Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Church from an Asian perspective: too Westernised and too intellectual ?

In The Times there is an interesting obituary of the late Cardinal Stephen Fumio Hamao, former Bishop of Yokohama and former president of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travellers who died on November 8, 2007.

"The Japanese Cardinal Stephen Fumio Hamao, a former president of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travellers, thought the Vatican “excessively Westernised”. The Church's focus on Europe, he thought, meant that the Roman Curia struggled to understand the mentality of Asia's Christians.

Recent papal exhortations for priests to use more Latin merely reflected, said Hamao, the Vatican's inability to comphrehend the culture of the Far East. Using Latin, said the Cardinal, was “impossible for Asians”, “European- centred” and “too much”, although years earlier Hamao had instructed the Emperor of Japan in the language while he was still a crown prince.

Likewise, while Jesus and the Gospel appealed to the Japanese, Hamao judged the Church's westernised theology “over-intellectualised” and too alien to touch the Japanese heart. To counter this Eurocentric focus, Hamao urged Pope Benedict XVI to appoint more Asians to the Roman Curia. Three weeks later the Pope appointed an Indian, Cardinal Ivan Dias of Bombay, prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples.

Stephen Fumio Hamao was born in Tokyo in 1930, the third son of Viscount Hamao Shiro. His family, like many Japanese, kept both a Shinto and a Buddhist temple at home, until in 1942 when his widowed mother became a Catholic. Hamao was baptised four years later, along with his brother, a future chamberlain to Emperor Akihito of Japan.

After attending the state university in Tokyo, he entered the seminary, a decision for which his mother was criiticised vociferously by her family. In December 1957, after studies in Rome, Hamao was ordained a priest, later becoming auxiliary bishop of Tokyo and in 1979 was appointed Bishop of Yokohama, Japan's second most populous city. While there, Hamao became head of the AsiaOceania branch of the charity Caritas and was noted for his concern for the poor, refugees and immigrants. In 1995 he was elected president of the Japanese Episcopal Conference; three years later John Paul II named him president of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travellers.

Made a cardinal in 2003, Hamao resigned from the council in March 2006. A month earlier he helped to persuade the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints to beatify 188 17th-century Japanese martyrs. The beatification — the last step before sainthood — will be the first to take place in Japan, and will occur in Nagasaki next November. The beatifications, Hamao declared, would benefit all Japanese, not just Christians, as the right to religious belief was “a fundamental human right”. While Japan upholds freedom on religious belief, Hamao said many there view religion as a matter of family tradition, rather than personal conviction. The Christian faith, he added, while respected in Japan, is often perceived, because Christians attend Church every Sunday, as compared to the once-yearly obligatory temple visit for Buddhists — as exceptionally strict."

He was responsible for the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People`s Document: People on the Move N° 97, April 2005- The Instruction Erga migrantes caritas Christi: a Response of the Church to the Migration Phenomenon Today which is on the Vatican website. and other important documents on migration listed here.