May I express my deep gratitude to the organizers for inviting me to speak at your Catholic Education Week. I am deeply honored and privileged to speak before you, realizing that I come from a country that is economically “down under.”
I wish to bring an Asian perspective to the theme of Catholic Education Week, “Called to Bring Hope.” The theme flows, I understand, from the message of the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, at the 24th World Youth Day in Australia. He encouraged young people all over the world, saying: “If Jesus has become your hope, communicate this to others with your joy and your spiritual, apostolic and social engagement…. spread this hope around you.”
I believe that it is this hope in Jesus that Pope Benedict XVI would refer to in his seminal social encyclical, Caritas in Veritate (June 29, 2009). There he speaks to us of hope in taking on a particular social mission, saying:
… we must adopt a realistic attitude as we take up with confidence and hope the new responsibilities to which we are called by the prospects of a world in need of profound cultural renewal, a world that needs to rediscover fundamental values on which to build a better future (no. 21).
Hope in Jesus towards a profound cultural renewal – might this not be the mission of education for our times? I ask this because obviously Australia is a multicultural society and cultures different from ours can sometimes be, unfortunately, the object of discrimination and bias, even of exclusion and alienation, as we so experience in the Philippines with regard to Muslim Moros and indigenous peoples.
Today one Australian newspaper brings this reality of culture to its readers with three news reports on racial abuse, on traditional lands, and on population and migration policies.
Allow me then to reflect with you about this educational mission of cultural renewal from the perspective of an Asian. I take this perspective of Asia not only because it is what I know best, but also because in the past three days I have seen a considerable number of Asians in Melbourne.
The Cultural Situation
In this reflection I take “culture” to mean generally and simply “a way of life”, a set of beliefs, values, attitudes, customs and traditions that are shared by a group and distinguish it from another. It is transmitted from one generation to another through language, rituals, institutions (e.g., family, and schools), laws, art, and tools of social communication. Thus we have Thai culture, Filipino culture, Chinese culture, Australian culture, American culture, an indigenous people’s culture, a culture of the poor, a culture of the young, culture of a dominant group, etc. In my own experience I find the culture of the poor one of simplicity. Even their prayers are direct, concrete, and specific. I remember one Bible Service in a Basic Ecclesial Community in one of the villages of my diocese during the long years of Martial Law. Civilian militias of the Marcos dictatorship had raided a village because of the suspected presence of armed subversives. Not finding them, the raiders took away chickens and pigs from the village people. In their Prayer of Intercession during the Bible Service, one lady prayed, “Let my pig which have been taken away from me die of sickness before the raiders eat it, let us pray to the Lord.” I did not know whether it was a curse or a prayer. Then I recalled the Magnificat of Mary, who declared that the Lord “has filled the hungry with good things and the rich he sent empty away.” With this thought, I responded “Lord, grant our prayer.”
Asia is known to be a rich mosaic of ancient cultures and languages. When I was a theology student in the 1960s many American classmates used to say that we Asians all “look the same.” We really don’t, even though appearances often mislead. Languages separate us. National costumes differ. Even the way we Asian Catholics worship differs from culture to culture. Thais, Vietnamese, Chinese, Koreans and Japanese celebrate Mass or relate to the sacred with more awe, silence and solemnity. Filipinos, Malaysians, and Indonesians seem to have more joyful Masses and have a sense of more carefree fellowship with the sacred. (I wonder if the Filipino, Vietnamese, and Indian priests in the St. Patrick’s Cathedral presbytery would agree with me). The way we think and value things also differ. Some observers say, for instance, that Westerners think in a linear way from point A to point B. But Asians think in a circular way arriving at the same point B.
We Asians despite our cultural differences do share some common values, very different from non-Asians. Using a relatively recent study of values held by certain cultures, it is possible to make the following observations regarding Asians:
1. Asian peoples and societies generally accept a structure of inequality as a given social and political reality.
2. Asians are generally low on an individualism index, tending more towards community and clan and are usually not inclined to be individualistic. Nuclear families, extended Asian families, and close family kinship are the general rule for cohesive harmony and security and even for the family’s social advancement.
3. Women in Asian societies are expected to play roles that are more home and children oriented and less career or profession oriented Men are expected to be more competitive, assertive and even aggressive and women to be more caring, gentle, and compassionate.
4. Asians have a high desire for certainty, have less tolerance for ambiguity and unstructured situations. We look for strict rules and believe in absolute religious truths.
5. Saving “face” or the avoidance of shame is one of the major dynamic inner forces that drive the typical Asian toward self development.
The many cases of suicide in some Asian countries are not due to despair or depression but due to lose of face – school children who because of failure in school are ashamed to face their parents, a husband who has lost considerable amount of money feeling too ashamed to face his wife, a young unmarried lady who learns she is pregnant and is ashamed to tell the truth to her parents. Examples abound.
From another perspective Pope John Paul II summed up the observations of Asian Bishops at the 1998 Synod of Bishops for Asia in the following way:
The people of Asia take pride in their religious and cultural values, such as love of silence and contemplation, simplicity, harmony, detachment, non-violence, the spirit of hard work, discipline, frugal living, the thirst for learning and philosophical enquiry. They hold dear the values of respect for life, compassion for all beings, closeness to nature, filial piety towards parents, elders and ancestors, and a highly developed sense of community. In particular they hold the family to be a vital source of strength, a closely knit community with a powerful sense of solidarity….
All of this indicates an innate spiritual insight and moral wisdom in the Asian soul, and it is the core around which a growing sense of “being Asian” is built. This “being Asian” is best discovered and affirmed not in confrontation and opposition, but in the spirit of complementarity and harmony (Ecclesia in Asia, 19986, no. 6)
One outstanding aspect of Asian cultures is our sense of the Transcendent:
A deep sense of the sacred still prevails among Asian peoples. We point to the finger of God in the significant events of our lives. (Natural disasters, floods, drought, earthquakes are due somehow to God’s inscrutable will. Asians can only say, “Leave it to God” - in Pilipino, Bahala na sa Dyos. We are not afraid to speak openly of God and his mysterious ways. We often go to holy places, visit churches, masjids (mosques), and temples for worship or for temporary refuge, silence, solitude from the busyness of life. We are deeply appreciative of men and women of God-experience. The sense of the divine is deeply ingrained in our Asian cultural psyche (Orlando B. Quevedo, O.M.I, “Today’s Culture and Consecrated Life,” FABC-OCL Seminar, Hua Hin, Thailand, November 17, 2009)
I might ask if the values I have mentioned resonate well with mainstream Australian culture. Perhaps the answer is yes and no, to lesser or greater degree.
The same value study previously cited has the following value description of Australians:
You have a very high level of individuality with the individualism index at 90%, the highest score of any country behind the United States at 91%. You also have greater equality between societal levels, gender, and within families. Further your desire for certainty is much lesser than the world’s average. This would mean that Australians are comfortable with less law, less structure, and less absolute truth, more individual freedom.
Is this true?
Moreover an information sheet by the Australian Foreign Affairs is rather noteworthy. It observes that Australians have commonly shared values, particularly respect for individual dignity and rights regardless of culture, religion, or gender. It has also been said that egalitarianism has become, in the era of multiculturalism, a lived Australian value – a fact that contrasts starkly with the glaring social, economic, and political inequalities in many Asian societies.
The Need for Cultural Renewal
The Asian cultural map is truly striking in its rich kaleidoscope of varying ancient cultures. It is from this cultural reality that the Church in Asia underscores inculturation and the solidarity of diverse cultures as a vision of the Church.
Surely the desired ideal of cultural unity in diversity is an objective as well for a multicultural society like Australia.
But in all cultures there are values that, in the light of our Catholic religious faith, are ambivalent or at worst negative. Take, for instance, the Asian value of strong family-centeredness. How a mother of father or one of the children would sacrifice by venturing abroad at great risk and work for three to five years sometimes under dehumanizing conditions in certain foreign countries! And the reason for this sacrifice is the family. So that with money earned abroad the family might have a better future or that other members of the family could go to school. I remember a Filipina in Italy. Armed with a chemistry degree, she taught for several years at a university in the Philippines. But she wanted to send her children to the best schools in Manila and she could not do that on her teacher’s salary. She applied to be a domestic helper in Italy and she got a job. From university teacher to domestic helper, all for the sake of her family.
But the same value becomes negative when the good of the family comes first before the public good and becomes the cause of corruption in public and private life. Certainly a purification of values would be necessary.
In certain Asian cultures, the renewal of values might require the rooting out of exclusive ethnocentrism and caste-ism that generate biases, discrimination and oppression. Or the dismantling of traditional structures of patriarchy and other forms of social injustice that keep large sectors of society subservient, marginalized, and oppressed.
Social analysis and faith discernment would be needed to judge what values have to be purified and renewed. Surely this is also necessary for Australia in the task of cultural renewal.
A Globalizing Post-Modern Culture – Secularism and Relativism
There is yet another major dimension, not intra-cultural but intercultural. The call to cultural renewal sounded by the Pope Benedict XVI concerns emerging global values.
In 2004 the Plenary Assembly of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences in Daejeon, Korea sounded out an alarm regarding the negative features of globalization:
Of even greater significance, economic globalization is also bringing cultural globalization in its wake. Since the middle of the 20th century Western secularism has been strongly influencing Asian societies. But at no time has the secularizing process, now with significant post-modern spirit of individualistic sense of freedom, been more rapid and effective in reshaping the value systems of Asian families than in the last two decades of the 20th century. The bearers of this change are economics… and the on-going revolution in mass global communications that has truly made the world a global village (Final Document, no.21).
We recall that the philosophies of the Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th centuries proclaimed the primacy of reason and rejected religious faith and authority. The emergence of Modernism, coincided with the era of scientific revolution. European intellectuals began to deny divine revelation or “God’s meta-narrative.” Armed with reason and science, Modernism rejected “traditional” religious beliefs and asserted a “meta-narrative of human scientific progress.”
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries came what might be called the post-modern philosophies of Karl Marx and Friedrich Nietzsche which emphasized subjectivity rather than objectivity. As a consequence they rejected the universality of all meta-narratives whether that of human reason or of religious faith. Skepticism regarding social and moral norms was the order of the day.
The evolution of Western intellectual thought historically followed this trajectory. Today the emerging global technological culture exhibits the world view of the postmodern spirit. It rejects objective truth and gives primacy to personal subjectivity. It professes incredulity at all meta-narratives that claim absolute truth. It believes as true only what the self interprets and constructs in personal narratives. Having rejected all dogma, it ironically presented one universal dogma, namely, truth is relative. Hence pluralism regarding truth. Someone has called this type of pluralism as an ideology of “whateverism.” (On this issue of modernism and post-modernism as developed in terms of “the rise and fall of disbelief in the modern world,” Alister McGrath, The Twilight of Atheism, 2004, pp. 144-169, 217-237, is a highly readable scholarly presentation).
On the other hand from a positive point of view the post-modern spirit has highlighted individual human dignity, autonomy and human rights so characteristic of the West. It has also pointed out the importance and necessity of personal historicity, personal narratives and subjective experience, including feelings, in integral human growth towards maturity in Christ. Today these dimensions of the person are important in discerning the movement of the Holy Spirit in one’s life.
The Marginalization of Faith and of the Sacred
While recognizing some of the positive dimensions of the post-modern spirit, the origins and the emphases of western intellectual thought nevertheless gradually overhauled many cherished fundamental values related to God, the world, the human person and human relationships. Its notable effect is the marginalization of religious faith and the sense of the sacred. In brief, post-modernism represents a world view that in many ways contradicts the view of our own religious faith, anchored as it is in God’s meta-narrative found in Sacred Scriptures, interpreted and taught by the Church.
Admittedly this is a simplified way of considering the post-modern spirit. But it might be helpful towards understanding the emerging and globalizing culture of secularism, subjectivism and relativism that is now a matter of great anxiety for the cultures of Asia. It also helps us to understand why the Popes of the last five decades, particularly Pope John II and Benedict XVI, have inveighed so frequently and forcefully against subjectivism, relativism, individualism, nihilism, and consumerism. The clash of cultures is in fact between that of this world and that of the Gospel.
Here the prayer of Jesus to the Father for his disciples becomes profoundly relevant:
I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world anymore than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may truly be sanctified (Jn. 17: 14-19).
Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, echoes the prayer of the Jesus as he exhorts the Christians in Rome:
I urge you to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will (Rom. 17: 1-2).
Education as Bearer of Hope in a Crisis of Values
The clash of cultures expresses itself concretely in a crisis of values. Economic globalization and cultural globalization together with profound scientific and technological development, disseminated by the tools of social communication, have affected human life throughout the world. Economically and socially the gap between rich and poor has widened. Massive migration of workers from poor countries has put great pressure on their families in their countries of origin and on policy makers in countries of destination. While multiculturalism and ethnic as well as religious pluralism enrich different cultures, they also bring in new challenges. People also speak about the clash of civilizations. Indeed, we observe tensions of value both within cultures and also between cultures.
Clearly we discern here the relevance and necessity of the educational process. Education after all is not merely the imparting of knowledge but also the transmission of cultural values cherished by generations. It has also to sift the ephemeral from the fundamental, the merely temporal from the perennial. In the light of the crisis of values, we might ask what kind of cultural renewal is expected of the educational enterprise.
I believe that educators are called to bring hope:
• to young men and women who are searching for the fundamental meaning of their life;
• to those who find themselves in the periphery of a culture they are not fully at home with;
• to those who by reason of poverty are deprived of access to the wellsprings of cultural development and of scientific and technological knowledge;
• to those who thirst for more than security and stability and crave for the serenity that quenches the innate thirst of the human soul for ultimate truth;
• to those who long for authentic community and fellowship beyond their family circles and their small circle of friends;
• to those who aspire to read more deeply the signs of the times and to reach the answers to questions of human joy and suffering, of justice and peace, and of human destiny;
• to those who want to know lasting reasons for their own hope.
Love as the Driving Force for Cultural Renewal
Education then is called to bring hope, to assist, to guide, slowly, evocatively and gradually young men and women to the ultimate fulfillment of hope.
In fact, Canon Law says:
Since a true education must strive for the integral formation of the human person,
a formation which looks toward the person’s final end,
and at the same time toward the common good of societies,
children and young people are to be so reared that they can develop harmoniously their physical, moral and intellectual talents,
that they acquire a more perfect sense of responsibility and a correct use of freedom,
and that they may be educated for active participation in social life.
Succinctly, here we have the axiomatic fourfold description of Catholic education; holistic and integral, developmental, personal, and social.
However for a person of faith there is one key moral value of development and growth to human maturity that the educational process has to inculcate. This key moral value is authentic love.
Caritas in veritate, charity in truth – this is the resounding theme of Pope Benedict XVI”s social encyclical which begins thus:
Charity in truth, to which Jesus Christ bore witness by his earthly life and especially by his death and resurrection, is the principal driving force behind the authentic development of every person and of all humanity. Love – caritas – is an extraordinary force which leads people to opt for courageous and generous engagement in the field of justice and peace. It is a force hat has its origin in God. Eternal Love and Absolute Truth…. Charity is at the heart of the Church’s social doctrine (Caritas in Veritate, nos. 1-2).
Charity as “the principal driving force behind the authentic development of every person and of all humanity” -- how could the educational process make learners become deeply aware of the “interior pulse to love authentically” which, as the Pope states, is a “vocation planted by God in the heart of every human person”?
One has to realize that mere self-development through education is incomplete; love is not merely love of self. Beyond self-perfection is self transcendence; love is authentic (love in truth) to the extent that it reaches out to others, particularly to the poor and the needy, in the manner of Jesus, who is God’s compassion.
This is why the Spirit of Love, who is also the Spirit of Wisdom and Knowledge, of Understanding and Counsel, is really the principal educator, renewing, transforming, and guiding. His role in the educational process is an absolute requirement. In the renewal of the mind and heart, in the search for meaning, it is the Holy Spirit who reveals “the dearest freshness deep down things.” This of course entails faith, the eyes of faith.
What then might be the implications of this mission to renew culture and its values in the face of a crisis of values?
Allow me to respond with a brief personal view of education towards cultural renewal in the light of our faith.
A vision of education as an evangelizing instrument in the renewal of culture is necessary. Without a vision, education would be myopic. We might recall a statement from the Old Testament that without a vision, a people will perish. I believe such of vision of education should include the following major dimensions:
• The work of education is a vocation and a mission;
• This vocation is to draw out from the human person his / her innate vocation to love in truth.
• Beyond simply actual professional training, education must teach perennial values about God, the world, the human person and human community;
• Its aim is to build community out of cultural and economic diversity;
• It assists in the liberation of the human person from the poverty of not having and not knowing to the richness of being more.
• It has to be a vehicle for ultimate meaning and for ultimate truth.
With this vision, education would indeed be a hope bearer resonating with the spirit of that valiant woman of Australia, Blessed Mary MacKillop, who expressed what it means to be a disciple of Christ: “Wherever we are, whoever we are, whatever we do, we are called to relieve suffering and bring hope.”
Deep down, the modern heart wants to hear the “good news.” Is this not the fundamental meaning of the Gospel, the evangelium?
Evangelization is after all the mission of announcing the Good News.
In sum, in its task of evangelization, Education has to announce and communicate the Good News, not words or ideas, not mere knowledgew or skills, not laws or structures, certainly not causes or ideologies.
The Good News is a Person who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life – the sum of all human values, a Person beyond all persons, totally extraordinary in the way he lived, died, and rose from the dead. He has a face. He has a name, Jesus of Nazareth.
He is the one about whom Augustine, that once great pagan sinner and philosopher and later the magnificent African truth-searcher, theologian, and profoundly holy man would exclaim, “My heart is restless until it rests in You.”
Thank you for your patient listening and endurance.
+Orlando B. Quevedo, O.M.I.
Archbishop of Cotabato, Philippines
Secretary General, Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences
Melbourne Catholic Education Week
March 16, 2010