With Christ in Asia
Fr Ireneusz Skubis talks to Fr Andrzej Madej, OMI, a missionary in Turkmenistan.
Fr Ireneusz Skubis: – Evangelisation in Asia is an important subject for the contemporary Church. So many people there do not know Christ. Today thanks to the electronic media one can make an accelerated evangelisation. Not long ago we experienced the jubilee year 2000 and we are looking forward to the year 2033 – the jubilee of the Redemption. The Church should use especially such anniversaries to evangelise.
Fr Andrzej Madej, OMI: – I will repeat the words I have heard. It is said that when the Church evangelises those who receive the Good News become enriched – whole nations, cultures. It is true. But perhaps we speak too little that evangelising the Church becomes enriched as well. Someone has used the image that the cultures, the nations that have not received the Gospel are like flowers that have not bloomed in early spring in the garden of the Church. The person who accepts the Gospel and the culture that opens itself to Christ blossom and contribute their gifts to the Church. And the Church becomes enriched by those who accept the Gospel. The process is two-sided. We can also see that when we share our faith it is strengthened. When we do not share our faith it withers and wastes away. This is also a chance for the Church – to go out, to conduct dialogue. Therefore, I think that evangelisation in Asia and inter-religious dialogue, dialogue with the old civilisations in India, China, Japan, the Far East, will enrich both sides. So far those who think that Christianity destroys something in their local cultures, that they lose their identities, have feared a lot. We know that Christianity never comes to destroy; it comes to enrich, to help grow what is good, authentic, true, worthy, just. I have good feelings – the evangelisation that has started in the Asian continent will have good chapters: of mutual respect, dialogue, enrichment, sharing the riches that Lord God gave those civilisations and cultures and to us as well. We only need apostles – missionaries. Certainly, technology and social communications can play a great role here. Nevertheless, they must take into account living people. Jesus Christ himself came to Bethlehem and was made flesh. Since nothing – no icon, no picture, no camera – can replace living people, can replace their faces. What did John Paul II call us to do in his letter for the Third Millennium? To look to Christ the one Lord. In some sense he omitted all other things because a man finally stops at another man. Yes, we will need many apostles – witnesses. They should speak to microphones, stand in front of film cameras, and make films. But they should be converted. Once I took part in a symposium on the mass media in Rome and on the last day of the meeting we were at an audience with John Paul II. He said only one sentence, ‘One should evangelise the world of the mass media.’ It means that we need people who have heard the Gospel and want to share it with others to work in radio and TV studios and in press editorial boards. If we lack such people sad news will, unfortunately, spread. When I think about that I always remember the late Bishop Jan Chrapek of Radom who before his death established the Award ‘Trace’ to be granted to people of culture for showing good, building bridges between people, for professional journalism. Since we all repeat that evil is more photogenic than good but actually it is not true. Bishop Jan knew it. He knew that it might be more difficult to show and reveal good properly; it might be more difficult to serve the truth than to serve falsehood – I do not know. Although once Cardinal Wyszynski remarked, ‘Take care to be witnesses of the truth; little is needed: one should follow the truth and one will be radiant with it. Whereas if one wants to make something look true he must make so many efforts, so much thinking and use so many means. This can be the reason why there is hope that we will serve the truth and good to a bigger extent.’
– How can the Europeans evangelise the Asians?
– I will say: we should love Asia. First of all, we should find time to make friends with people. If today we cannot proclaim the Gospel loudly we should whisper. It is possible. Recently we went to a tiny village some 40 miles away from Ashchabad. We met three very poor families in a small house. They made a meal, which we ate with them, sitting on the floor (this is their custom; there are no tables, chairs and beds), and they asked us to tell them something. I spoke about myself so that they knew whom they talked to but I also spoke about Christmas because it was Advent and Christmas was approaching. I told them about Lord Jesus. Their response was that they asked us to pray for them. Each family spoke about their problems, hurts, hiding nothing. I learnt what there worries were, what they could not cope with. They were very open and hungry for love, hungry for the Good News. They needed healing. Our hands were laid on them and we prayed intercessory prayers together. We also sang. The family may not become Catholic soon. Only God knows that. They may not experience any sudden change. They may not ask for Baptism for a long time but a lot happened during our first encounter. By the way, when we were returning home one of the Turkmenian women said that it was her family and they had already known something about Christianity because she had told them about it when she had visited them after having been in church every Sunday. Therefore, it was evangelisation there. Someone was already a witness of Jesus Christ there. Asia is hungry for the Good News. It is wounded and the answer should be love, prayer for healing and above all, certain steps must be made: to get to know people and make friends. And it is not a case of proselytic conquest and Christian triumphalism but silent and discrete radiation of the beams of the Gospel into people’s lives. One should enter this road. And coming back to the family I talked about. It occurred that many of their neighbours also would like to visit them some evening. Naturally, we will try to visit those who invite us. This is an occasion to tell them about Lord Jesus – the Healer who brings the fullness of life, who is a friend of people, sinners and the enslaved. Therefore, we are facing great chances these days.
– We have the Year for Priests now and you are fulfilling your priesthood this way...
– Although I have no successes that can be measured statistically, every day of my life is filled. The Lord sends us the poor, those who need bread, conversation, medicaments and those who need love, respect and acceptance. May say that they could not image us not coming to them because the Gospel is changing them. When we arrived there several years ago people worked on Sundays, did their laundry, cultivated their lands, went out to the country, repaired their cars in their garages, and now they wear different clothes and celebrate. They say it is an amazing revolution for them because earlier they understood Sunday as a day to clean their households. They say that from now on they cannot imagine a different life, they cannot imagine life without Jesus and the Church. So we have people who themselves testify to the good they have gained by accepting the Gospel.
– Two opposing attitudes towards Sunday: cleaning and celebrating…
– Exactly. Now these people do not welcome us in their leisure suits, in their dressing gowns. Earlier their lives on Sundays were ‘around’ the vacuum cleaners. They say they cannot do without the liturgy on Sunday. They do not work on that day. They dress up for the Eucharistic Jesus, for the day of his Resurrection. We encourage them to pay visits, to go to the hospital to help patients, to deepen their spiritual lives by reading some religious book. One can see very concretely that the Gospel changes their hierarchy of values and duties. And although they regarded themselves as believing Muslims they actually did not know what faith was. Faith comes only with Jesus Christ when we get to know God and his love.