Bishops from the Asian countries of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei met with Pope Benedict at the Vatican on Friday and heard him call them to follow in the footsteps of St. Paul. The prelates must help their flock to deeply absorb faith in Christ and to guard against the pitfalls of materialism and relativism, the Pope said.
The bishops’ visit, the Holy Father remarked, comes on the cusp of the start of the Pauline Year, which starts on June 28. As he began his address to the bishops in English, the Pope invited them to follow the example of the apostle, an "outstanding teacher and courageous witness to the truth of the Gospel."
"The Church's faith in Jesus is a gift received and a gift to be shared; it is the greatest gift which the Church can offer to Asia," said the Pope quoting the Apostolic Exhortation "Ecclesia in Asia."
Referring to the parable of the sower, the Holy Father noted that, “Happily, the peoples of Asia display an intense yearning for God. In handing on to them the message that you also received, you are sowing the seeds of evangelization in fertile ground.”
Yet, there are also obstacles to the flourishing of the faith in Asia, the Pope said. One of these is the impression that some have of the faith as a “foreign import” that is seen as “alien to the culture and traditions” of Asians.
Benedict XVI again pointed the bishops to St. Paul’s example by calling to mind the “manner in which St. Paul preached the Good News to the Athenians.” In the same way, the Church should present the Christian faith in ways that “resonate with the ‘innate spiritual insight and moral wisdom in the Asian soul,' so that people will welcome it and make it their own."
Another danger that the Church in Asia must protect itself against is the separation of faith from reason that occurred in the Enlightenment.
"In particular, you need to ensure that the Christian Gospel is in no way confused in their minds with secular principles associated with the Enlightenment. On the contrary, by 'speaking the truth in love' you can help your fellow citizens to distinguish the wheat of the Gospel from the chaff of materialism and relativism. You can help them to respond to the urgent challenges posed by the Enlightenment, familiar to Western Christianity for over two centuries, but only now beginning to have a significant impact upon other parts of the world. While resisting the 'dictatorship of positivist reason' that tries to exclude God from public discourse, we should welcome the 'true conquests of the Enlightenment' - especially the stress on human rights and the freedom of religion and its practice."
"This Pauline apostolate," said Pope Benedict, "requires a commitment to inter-religious dialogue, and I encourage you to carry forward this important work, exploring every avenue open to you. I realize that not all the territories you represent offer the same degree of religious liberty, and many of you, for example, encounter serious difficulties in promoting Christian religious instruction in schools."
With the conviction that the presentation of the Gospel helps their fellow citizens observe the law ‘written on their hearts,’ the Church must also pursue “open and honest dialogue with Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and the followers of other religions present in your respective countries,” the Pope added.
If the bishops take this approach, they will reach a wide audience with the Gospel and help to promote a unified vision of the common good. This will also enable the Church to promote “religious freedom and greater social cohesion between members of different ethnic groups, which can only be conducive to the peace and well-being of the entire community," Benedict said.