Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi and the Pontifical Council for Culture are looking to the “new world” in Asia and other emerging nations for a greater understanding of how to build solidarity and cooperation to better confront the important issues of the day.
Ambassadors and diplomatic representatives from 20 Asian nations met with members of the Pontifical Council for Culture and other Vatican departments on March 10 in the council's Rome headquarters.
Cardinal Ravasi, president of the council, said he hoped the meeting would increase understanding in the region and promote a “different coexistence” between peoples.
He emphasized the importance of economy to the promotion of culture. A true economy, said the cardinal, is “humanistic,” that is, it is focused on serving man's growth in every aspect and not just in providing for his basic necessities.
Each nation can contribute to the discussion on improving economy, and therefore culture, by offering its vision on the interaction between faith, science, secularism, art, communications 'languages,' and intercultural relations, he said.
“The fundamental task,” he asserted, “is to establish 'interculturality'--dialogue between cultures," avoiding extremism on the one side and the indiscriminate mixing of religions, on the other.
Msgr. Bartelemy Adoukonou, an official at the pontifical council, fleshed out the value of “interculturality” and multiculturalism. Dialogue between ethnic and religious communities, he said, is important to confronting the “dictatorship of relativism” today.
The keynote address on culture and economic development was delivered by South Korean Ambassador Thomas Hong-Soon Han, who is also an economist.
His overriding theme was the great, worldwide inequality between the small number of rich people and the enormous number of those who are poor.
He decried the “scale of global inequality”and an income gap that sees nearly half of the world's people living on two dollars per day. A quarter of the world’s population, he said, survives without proper sanitation because it lacks dependable access to water.
Hong-Soon Han also spoke of other barriers to genuine human development, including “high-tech sexism,” a term he used to described how female fetuses are being aborted in favor of males. He said that based on today's imbalance of the sexes, enormous problems are in store for the future of some Asian countries.
More than 101 million women are “missing,” he said. An estimated 86 percent of the 46 million abortions that take place every year in the world are performed in Asia.
Asia must work to defend the lives of its children by curbing abortions, said the ambassador.
He also hoped for greater religious freedom and equality for the citizens of all nations, especially in developing nations throughout the world.
The ambassador quoted Pope Paul VI to say that there is no greater structure than “human responsibility” to generate genuine development in the world.
Australia’s Ambassador Timothy Fischer also decried the “artificial gender tilting” taking place in some countries. Such a campaign, he said, “will lead to the death of a nation.”
He highlighted the same “fault lines” existing in the income gap between rich and poor and the “time bomb” of illiteracy in some places in Asia, but also in inner-city America.
Mr. Fischer also proposed the idea of the measure of “Gross national happiness,” which the Asian Kingdom of Bhutan has been advocating. Happiness, he said, depends on man's well-being and there are "fault lines" today that threaten greater good in blocking proper wealth distribution and the availability of education.
Discussion followed in which the ambassadors proposed historic points of interaction and solidarity. One ambassador asked for a consultation on how to approach the bureaucracy of international aid organizations, another expressed interest in promoting a world with fewer national borders and greater solidarity.
Cardinal Ravasi told CNA afterward that encounter was particularly significant because it was “a look to the continent of Asia where the emergent cultures are asserting themselves not only on economic and social levels ... but also because they come carrying a great tradition with them made of culture, wisdom, poetry and also and most importantly of ethics.
“We in the West must look at this new world and its language,” he said.
This is relevant to the Church because it lends to a new reflection on the concept of ethics, not only for new techniques to approach financial systems, but also to examine the social dimension of how cultures live together, he said. It is also necessary for keeping the human element at the center of the process of scientific development.
“Finally,” he said, “it is a way to ensure that dialogue between cultures—interculturality—permits peoples not only to coexist beside each other as occurs with multiculturalism but to meet, speak, (and) dialogue, but most of all to conserve self identity without fundamentalisms and without syncretisms without isolationism and without confusion.”
The Pontifical Council for Culture expects greater collaboration and cooperation from the ambassadors through meetings such as this one. African ambassadors will be meeting with the council in October 2011 and those from Latin America will likely be invited for a similar encounter in December.