) or the Council of Oriental Patriarchs (CPCO),” Prior suggests that “[f]or the voice of the Asian Bishops we have to look elsewhere” (Prior 2000). Even the Propositiones, quoted some 119 times, Prior suggests, cannot be regarded as the voice of the Asian Bishops for there is no way to verify the “disparity between the draft proposals from the bishops’ groups and the resultant recommendations.” It is not surprising therefore that Amaladoss’ immediate comments, shortly after the release of Ecclesia in Asia, are that the “exhortation is a document for Asia. It is not an Asian document. It is not the voice of Asia. The tone and style are very un-Asian”(Amaladoss 1999b:3). However, Prior is quick to point out that reading Ecclesia in Asia is “like hearing one end of a telephone conversation. It is certainly worth listening to, but so too is the voice at the other end of the line!... Thus, it is important not to read Ecclesia in Asia in isolation, but as part of an ongoing conversation” (Prior 2000).


Where do we turn to in order to listen to the other end of the conversation? Needless to say, it has to be none other than Asia itself. Specifically, it will be the voice of the bishops of Asia but also the voice of theologians and others who work and live in Asia. However, one is forewarned that after listening to this other end of the conversation, one might conclude that the two ends seem to be talking about radically different subjects. For the topic of evangelization in Asia continues to be understood very differently, depending on one’s starting point and one’s frame of reference. The theological methodology adopted makes all the difference. The telephone conversation, then, would sound as if the persons on one end were talking about spaghetti and cheese while those on the other about rice and curry. Both, of course, have in mind that they are talking about food for nourishment. The rice and curry eaters, however, have an added advantage in that they have eaten spaghetti and cheese for many generations and so can understand what the other end is saying. That, of course, could also constitute a disadvantage as some may be inclined to prepare rice and curry the same way spaghetti and cheese is prepared. The baggage of tradition can by no means be minimized (Chia 2000b:3). Moreover, it was only as recent as the 1960s that rice and curry was officially recognized and allowed to be served. Even then, those who have never tasted rice and curry before may still be of the view that spaghetti and cheese is the “one and only” food for all of humanity. They do sincerely believe it to be the universal diet, the one mediator between hunger and fullness of life.  And even if rice and curry is allowed, it is spaghetti and cheese which is the ordinary means of satiation. More importantly, acknowledgement of rice and curry does not in any way lessen the duty and resolve to proclaim the value of spaghetti and cheese and certainly does not thereby cancel the call to its promotion which is willed for all people.

With that in mind, let us now turn to look at the voice of Asia, beginning with the voice of Cardinal Julius Darmaatmadja, the President Delegate of the Synod for Asia who also delivered the closing remarks at the celebration in New Delhi, soon after Ecclesia in Asia was proclaimed by John Paul II. In a way, his could be regarded as the first Asian response to the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation. It therefore is significant. Darmaatmadja confines his response to the central theme of Ecclesia in Asia, namely the “new evangelization.” From the perspective ofEcclesia in Asia, this new evangelization is essential because even “after two millennia, a major part of the human family still does not acknowledge Christ” (EA, 29). Moreover, the Pope continues, it is indeed a “mystery why the Savior of the world, born in Asia, has until now remained largely unknown to the people of the continent” (EA, 2). Whereas, for Cardinal Darmaatmadja, the new evangelization is about the churches in Asia taking on “the face of Asia,” so that it is “specifically characterizing Asia” and “at the same time becomes the more meaningful for Asian society, particularly for the poor and underprivileged”(Darmaatmadja 1999:888).

The Cardinal also makes specific reference to the other religions of Asia. His statements, however, differ from those of Ecclesia in Asia, which looks at the other religions as “a great challenge to evangelization” (EA, 2), and whose teachings and religious values “await their fulfilment in Jesus Christ” (EA, 6). Whereas, for Darmaatmadja, the more important thing is that “the local Churches be capable of seeing the religious values and the culture they [the other religions] embody,” and that they “need to be considered specifically as partners in dialogue” (1999:888). Moreover, it is the Church which must adapt itself, bend over, change and be open to learning from these other religions, so that “the new way the Church bears itself will enable these people to understand us better, enable them to come closer to us, but also enrich us in return in the way we live our christian lives”(1999:889).

In response to Ecclesia in Asia’s declaration that “the Church’s unique contribution to the peoples of the continent is the proclamation of Jesus Christ” (EA, 10), Darmaatmadja said emphatically that “[o]f course we are called to proclaim Jesus to the Gentiles.”  But then, he was quick to follow that statement by quoting Gaudium et Spes which “noted that we can learn also from the world, precisely because we are faithful to Jesus; that is, we can find Jesus present in the world.” Thus, the Cardinal is suggesting that our Christian mission is really do discover Jesus who “has always been present and working in the world, including the world of Asia,” (1999:888) rather than to proclaim him as if he hadn’t been in there before. 

Also, Ecclesia in Asia acknowledges the issue that “Jesus is often perceived as foreign to Asia... and that most Asians tend to regard Jesus  - born on Asian soil - as a Western rather than an Asian figure” (EA, 20). It then goes on to suggest a way to address this problem, namely by means of a “pedagogy which will introduce people step by step to the full appropriation of the mystery” (EA, 20). Whereas, for Darmaatmadja, Jesus’ perceived foreignness is on account of the Church’s foreign methods of operation. Citing Propositiones 3 and 5 (which, interestingly, did not appear in Ecclesia in Asia [at least not the aspects singled out by the Cardinal]), Darmaatmadja advocated an immersion of the Church as “such immersion will help the Church define her mission to the people of Asia in an intelligible and acceptable manner”(1999:889). Hence, the Cardinal sees the Church as in need of the living water that the religions and cultures in Asia alone can give (cf. EA, 50). Only after such a baptism will the Church be able to minister to the peoples of Asia.  In this context the Cardinal then raised the important issue of inculturation, which means rooting the Church in the local religious culture. If for Ecclesia in Asiainculturation is for the purpose of understanding the “various aspects of culture” so that the Church can then “begin the dialogue of salvation” where “she can offer, respectfully but with clarity and conviction, the Good News of the Redemption to all who freely wish to listen and to respond” (EA, 21), for Darmaatmadja inculturation is aimed at allowing the Church to “grow more  in Asian appearance.” Indeed, he takes this to mean that the particular churches become “deeper and deeper rooted in our own cultures and in our deepest inner aspirations as peoples of Asia” (1999:888). This is what a “new way of being Church in Asia” is all about and the Church then is “expected to become in a concrete way a Church with and for the people in order to achieve their integral human development, culminating in the fullness of life given by Our Lord Jesus Christ”(1999:890).

Thus, for Cardinal Darmaatmadja, such is the meaning and essence of the New Evangelization in Asia.”‘Being Church in Asia’ today means ‘participating in the mission of Christ the Savior in rendering his redemptive love and service in Asia,’ so that Asian men and women can more fully achieve their integral human development, and ‘that they may have life, and have it abundantly’ (Jn 10:10).” More specifically the Cardinal speaks about “bringing the good News into all dimensions of human life and society and through its influence transforming humanity from within and making it anew.” This, he suggests, is the new way of being Church and this also is the way “to a proper New Evangelization” (1999:890). Against this backdrop, the Cardinal ends his remarks by picking up for response the statement of John Paul II that “[t]here can be no true evangelization without the explicit proclamation of Jesus as Lord” (EA, 19). The Cardinal’s response goes: “Yes, it is true that there is no authentic evangelization without announcing Jesus Christ, Savior to the whole human race. But for Asia, there will be no complete evangelization unless there is dialogue with other religions and cultures. There is no full evangelization if there is no answer to the deep yearnings of the peoples of Asia”(1999:891).


If Cardinal Darmaatmadja’s remarks are the first Asian response to Ecclesia in Asia, then the deliberations of the Seventh Plenary Assembly of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) can be regarded as the first Asian Churches’ response to Ecclesia in Asia. Held less than two months after the New Delhi proclamation of Ecclesia in Asia, FABC VII did take as its theme a theme very similar to that of the Synod for Asia. It was deliberately a follow-up and indeed, the starting point for reflection during the FABC Plenary Assembly was Ecclesia in Asia. (Chia 1999:892-9).1

Of significance is Archbishop Orlando Quevedo’s opening address, meant to set the tone for the entire Assembly. Drawing from Statements of previous FABC Plenary Assemblies, Quevedo very clearly articulated movements which he saw as constituting an Asian vision of a renewed Church. He spoke about a movement towards a Church of the Poor and of the Young, a movement toward a local Church, a movement toward deep interiority, a movement toward an authentic community of faith, a movement toward active integral evangelization, a movement toward empowerment of the laity, and a movement toward generating and serving life. All of these speak to the need for renewal, updating, and learning on the part of the Church. Such a Church cannot evoke any fear, and hence the call of “Let no one fear the Church!”(John Paul II 1999c). will never need to be sounded. In fact, the tone of the whole Assembly, very much reflected in the Final Statement, was toward dialogue and collaboration. Much emphasis was placed on the actual mission of love and service of a renewed Church in Asia. There was discussion on what renewal means. There was discussion on the issues and challenges in the mission. Aspects of these challenges include globalization, fundamentalism, politics, ecology, and militarization. The other religions were by no means listed as one of these challenges. There was then discussion on the process of discernment and the pastoral concerns. Among these were the concern for youth, women, the  family, indigenous peoples, migrants and refugees. The thrust of the Asian Church’s response is to be in the area of formation and education. The approach suggested is that of an integrated approach. The most effective means of evangelization listed is that of witness of life.

It is interesting to compare this Seventh FABC Assembly Final Statement with that of Ecclesia in Asia. Both assemblies more or less touched on the same theme, namely, the Church’s mission in Asia in the new millennium. Most of the bishops who took part in the Synod for Asia also took part in the FABC Plenary Assembly. Yet, the concerns and emphases which appear in the FABC Statement and Ecclesia in Asia seem radically different. Of course, one must bear in mind that the Final Statement of the FABC Plenary Assembly is the actual voice of the bishops of Asia and not one which went through the filter of the Pope, as is Ecclesia in Asia. Thus, in the Final Statement of FABC VII one gets to hear the other side of the telephone line. Since the conversation topic is the same as that of the Pope’s, expressed inEcclesia in Asia, taking the two together will help in understanding better the “encounter in dialogue.”

Firstly, it must be noted that the FABC Statement quotes Ecclesia in Asiaabout 15 times, more than any other document it quotes.  However, it also quotes quite lavishly from other FABC documents, which Ecclesia in Asia does not. In a way, then, the FABC VII Statement is certainly more Asian than is Ecclesia in Asia, in that it is more representative of Asian views. Secondly, even as the FABCStatement quotes Ecclesia in Asia, it does not present the Church in the superior sense as Ecclesia in Asia does.  It certainly does not portray the other religions as waiting to be fulfilled by Christ.  In fact, it asserts that “[a]s we face the needs of the 21st. century we do so with Asian hearts, in solidarity with the poor and the marginalized, in union with all our Christian brothers and sisters and by joining hands with all men and women of Asia of many different faiths” (FABC 2000). It clearly operates out of a collaborative-partnership model rather than a preparation-fulfilment model. This is very typical of Asian theologies which have gone beyond the Christocentric paradigms to Theocentric and Regnocentric paradigms (Chia 2000a).2

Another thing of significance is that the FABC Statement does not view evangelization in terms of the spreading of “the Gospel of salvation throughout the length and breadth of the human geography of Asia.”(John Paul II 1999d). The bishops of Asia, instead, look at it as an integral activity. It involves “the whole community, every group, and every person,” and has to do with “inculturation, dialogue, the Asian-ness of the Church, justice, the option for the poor, etc”(FABC2000). Thus, evangelization is an all-encompassing activity and mutually involves all other activities of the Church, including interreligious dialogue.  In this context, it must be mentioned also that the FABC VII Statement has no specific section on “interreligious dialogue.” In fact, a reading of the whole FABC Statement will reveal that little space is given the theme of “interreligious dialogue.” It only goes to show how much FABC has matured.  While in the first few Plenary Assemblies (esp. in 1970, 1974, and 1978), the Final Statements had specific paragraphs on “interreligious dialogue,” this Seventh Assembly, as is the case for the Sixth, is conspicuously absent on the theme. However it notes within the Statement that “[f]or thirty years, as we have tried to re-formulate our Christian identity in Asia, we have addressed different issues, one after another: evangelization, inculturation, dialogue, the Asian-ness of the Church, justice, the option for the poor, etc. Today, after three decades, we no longer speak of such distinct issues. We are addressing present needs that are massive and increasingly complex. These are not separate topics to be discussed, but aspects of an integrated approach to our Mission of Love and Service”(FABC 2000). In other words, interreligious dialogue is a theme and activity which is to be taken for granted.  It need not be spelt out, but every Christian in Asia ought to know of its import. It is to Asian Christianity much like chilli is to Asian cuisine. It need not be spelt out in the recipe that chilli has to be added. That is taken for granted. Asian food is by nature spicy. Even if chilli is not added, there is always some on the table, alongside the salt and pepper. Likewise, from the perspectives of the bishops of Asia, interreligious dialogue is mixed into every dish in the Asian mission of love and service.


Our discussions thus far have looked at the encounter in dialogue between the Pope and the bishops of Asia.  As suggested, the voice of the bishops of Asia was more clearly heard as we looked at the various responses, direct or otherwise, toEcclesia in Asia, which in the main represents the voice of the Pope. However, it is also important to point out that Ecclesia in Asia is but just one voice of the Pope. To be sure, the voice of the Holy Father can be heard in many other contexts as well. Moreover, at times these other voices seem to contradict much of what have been discussed about his voice as expressed in Ecclesia in Asia. Specifically, reference is made to the numerous interreligious encounters initiated by the Pope himself. In fact, about a week before delivering Ecclesia in Asia in New Delhi, John Paul II had assembled together more than 200 persons from all over the world for an Interreligious Assembly in Rome. Among the religious dignitaries was the Dalai Lama. The Assembly was more or less a follow-up to the much talked about Interreligious World Day of Prayer for Peace which took place in Assisi in 1986. These were all initiatives of the Holy Father himself.  To be sure, John Paul II is one pope who has done much more than all previous popes when it comes to interreligious dialogue. He has been instrumental for building bridges between the various and varied religious traditions. Practically all of his official visits include an interreligious event.  His recent visit to Egypt saw him meeting with the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Mosque, Sayyed Tantawi. Even in New Delhi, where he came for a specifically ecclesial event, an apostolic visit to proclaim Ecclesia in Asia, included in the program was a meeting with representatives of the other religions. There, at New Delhi’s Vigyan Bhavan or Hall of Wisdom, was a demonstration of “living dialogue wherein each participant gave witness to the strength and inspiration she or he received from their respective faiths.” And it was there also that Pope John Paul II joined hands with Sankaracharya Madhavananda Saraswati, to the cheer and applause of everyone present.3

There is, therefore, no denying the fact that in the present pope the Catholic Church has advanced leaps and bounds in the area of interreligious dialogue. This is the witness of the Pope himself. He is much concerned about the harmony and relationship between the Church and the other religions. His actions speak louder than his words. People are more likely to follow his practice more than his speech. In the Pope’s own words, it is true that “people today put more trust in witnesses than in teachers” (EA, 42). The Church in Asia, therefore, is hearing the Pope loud and clear in this his proclamation that interreligious dialogue is essential. No clearer voice needs to be heard. However, it would be interesting to find out how the Pope actually dialogues when he encounters these peoples of other religions. It is most unlikely that he would insist to Sayyed Tantawi that the fullness of salvation comes from Christ alone and that the Church community is the ordinary means of salvation (cf. EA, 31). It is also unlikely that the Holy Father would preach to the Dalai Lama that the peoples of Asia need Jesus Christ and his Gospel and that Asia is thirsting for the living water that Jesus alone can give (cf. EA, 50). It is probably unlikely that John Paul II will announce to Madhavananda Saraswati that the Church must be seen as the privileged place of encounter between God and man (cf. EA, 24). The Church in Asia, therefore, seeks only to follow after the witness of the Holy Father. What he does, the Church in Asia will do, and what he refrains from doing, likewise, the Church in Asia will refrain from doing. In a way, the Church in Asia is more likely to trust eating that which the chef himself eats, rather than that which the chef cooks but doesn’t himself eat. Thus, only if John Paul II is successful in calling to faith and baptism the Dalai Lama or Tantawi or Madhavananda Saraswati will Christians in Asia take seriously his pronouncement that this calling to faith and baptism is willed by God for all people (cf. EA, 31).


Aside from his personal witness in actual encounters of interreligious dialogue, even in Ecclesia in Asia one finds passages of John Paul II’s voice which are exceptionally pro-dialogue. Specifically, one finds that throughout Ecclesia in Asiathere is a sincere recognition and exultation of “the goodness of the continent’s peoples, cultures, and religious vitality” (EA,1). There is also a conscious acknowledgement of the “ancient religious traditions and civilizations, the profound philosophies and the wisdom which have made Asia what it is today” (EA, 4). John Paul II identifies by name the various religious traditions alive in Asia and affirms that the “Church has the deepest respect for these traditions and seeks to engage in sincere dialogue with their followers” (EA, 6). He doesn’t fail to remind the Church in Asia that “[c]ontact, dialogue and cooperation with the followers of other religions is a task which the Second Vatican Council bequeathed to the whole Church as a duty and a challenge” (EA, 31). He then instructs the Church in Asia to “provide suitable models of interreligious dialogue - evangelization in dialogue and dialogue for evangelization - and suitable training for those involved” (EA, 31). Most of all, he recounts the “memorable meeting held in Assisi, the city of Saint Francis, on 27 October 1986, between the Catholic Church and representatives of the other world religions” (EA, 31).

Thus, one finds in the Pope a man who is very much pro-dialogue, but at the same time, one who continues to make statements regarded as not in the service of dialogue.  This reflects the intra-personal tension the Holy Father goes through on account of his role as guardian of the Catholic faith and that of shepherd of the Catholic flock. As guardian his is to announce the privileged position of Christ and the Church, but as shepherd his is to encourage greater dialogue between Catholics and persons of other religions. It is an unenviable task but John Paul II has managed a balance. He has learnt to accept both as essential, necessary and complementary. It is as if he continues to desire spaghetti and cheese but at the same time realizes that rice and curry has its value too. Thus, John Paul II is contend with having spaghetti with curry, an adaptation he has had to make on account of his frequent contacts with persons who are more accustomed to rice and curry. Thus accounts for the fact that he is comfortable with proclaiming on the 6th of November in New Delhi Cathedral at the signing of Ecclesia in Asia that “Jesus Christ is the door that leads to life!”(John Paul II:1999b). and announce on the very next day at the New Delhi’s Vigyan Bhavan to the representatives of other religions that he is but a “pilgrim of peace and a fellow-traveller on the road that leads to the complete fulfilment of the deepest human longings” (John Paul II 1999a).

The important lesson to draw from this is that John Paul II believes it is not an either-or choice, but must be a both-and option. He has been explicit in proclaiming that many times before. Dialogue does not exclude proclamation and proclamation must always include dialogue. Both are self involving, both are necessary and both are integral to the evangelizing mission of the Church. On that score, the Asian bishops are very much in agreement with the Pope. Theirs has always been to find means and ways to integrate the two aspects of evangelization. Theirs has always been to find more meaningful ways to be truly Christian and authentically Asian. The preceding discussions seem to suggest it is but a matter of emphases, on account of one’s starting point and one’s theological methodology. In a way, it is a matter of taste and a matter of different cooking styles. The essence of food remains constant. No matter how we eat it, with fork and spoon (as would be done in the West), or with fingers (South Asia) and chopsticks (East Asia), it is still food that we are eating.


1. For a discussion on the less “evangelical” stance which FABC took, refer to Chia 1999: 892-9.

2. For a more thorough discussion on the evolution of Asian theologies of religion, see Chia 2000a.

3. “Editorial,” Vidyajyoti Journal of Theological Reflection, Vol. 63, No. 12, Dec. 1999, p. 880.


Amaladoss, Michael

1999a “The Mystery of Christ and Other Religions: An Indian Perspective,” Vidyajyoti Journal of Theological Reflection, vol. 63, No. 5, May.

1999b “Ecclesia in Asia affirms tradition, ignores Asian search,” Asia Focus: Commentary, 26 November.

Chia, Edmund

1999 “The ‘Absence of Jesus’ in the VIIth FABC Plenary Assembly,” Vidyajyoti Journal of Theological Reflection, Vol. 63, No. 12, December.

2000a “Interreligious Dialogue in Pursuit of Fullness of Life in Asia,” FABC Papers No. 92k, Seventh Plenary Assembly: Workshop Discussion Guide, Hong Kong, January.

2000b “Asia’s Contribution to Christianity,” Asia Focus: Commentary, 10 March.

Darmaatmadja, Cardinal Julius

1999 “A New Way of Being Church in Asia,” Vidyajyoti Journal of  Theological Reflection, Vol. 63, No. 12, December.

FABC (Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences)

2000 “A Renewed Church in Asia: A Mission of Love and Service,” Final Statement of the Seventh Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences Plenary Assembly, Samphran, Thailand, January 3-13.

John Paull II

1999 “Meeting with Representatives of other religions and other Christian Confessions,” New Delhi Vigyan Bhavan, 7 November No. 1.

1999a Ecclesia in Asia, New Delhi Cathedral, 6 November No. 1.

1999b Ecclesia in Asia, New Delhi Cathedral, 6 November No. 2.

1999c Ecclesia in Asia, New Delhi Cathedral, 6 November No. 5.

1999d Ecclesia in Asia, New Delhi Cathedral, 6 November No. 6.

Prior, John

2000 “Unfinished Encounter: A Note on the Voice and Tone of  Ecclesia in Asia,” January (not sure where it’s published).

Shan, Cardinal Paul

2000 “Presentation of Ecclesia in Asia in New Delhi,” General Relator, Synod for Asia in Boletin Eclesiastico de Filipinas, Vol. LXXVI/18, Jan- Feb.

Zenit News Agency, Rome, 21 Mar. 2000.