"The origin of the church is poverty," said newly minted Philippine Cardinal Orlando Quevedo at a press briefing in Rome last week. "And the journey of Jesus Christ was the journey with poor people. Today, the church has riches, institutions. But I would like to think that the only way the church can redeem these resources as well as its institutions would be to place them at the service of justice and of the poor for the sake of the kingdom of God."
Cardinal Orlando Quevedo has been a lead architect in the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, a body representing more than 100 million Catholics that has courageously pushed forward the values of Vatican II amid traditionalist backlash. According to an article yesterday in the National Catholic Reporter, Quevedo spoke of an Asian vision of church built on basic ecclesial communities with a collaborative leadership style. (Read more on Quevedo and the Pope’s new cardinals here).
What might that look like? According to Tom Kyle who has researched Asian Catholicism and in particular the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, there are certain identifiable characteristics in Asian Catholicism that should mark everything the local church does. Among them are:
- A recognition of the fundamental equality of all members of the local church and among the local churches themselves.
- An understanding that all internal church organization is to be participatory and collaborative and never top-down or dictatorial. According to Peter Phan in A New Way of Being Church: Perspectives from Asia in Governance, Accountability and the Future of the Catholic Church, “ In the church, loyalty is owed to no one but Christ, and a bishop is not beholden to the pope for his episcopal office, nor is he the pope’s vicar. It is much more theologically appropriate to describe the relationship between the local Church and the pope in terms of collegiality and solidarity.”
- A commitment to carrying out and ongoing three-way dialogue with Asian cultures, with Asian religions, and with Asian people, especially the poor. “Being a small remnant, and likely to remain so for the foreseeable future, Christians must journey with the followers of other Asian religions, and together with them – not instead of or, worse, against them – work for the coming of the Kingdom of God,” says Phan.
When Quevedo’s name was first announced on the list of new cardinals, I contacted Redemptorist brother Karl Gaspar in the Philippines to ask what he know about him.
“I have known Cardinal Quevedo for almost 40 years now,” Gaspar told me, “since he was made a bishop of a small diocese in the Cotabato Region in Mindanao, in southern Philippines. Later he was made Archbishop of Cotabato, a region in our country where there is a big population of people of different cultures and faith, namely the various indigenous communities (some of whom still practice their indigenous belief system and Muslims). In the early 2000s, our mission team worked in his Archdiocese among the Dulangan Manobo, the upland indigenous people in the Archdiocese and we were very much inspired by him and he was very supportive of what we did in the area of inculturation, inter-faith dialogue, and human rights promotion.”
If Pope Francis is sending a signal with his “red hat” choices, then it was even more heartening — and surprising — on Saturday when Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI made a rare public appearance to put his own imprimatur on the new cardinals.
The life — and future — of the Catholic church is in the Global South. And where the church is thoroughly inculturated — such as the Asian Bishops Conference — it looks radically more like Jesus and markedly less like Rome.
Rose Marie Berger, a Sojourners senior associate editor, is a Catholic peace activist and poet. @RMBerger