Presbyterorum Ordinis

Being Priests from Asia
Men of dialogue

Andrew Gimenez Recepcion
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Albeit the rather low percentage of Catholics, the life of the Church and the priests in the largest continent in the world is evermore developing its own characteristic, based on a threefold dialogue with cultures, religions, and the poor. From there, there is a need to ensure that priests, deeply rooted in Christ, are able to project themselves in these three directions. The author, President of the International Association of Catholic Missiology Experts and head of the Center for Spirituality of Communion for Diocesan Priests and Seminarians in Tagaytay (Manila), examines in this article the shadows and lights of the life of priests in Asia and draws from it a number of suggestions for their formation.


It is not easy to paint a satisfactory profile of Asian priests when you consider how different are the countries, cultures, and contexts in this big continent. The situations are so varied so this does not allow for a unique and almost monolithic interpretation as we try to focus on the different facets of the life of priests in Asia today. Therefore, I'll limit myself to just offering some ideas, trying to outline the perspectives from which we can try to understand the experience of the Church in Asia today. I will start from my context, the Philippines, which is the country with the highest percentage of Catholics in Asia.

Shadows and Lights
in the reality of the priests in Asia


Considering the wide variety of experiences, I seem to find myself in front of a large mosaic with points of light and points of shadow.
As for the shadows, there is first of all the problem of double identity i.e. the issue of a life that is not well balanced between ministry and personal sphere.
Then there is the fact that many of our cultures put the priest on a kind of pedestal as also happens with monks in Buddhist countries. Thus, there is a risk that the priestly ministry is considered a privilege, a position of power in which it is permitted to behave almost like masters with the laity as collaborators.
Another phenomenon to be noted is a way of life which, marked by a consumerist mentality, lacks solidarity and evangelical simplicity. Some priests emigrate to North America or to Europe for economic reasons. Being a priest involves a change of status, meaning a transition to a higher social level which effectively also means a more comfortable life.
Finally, there are those who left the ministry not because of problems with celibacy or sexual abuse, but simply because of the lack of true brotherhood between priests.
As it is evident, these snapshots cannot in any way do justice to the experience of priests in the different Asian realities, but they rather highlight some common features among the various countries. At the root of some of these situations there is, in my view, the fact that formation in seminaries still lacks a true inculturation that takes seriously and explores the mentality, cultures, religions, and socio-political situation in Asia. Still today, initial formation as well as pastoral formation remain Western-style. Therefore - sometimes with a lot of difficulty - there is an attempt to find a way to incarnate the priestly ministry with a genuine identity in line with the humus of the Church in Asia; marked by the three pronged dialogue that is the characteristic of the church: cultures, religions and the poor.

Experiences of hope,
beyond human frailty


Alongside the shadows there are also lights. There are experiences of hope that, beyond human weakness, witness a new existence in the Risen Christ that accompanies the steps of every priest towards the fullness of life.
Among these lights we should highlight the commitment to appropriately accompany those going through a period of personal crisis and pastoral exhaustion, through different programs offered in the Philippines by the Galilee Centre, created by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference to welcome priests of Asia who need professional help as well as a place to restore themselves and start again after a personal and pastoral failure.
Brotherhood among priests is also growing, through various activities in the dioceses and local Church, including national retreats, sport activities and taking vacations together.
Some dioceses have established a
standard living allowance (SLA) i.e. a basic salary for all priests.
We must also note the rediscovery of the value of community life, which has led to the development of certain models of permanent formation based on years of ministry, but also to the so-called team ministry, i.e. pastoral teams that work together in various areas of the parish.
Another light is the various study or spirituality centers where priests can spend a few months depending on their needs. Among these, promoted by the Focolare Movement, is the Center of Spirituality of Communion for diocesan priests and seminarians from the whole of Asia in Tagaytay, near Manila, as well as, in the same province of Manila, there is the “Notre Dame de Vie” Spirituality Centre at Bulacan that allows one to deepen the experience of the Carmelite prayer life.
Another good thing is the missionary experience that some diocesan priests live by going abroad for a period of three to five years or more, to be at the service of dioceses in other parts of the world where there is a shortage of priests.
Finally, there is a new commitment to walk side by side with the poor in the parishes with the basic ecclesial communities (BEC).

Dialogue as a Priority

It is ever more evident that Asian priests are called to be men of dialogue and that they have really lived this experience: rooted in the lives of people of different cultures and religions, with the poor and the young, but especially rooted in their personal experience of the living Jesus. However important cultural or intellectual education may be, in the Asian context relationships of genuine reciprocity, hospitality, harmony, and family have priority. The challenge is in being
a man of God as a man of dialogue who lives his life somewhat impersonating the Risen Christ who creates the Church as a community of communities. Through relationships based on the Gospel, we must be able to generate the family of God that is also open to people of other religions and cultures, and journeying with the poor. With regard to the latter, the way of love is not limited to only an occasional aid but it rather promotes a mutual enrichment where the poor become teachers of the priests themselves and this stimulates them to serve Jesus, going towards the human and existential peripheries, and especially towards the families of overseas workers, i.e. migrant workers who travel to fulfil the economic needs of their families.

Guidelines
for the formation of seminarians


To become men of dialogue, the training of seminarians must follow several key paths. With this in mind, the final message of the Consultation of Educators in the seminary organized by the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences
(FABC) in 2006 reiterated that formation must ensure that seminarians become people who: have experienced God; are driven by pastoral charity; are committed to live the evangelical counsels with moral integrity; are ready to accept others with compassion and to live in solidarity with the poor; are able to relate with everyone, because they live in community and they are formed within a community; are humble companions for others - brothers, fathers, "mothers," and friends - on the journey to God; are people of dialogue, justice and peace, and servant-leaders in a servant Church.
In summary, my opinion is that the challenge of formation of priests in Asia today is twofold: being the presence of the Risen Christ and, in Him, living dialogue as an authentic and full life.


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[1] The expression "from Asia" expresses an identity, that is, a reality that comes from within and not from outside as a geographical concept that identifies a person according to his/her country of origin.

[2] Cf. the ecclesiological vision of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC), expressed since their first General Assembly in 1974. Cf. A. Gimenez Recepcion, L’arte di coniugare annuncio e dialogo, in «Gen’s» 44 (2014) p. 156.

[3] Federation of Asian Catholic Bishops' Conferences, “Consultation in Human Formation of Priests - Challenges in the Asian Context 2006” in Final Statement,
Link