Joseph Rajkumar 

Secretary-General

The historical origins and evolution of Pax Romana, both in terms of time and space, deserves a very careful study and reflection. These historical moments are precious in their contents as well as in their interpretations. By 1921, the idea of “Pax Romana” could, however, be seen not only as something good in itself but also as a movement rendered necessary, if the Catholic point of view was to be expressed in the many international organizations that were in existence. Above all, Pax Romana understood as “the expression of a whole program”, necessarily had to find its implantation in different cultures, religions, and social systems. Here, I wish to confine myself to one particular continent, namely, Asia, which with its myriad images, came into contact with Pax Romana through various periods and diverse initiatives.

In fact, the first contacts can be traced to 1922 when a Japanese delegate was at the 2nd Congress of Pax Romana in Fribourg. In the thirties, Pax Romana spread to Asia, where university circles, local and national, in such countries as China. Java, Iraq, and the Philippines were formed, while in India a federation was set up to link the students of South India to Pax Romana. With the emphasis on local and international, these Asian groups actually became members of Pax Romana. In those days of extension, the University of Fribourg was a vital center for reaching out to the Asian Catholic students, who were then studying at the University. Going through the pages of the Pax Romana bulletin, which began in 1935, one comes across regular reports of activities of the groups in the Asian countries. The range of activities included formation sessions, seminars, publications, etc. with some public celebrations. There were regular exchanges with Fribourg and other centers as well as participation in international gatherings. It is interesting to recall that Pax Romana seriously took note of the issues faced by these students, bringing them to the attention of other international bodies, including the League of Nations. Moreover, given its structural composition of federations, the participation of everyone was encouraged with mutual respect for diverse viewpoints. Given the context and circumstances at the time. it is difficult to assess the extent of this Asian presence in the movement during this period.

From these humble beginnings within the Asian student world, another step forward was the affiliation of Asian graduate groups to the newly formed movement of Pax Romana — lCMICA. In fact, this came about as a result of the former students desiring to continue their formation and mission. In India, for example, the idea of assisting the formation of graduate groups was inherent in the name itself, the All India Catholic University  Federation which was made up of students and graduates. This initial dynamism characterized the life of the groups as well as their evolution.

Given the historical context of decolonization and of newly emerging nation-State with their attendant issues, new questions were also raised. The period of the ’50’ and early ’60’s also inaugurated the international activities within the Asian region The first Pax Romana Graduate Conference in Asia took place in Manila, in conjunction with the UNESCO Pax Romana meeting on “The Present Impact of the Great Religions of the World upon the Lives of the People in the Orient and Occident In his address to this conference, Pope John XXIII urged the participants to do two things: “You must try to live a life that is deeply Christian; you must strive earnestly then acquire a Christian formation that is in keeping with your national culture while in perfect conformity with the exalted teaching of the Church”. He reminded them of the particular needs of the day: “Today the task devolves upon you to preach the message of truth and of love in a form that is adapted to the Oriental mentality”, a word “of the greatest importance for the progress of the Church” (December 1959). The conference dealt with the meaning, the necessity, and the organization of, the Intellectual Apostolate. For the international leaders of Pax Romana. Manila was the revelation of a Christian  Asia. The question as to what were the specific responsibilities of Catholic graduates and their organization in the developing countries came to remain as a permanent preoccupation.

Another important event in Asia was the XViith Plenary Assembly in Bombay, India (December 1964) on “Human Problems of Economic Development” coinciding with the visit of Pope Paul VI to India. The Assembly made a serious attempt to understand the complex issues of development, with a step forward towards a theology of development. Asian representatives played a key role, being a majority of participants in the Assembly. Among the conclusions which were reached, let me cite one of them

“Practically speaking, development implies (a) a series of difficult choices which, in addition, often remain disputable; (b) the establishment in the country itself of new social and legal structures, the creation of real international justice, in particular, in the fair redistribution of goods. Whatever may be the methods chosen, Christians will keep in mind that what must be respected before everything else is the dignity of each human person, not primarily private ownership of goods; and that they care for the poorest who are also the most numerous, should be the just preoccupation of all planning”.

This was also the period when the Vatican II Council was in session. Here one should mention the contributions made by “LOGOS”, a journal of Christian thinking published from Kandy and through which Asian and other Pax Romana members interpreted Christian values in an Asian context.

At this stage in Pax Romana’s history, a new phase of regionalization entered, with Asians as well as other continental groupings making an attempt at regional consolidation concerning issues faced in common. The 22nd Plenary Assembly (1975) of Pax Romana — ICMICA in Rome saw the emergence of regional identity within the common framework of the movement.  Asians gathered at this Assembly placed a strong emphasis on social justice, taking the cue from the 1971 Synod of Bishops in Rome. There was also an attempt, not only for Asia, but also for other continents, to initiate regional structures with a concrete plan of action. Two key issues were also raised around this plan of action, namely “the challenge of Christianity in the Asian culture” and secondly, “that of expressing and living its (ICMICA) solidarity with persons and marginal groups suffering infringements of their liberty or whose rights are ignored”.

From these glimpses of the past, let us turn to the current phase of what Asians have to say within the framework of Pax Romana-lCMICA :

 

  • The faith question

 

“What does faith ask our Catholic intellectuals and professionals to do about the immense problems of Asia — poverty especially — and the systemic matrix of these problems? This, I believe, is the crucial question of faith for believing intellectuals and professionals.

It is a hard question to ask. The soul-searching that must precede any answer will require looking closely at their tradition of professional competence and getting ahead”. Competence for and getting ahead of what? Or whom?. The brain-drain phenomenon is perhaps an extreme example of what I am talking about, but to me, it is highly symptomatic of something very wrong about the system we live under. Or is the fault with only a part of that system — the kind of education it propagates? It probably does not matter much. But there is something definitely wrong with a system — any system — that practically automatically, with education, starts people trekking from the village to the town, to the city, to the capital, to the West; and that pushes those who don’t trek out to trek back to become the worst exploiters of their less-educated brothers, the many poor… We have to ask the question we are asking not only from a sociological but a thoroughly Christian perspective. For I take it, a Christian is pre-eminently a man or woman for others.”

“In the reflection on these problems (sic. mass poverty, economic development, authoritarian governments, justice and human rights) I believe the realization is growing that efforts at inculturation the faith will at best be artificial, at worst merely academic, unless the Church itself gets intimately involved in the life of the problems of the people, Christian and non-Christian alike. If and when the faith and its practice become meaningful to these problems, inculturation, however, defined, will inevitably take place. This means involvement. And involvement is the most practical embodiment of that searching for an Asian face that we are concerned with here.”

(From the speech of Francisco F. Claver, S.J., Bishop of Malaybalay. Pax Romana Plenary Assembly, Mexico City, November 1979.)

 

  • Dialogue

 

“When we began the dialogue five years ago, we had papers read at each meeting, expounding different points of doctrine, Christian and Hindu, and many of these papers were very instructive. But it was felt that this method tended to involve only those who were more expert in the doctrine of their faith and left the majority with nothing to say. So we changed our method and asked each person to speak on a particular subject, such as the prayer of salvation, and to answer the question, what does prayer – or salvation – mean to me? This changed the character of dialogue and made it not a discussion of doctrine, but a sharing of experience. And this, I think has been the great value of the dialogue, that it has helped us to know one another. It is one thing to know about a particular religion, by reading or by discussion, but it is another thing to know a person, to discover what his religion means to him in concrete reality. After all, there is no such thing as Hinduism: there are only Hindus, each living and experiencing his religion in a different way. So dialogue teaches one to discover the living reality of religion and to encounter, not an abstract doctrine, but a human being.

Yet, of course, the differences remain and this remains one of the problems of dialogue. There is a natural tendency to stress rather than the elements in religion which unite us and to ignore those which divide. This is right and necessary in the early stages of the dialogue, when the great need is to establish good relations and to find a common ground from which we can share with one another. But there is a tendency also to remain at this level and never really to confront the differences which exist. This is especially strong in India, where differences in religion have never been considered of much importance. In fact, one may say that the tendency in the West is to insist so much on differences as to lose sight of the underlying unity, while the tendency in India is to insist so much on the unity as to ignore the differences”.

(by Dom Bede Griffiths in “Dialogue Between Christians and Non-Christians“, CONVERGENCE 2, 1980.)

 

  • The response of the Asian Church

 

“There are signs of greater solidarity among the Asian Bishops, mainly among the more progressive ones. There are organized attempts to clarify the vision and mission of the Church in the context of Asia.

There is evidence of the increasing participation of the laity at the local levels, especially in the area of justice and peace. Renewal movements within the Church are more open to the new expressions of faith in the context of their realities.

A great step has been taken by the FABC {Federation of Asian Bishops’ Confere_nces) in its process of dialogue with the Church in China. This for many people Is a sign of great openness on the part of the Hierarchy and also a sign of hope for the Church in Asia.

There are more and more attempts being made to dialogue with peoples of other faiths in Asia, and very concrete examples have been set by the BISA Seminars, especially BISA VII with the theme of the Religio-Cultural Dimensions of the Peoples of Other Faiths.

The fact that the traditional Church and the Hierarchy are facing more and more problems from the secular non-Christian governments much re-thinking is being done within the Church. These challenges from the outside are calling for creative responses on the part of the Church as a whole.

(ICMICA Council, August 1985, Pattaya, Thailand.)

 

  • The task of the Catholic intellectual

 

I do not know to what extent the Indian situation is similar to that of other Asian countries. It is obvious that the Hindu influence will hardly be felt even in neighboring countries where, presumably, Buddhist or Islamic influences predominate. Nevertheless, it is still possible that some of the problems we have encountered in the course of our survey and some of the courses I have attempted to outline may be common to other Asian countries as well: I shall attempt to put forward a few solutions to the problems in the hope that some of them at least will be applicable to others.

It is essential that the teaching of science in universities be made more relevant. Today especially, there is a need for greater interaction between the different branches of science and even between the sciences and the humanities. Excessive polarisation in any sphere will lead to a lop-sided formation of the individual. I would, therefore, make a fervent plea to all those engaged in university education to adapt the curricula to this need. It is important that science be taught not just to pass examinations. A real interest must be stimulated in it and opportunities provided for original thinking. Science is a significant factor in the evolution of contemporary culture. It must be appreciated than in its widest perspective. In order to make religion relevant to modern man, it is essential that it familiarizes itself with the theories and discoveries of science. A dialogue between theology and science has often been stressed by the SIQS but very little has taken place in India. The recent formation of a group of Jesuits specialized in science in our country is a step in this direction. In trying to evolve a relevant Christian theology in India there is a tendency to study traditional aspects of other religions and to adopt some of their concepts. Simultaneously, an adaptation to scientific thought is called for as otherwise there is a risk of such a theology becoming outmoded.

It is not enough only to rethink theology. It must also be communicated to others. In this way, the teaching of religion can be made much more meaningful enabling the student to relate it to his other studies and to his own life. The training of competent persons for this task is of vital importance.

An attempt must be made to purify religion, stripping it of aberrations that might have crept in. Especially in poor countries like ours, an excessive display of pomp and splendor in Church organizations or religious functions cannot be in keeping with a spirit of poverty. Genuine concern for the poor will always have a universal appeal even to the rational scientist. The work of Mother Teresa is a case in point. Likewise, the practice of social justice must be of paramount concern.

Finally, a dialogue between scientists of various religions can lead to a fruitful exchange of views. The type of seminars I mentioned in the introduction to this paper has been found to be very effective. Most of the participants, even the professed atheists, like them and asked for more of them. Such seminars should be open discussion forums preferably organised under the auspices of a scientific organisation that is not specifically Christian. This is necessary to avoid any kind of distrust and suspicion of indoctrination on the part of non-Christians.

(CONVERGENCE N° 1-211983.)

 

  • Spirituality

 

How is the movement going to develop the whole idea of spirituality? This I feel is very crucial in Asia. In the Asian Bishops’ Conference where I work, there is a commission on mission and interreligious dialogue. The former was telling the latter that the mission is to convert people to Christianity but the latter has been trying to compromise and work with people of other faiths. This is a contradiction, a crucial one. How do we strike a balance? How do we get a deeper understanding of the new meaning of the mission in the context of multi-religious situations?

The whole idea of identity as a movement, therefore, becomes clearer even if our ideas about spirituality are different. We are still in the early stages of trying to see how present-day spirituality should be the spirituality of Asia. It has to be something that has a deeper meaning for all of us. In the past ten years, those involved in social changes mainly come from a vague consciousness, spiritual renewal or like in Indonesia, from movements with Marxist or leftist orientations.

But then, we seem to have left out a very important component of human development — liberation. This is the whole crux of a new spiritual consciousness – a new identification and deeper meaning of faith in the lives of our people.

Even dialogues with our Moslem or Buddhist friends are no longer done on the basis of ideology or some abstract sociological speculation but on faith and spiritual renewal. This is the challenge I would like to pose as we develop our own groups.

(Southeast Asian Consultation – CUM – Country Exchange Programme, Oct. 84, Philippines.)

 

  • Christian vocation

 

It is my firm belief that it is only our given social milieu that can point out to us the relevance or irrelevance of our vocation. It is people around us who provide us the objective picture of ourselves. Therefore we need to constantly evaluate and review our Christian vocation through constant interaction with others of varied religious persuasions, ideological leanings, practices, and lifestyles. Christian vocation once chosen can never remain the same throughout one’s life. We are human beings who change, who conform, and who redefine vis-a-vis our changing social setting and personal growth. It is this fact that provides us with a certain creativity and dynamism. Otherwise, our Christian living would be static and non conforming to the times. The world today is becoming even more complex. We need to “update” ourselves and join the mainstream of any process for change in our society, critically yet constructively.

We must also recognise the pluralism of our existence, and within our Church and Christian community. Pluralism provides us the opportunity to identify unity within diversity, and avoid dogmatism and sectarianism.

I believe that every Christian has a vocation that can relate to our present situation in India. We can play a constructive role in articulating the sentiments of our people, supporting and expressing our solidarity in their efforts, and working together with like-minded people and groups to achieve a better society. In spite of the many obstacles in the process of choosing this vocation, we have many an example of how committed Christians have opted for such a cause. But this was achieved only after a serious and critical reflection on our own lifestyles and value systems, a break with the traditions and dogmatism, and a critique of empty spirituality that had no relevance to the daily sufferings of the poor. Therefore, such a vocation is indeed possible however difficult it might seem for those of us who today enjoy a secure living and future.

Our hope lies in the efforts of our people to achieve a more human society. It is they who provide us the insight into our own lives and our future. The more we fail to respond to their calls, the more we are sidelined and by-passed by our own history.

We must fear the fact that we”mif}ht be left at the fringes of historical changes in our own society, as a community and as persons. To me, Christian vocation which is not aware of this fear is no vocation at all. It is merely a pious activity and a passive living devoid of any humaneness and indeed “unChristian” too.

To conclude, our Christian vocation in India today must be a commitment for justice and freedom for every human individual. This alone will provide relevance and meaning for our very living and future existence. Indeed. we must have a reason to keep on living!

(CONVERGENCE N° 2, 1985, Victor Karunan.)

 

  • ICMICA-Asia Response

 

The ICMICA-Asia group of Christian professionals have, in the past, engaged in various social action activities that, to a certain degree, cast them at the forefront — with several other groups — of the struggle for alternatives to current social, political and economic realities in Asia.

Today, new trends, old and new realities, new developments, in Asia and in the rest of the world, require of each ICMICA member, in fact, of each Christian individual in this part of the world, a reexamination of each one’s role vis-a-vis these current realities, as well as the emerging trends and alternatives in Asia.

The Christian vision has always been that of the Kingdom of God and the establishment of a reign of justice and peace. The prophetic mission of the Christian has been to witness this Kingdom in a world which negates these principles in action.

The ICMICA and Christian involvement thus lies in the building of a human society derived from faith and must be consistent with practice. A truly Christian society must also be a truly human society. Its establishment was a truly Christian task.

For ICMICA, there is no dichotomy between the secular and the religious dimensions of existence. Rather, harmony is to be found between the two. The ICMICA member, as a professional Christian leader, must work with all people of goodwill in the creative transformation of society.

The Christian professionals in Asia enjoy a very privileged status in terms of education, skills, and the class position they occupy. This imposes an added responsibility on them to be active and to be involved in the process of social transformation.

Professionals have a significant role to play in people’s struggle. They may not be directly involved in building people’s movements but they must play a decisively supportive role. The skills of the professionals are needed and must be used to support and strengthen the movement. This also helps build up genuine solidarity.

ICMICA believes that social and individual liberation are mutually interdependent. A truly genuine and lasting transformation will occur only when the individual frees himself/herself from prejudices, old habits and ways of thinking, and becomes more open to realities and to other people. The ideal society is not the replacement of an old tyranny by the intolerance of a new one. It is the genuine flowering of freedom, democracy, and justice. Individual transformation is vital towards the establishment of such human order – a liberated society.

In the Asian region today there are groups of people who are increasingly becoming aware of their societies’ inequities and are trying to find solutions and alternatives to these to bring about justice and lasting peace in this part of the world. They see the present forms of development as not really leading man to a liberated society. And they are discussing and trying new alternatives, even as people’s movements gradually gather momentum.

ICMICA-Asia considers as its Christian task to become actively involved in this process of social transformation and liberation. It reiterates that this liberating transformation can be achieved only through the participation and movement of the people themselves.

ICMICA professionals and intellectuals in particular have a definite role to play in these people’s movements. This role is to stand in solidarity with the people and support their struggles in whatever way possible, especially in understanding the realities correctly, researching for alternatives, and initiating supportive actions that would strengthen and extend the people’s movement.

(Asian Report, 1987.)

*       *       *

Joseph Rajkumar (India) served as Secretary General of ICMICA from 1979-1987.

 

Originally published in Pax Romana, Mémoire et Espérance, Memory and Hope, Memoria y Esperanza: 1947-1987 : Pax Romana MIIC-ICMICA. (Geneva: Secrétariat général Pax Romana, 1987).