Interpreting the social dimension of the Gospel

January 6, 2012 by  
Filed under newsletter-asia

Overcome the WorldBangkok, January 04, 2012: Bishops again attempt to discover liberative spirituality for social action among the poor

After a hiatus of 25 years the BISA program is being revived. BISA VIII in Bangkok was postponed from November 2011 to January 2012 owing to the floods there.

The FABC’s Office of Human Development (OHD) set in motion the Bishops’ Institutes for Social Action (BISA) program. Its purpose was to fulfill the mandate given to the FABC by Pope Paul VI (1970) that the Church in Asia must become the Church of the Poor. From 1974 -1986 seven BISAs were held. All the BISAs are Gospel- oriented and theo-praxis in process. Some 25% of the Asian bishops, along with some bishops from the West, were exposed to the poverty and oppression in several Asian nations.

BISA I–III sought to interpret the social dimension of the Gospel in the context of Asia. As witnesses to Christ, the Church must make a wholehearted commitment to the poor and opt in their favour. This does not mean merely to work for the poor, but to be with the poor as Jesus was.

BISA IV–VI stressed the collegial responsibility of bishops for human development. While examining the Asian situation in the light of the Gospel, the bishops sought to do this as brothers, in an effort to discover the practical meaning of collegiality of bishops. BISA-I-VI had exposure to different poor communities including slum dwellers, workers, farmers.

BISA VII added the new dimension of immersion. Exposure brought us closer to the stark reality of poverty, but immersion sought to experience reality from the perspective of the poor themselves. While exposure was like a doctor’s visit for diagnosis, immersion led to genuine empathy through a lived-in experience of a genuine friend and family member. It is in BISA VII, that the methodology of the Pastoral Cycle evolved.

In January 2012 the OHD is reviving the BISA programmes to help the Bishops have a special immersion to discover the cry of the poor and the marginalised. It will enable the Bishops to re-read Catholic social teachings in the light of the growing challenges and struggles of the poor in Asia. The theme is the response of the Church to the struggles of the marginalised of Asia in the light of Catholic social teaching.

Catholic spirituality is a life-style, a way of living out the intimate reality of Jesus Christ and his message in our daily lives. Since Vatican II there appear to be two basic models of spirituality. One, the eschatological model, emphasizes the spiritual, heavenly world to come. Its accent is upon trying to save one’s own soul; involvement in the world is perceived as an obstacle to spiritual growth that must be avoided. Charity expresses love of neighbour rather than justice in the world.

The other model of spirituality is incarnational. It consists in living in the here-and-now historical context, seeking to participate with God in incarnating the values of the Kingdom, since the whole human community, in fact, the whole cosmos is to be saved. Love of neighbour is expressed in creating a milieu of justice for all. “Thy will be done on earth as in heaven.”

Four key elements form the pillars supporting the basic spirituality of the BISAs.

1. Option for the Poor. The first Asian Bishops Meeting (Manila, 1970) stated: “It is our resolve first of all to be more truly ‘the Church of the Poor.’ If we are to place ourselves at the side of the multitudes in our continent, we must in our way of life share something of their poverty. The Church cannot set up islands of affluence in a sea of want and misery.” BISA I (1974) reiterated, “We cannot therefore assume that the Church in southeast Asia will become the Church of the Poor simply as a matter of course. It can only be the result of an OPTION, consciously and deliberately taken, in which the pastors of the People of God must take the lead.” The option of the bishops means a real identification with the poor and marginalized in succeeding BISAs.

2. Ecumenical dimension. BISA realizes that concerted action of all peoples of Asia is required for significant social transformation of Asia in accordance with the Kingdom of God. BISA I said: “The continuing dialogue with people cannot be limited to the Christian community, but must reach beyond it to all other communities in search of integral human development.” This desire is reiterated in subsequent BISAs.

3. Contextualization. The BISA statements are rooted in the Asian context. Each BISA notes various situations of oppression, poverty, new forms of colonialism, as well as other social and political elements that keep the peoples of Asia from living a fully human life. Therefore they speak of the mission of the Church in terms of a holistic approach to evangelization.

4. Incarnational. Deeply aware that God is at the very heart of humanity struggling for fuller life, the bishops at BISA stressed the necessity of looking at the reality. BISA IV observed: “Our purpose was to examine afresh the Asian situation and seek guidance from the Gospels so that we might know what God asks of his people today.”

The incarnational aspect means God living and speaking within the human situation. Therefore the Gospel has to be read within the particular context of the Asian situation. BISA V elucidates, “Seeing the Lord in the poor, making sense out of his action among them, discerning the direction of his action with them – this we felt deeply within us was the more specific challenge we have to face.” The Risen Lord is incarnate in the world, in people, events and historical contexts.

In BISA VII (1986) the bishops attempted to discover a liberative spirituality for social action among the poor and by the poor. BISA VII sums up incarnational spirituality.

“This liberative spirituality will animate the whole diocesan programme of social action with a relevant spirituality, as it emerges from the poor and is discovered and complemented by the bishops and other facilitators. Spiritual animation will in addition, transform all social action into one of evangelization, pastoral renewal and the milieu of God experience. The God-experience will have both a contemplative dimension and a call for a contemplative atmosphere. This hope for transformation of the diocese and the spiritual orientation of the diocesan pastoral policy of social action is another concern of BISA VII.”

– crib

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