A Franciscan Challenge in China

Superior Recalls Importance of Inculturation

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ROME, JAN. 25, 2010 (Zenit.org).- When the Franciscans can count a significant group of native Chinese among there number, a goal of the order will have been achieved and the Church will have a working model of inculturation.

This was one of the reflections made by Father José Rodríguez Carballo, superior-general of the Franciscans, at a study day last week in Rome.

The superior of the Friars Minor observed that Chinese society is going through “a historic period of transition toward ever greater collaboration with the Western world, especially in the economic realm.”

This transition, Father Rodríguez Carballo suggested, has a particular manifestation in young people: “The youth seem empty of values, and among the most sensitive, there is the search for a new spirituality that can give meaning to their lives.
“In this connection, it seems to many people that Christianity, insofar as a foreign religion, can offer something new and something more in relation to already known or experienced religions or ideologies in China.
“And this explains in part the relative growth of Christianity in the continent, and also the participation of Buddhists in the most important celebrations of the Catholic Church.”

A challenge

Father Rodríguez Carballo pointed to this context as a challenge for the Church and for Franciscans, to discover “how to help the society in this time of transition.”

He emphasized various commitments that he considers key for the order to undertake.
“For us, Franciscans, the first form of inculturation is the implantatio Ordinis in China,” he said. In other words, the priest explained, the order must form true native Friars Minor, to incarnate our charism in Chinese religiosity and culture and, as a consequence, to offer the Church a lived model of inculturation.
A second challenge is that of “contributing in an important way to internal communion in the only Church there is in China,” followed by commitment to social works and human promotion,  Father Rodríguez Carballo said.
He added, “Today, evangelization in China still passes through social and charitable activities, in which the silent but living witness of so many religious is an eloquent message of the values of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Similarly, the superior-general noted the importance of “human and cultural promotion.”
“Not a few Franciscans have dedicated themselves to the Chinese language” and have carried out “many humanitarian and charitable endeavors,” dedicated above all to people of rural areas, he said. But the main activity, Father Rodríguez Carballo continued, has been the diffusion of the Gospel, “to make known the person of Jesus Christ, to awaken and support conversions to Christianity and to offer God’s grace with the administration of the sacraments.”

The Franciscan superior also emphasized the importance in China of the history of martyrdom.
After having lived through so many difficulties, the witness of martyrdom could not but be especially important, he affirmed: that of the first missionaries and the terrible experiences of “so many anonymous friars who gave their life with penury and sufferings of several types in prison.”

In this context, Father Rodríguez Carballo pointed out that “to say Franciscan vocation means to say commitment to come out of oneself,” and “to start walking, through the streets of the world, to proclaim the Gospel, as Friars and Minors,” because “the Gospel is a gift which is to be shared.”

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