Respect for the age-old religions of Asia will not keep the Catholic Church from preaching salvation in Christ, a Vatican document said.
The "lineamenta" or outline for the special Synod of Bishops for Asia highlighted the positive values of Eastern religions, but said Catholics have an obligation to share the Gospel with all peoples.
"Jesus Christ the Saviour and his Mission of Love and Service in Asia: '...That they may have life and have it abundantly'" will be the theme of the synod. The Vatican released the outline for the synod on 3 September 1996. The Asian synod is part of a series of religional bishops' meetings Pope John Paul II has called to prepare the church for the next millennium.
Dates have not been set for the synod, but deadlines have been set for bishops' responses to the outlines. The responses will form the basis for the drafting synod working documents.
The bishops' conferences of the Middle East, the Persian Gulf, Central Asian Siberia, South and South East Asia and East Asia have until next August 1 (1997) to submit their responses to the synod outline.
While focusing on the need to improve evangelisation programmes, the Asian document acknowledges the huge tasks the church faces in this region. Catholics account for only 2.8 percent of the Asian population. They are the majority only in the Philippines, said Cardinal Jan Schotte, secretary-general of the Synod of Bishops.
According to the Asian outline, some mistakes in past missionary efforts and a current reluctance to insist on the need for salvation through Christ have blocked church missionary efforts in many parts of Asia, while government restrictions on Christianity have also hindered the church.
Cardinal Schotte said the bishops of Taiwan and others who have contact with the government-approved Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and with the underground Catholic Church in China have been asked to do what they can to ensure Catholics on the mainland have a chance to contribute to the synod. But even where Catholics are free to evangelise, they sometimes hesitate to do so, the outline said.
The Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences has said that throughout the region "radical questions have been raised about the uniqueness of Jesus Christ in the history of salvation."
Some Catholics even refer to "the myth of Christian uniqueness" and are content with showing respect for and dialogue with Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and the traditional religions of Asia, the document said. While the Catholic Church teaches that the Holy Spirit works through all religions that attempt to bring people closer to God, Christians cannot ignore the fact that salvation comes through Christ and the gift of faith they have received must be shared with others, it said.
The document examined the varied social, economic and political situations found in Asian countries, calling on Catholics to work for justice, equality and solidarity with the poor.
(Reported in SUNDAY EXAMINER, Hong Kong, Sep. 20,1996)