For almost 30 years I have been a missionary in the east, lived and worked in countries where Christians are a small minority. My own theological and formation took place in the sixties, and the Vatican spirit of Gaudium et Spes was very alive. When I reflect on my own formation for Justice and Peace, there are 2 conversion experiences that come to mind.
Ma Hsiaop Bing, a young immigrant from China to Taiwan had been given the death penalty due to kidnapping. Ma was a poor Chinese laborer who was pressured by his family to send money home to China. Unemployed and desperate as he was, he kidnapped the child of a rich Taiwanese family, and released the child unharmed after he got some money. Later Ma was caught.
Since the law in Taiwan says that any case of kidnapping should get the death penalty, Ma was sentenced to death. JPIC-Taiwan felt that indeed this man had committed a crime for which he should be punished, but certainly not death penalty. JPIC-Taiwan wanted to make an appeal for this young man, asking the president to spare his life. To build a broad coalition we did reach out to the Buddhist monasteries, and some monks decided to join us to petition the president. They joined us in the actual protest in March to the presidential palace. The protest made a great impact on the Taiwanese society. Never had they seen a Buddhist monk together with Catholics and Protestants!
Our petition was not a success. A few days later Ma was executed by firing squad. Yet the plight of Ma had touched the heart of many Taiwanese citizens. Both Buddhists and Christians were moved by compassion for Ma, and this action was the basis for more inter-religious cooperation for Justice and Peace.
When CICM started the new mission of Mongolia in 1992, we made it a point to visit all the Protestant churches and Buddhist monasteries.
One day we had made an appointment with a Lama monk, who was the head of a newly established school for Mongolian medicine, based in a Lamist temple.
After waiting for an hour, the head lama invited us in his office, where we were seated five steps below his throne. We explained how we Catholics have a great respect for other religions, that the Pope has received the Dalai Lama and that we want to do our mission work in Mongolia in collaboration with all religions.
The head Lama gave us a very unexpected reaction. He said that Christian missionaries have no business in his country. That we were abusing our prestige and money to make Mongolian converts and that we were not welcomed in the land of Genghis Khan. One day, he said, Mongolia will be strong again, and the wind of Buddhism will wipe you from the face of this country. You, Christians, have no roots here. The soul of Mongolia is Lamist, and I will remain so forever.
This was the end of our dialogue. We never met the Lama again.
2. Formative Aspects
2.1. Global compassion
Reflecting on these 2 experiences, I ask: why were we able to find a common ground with the Buddhists in Taiwan and not in Mongolia? Why the success and why the failure?
In Taiwan the monks felt that we were moved by compassion, and this created a strong bond for a common action for justice. In Mongolia the Lama saw us as competitors, taking away people from his temple. Our nice words and theology could not convey the message of care and concern for the Mongolian people.
My life has been a going back and forth between these 2 experiences of compassion and competition.
The way for a lifelong formation for JPIC is a formation I would call, the road of global compassion. It is a constant challenge.
There are many aspects to it:
-to walk with the people and share their sufferings;
-to listen to their stories and pains;
-to learn their language and sing their songs.
Our missionary church has had many negative experiences when dealing with other cultures. We wanted to bring (and very often force&!) our form of justice, our way to peace and our understanding of integrity of creation.
-a formation for solidarity which should take our passion for injustice and transform it into global and productive compassion;
-try the various forms of solidarity that should be incarnated in our life, grounded in our communities and lived in our churches. We often give a double message of compassion and power and this makes solidarity for justice really difficult;
-put our Christian tradition as a wealth of treasurers of models and actions which are based on compassion. Remember the workers movement of Dorothy Day, for example! Or Msgr Oscar Romero who remains a powerful example for many of us! The event, which changed his life from a religious administrator to a compassionate pastor, was the death of his friend, Rutilio Grande.
2.2. Productive Compassion
There are 3 requirements to productive compassion:
Our compassionate actions will have to be well researched and documented. Compassion is not naïve, but informed and knowledgeable. We can read the Tablet and the National Catholic Reporter (NCR). We have working groups on debts and global warming and we can join them. A solid base on the social doctrines of the church can also guide and enlighten our global compassion.
In our Catholic tradition we have many congregations and groups who have different approaches and focuses. This is a great richness, but there is a need to choose. We need to be focused, knowing that the problem is complex. We may lobby the G8 to forgive the debt; or work against landmines; or even ask for the establishment of international tribunals to deal with terrorists. We can network with other groups to give our focus more clarity and power. The list is endless, but we have to make a choice!
Our justice actions will have to be appropriate and flexible.
In Robert Schreiter s talk to SEDOS in 2000, he made a dramatic appeal to leave some of our less productive actions and analyses behind, and do formation-for-justice with focus on reconciliation. Ongoing discernment makes our action flexible and open to evolving needs and realities.
2.3. Formation for Justice is an exercise in stretching our imagination
In each individual and each community we will have to see how we can stretch our willingness to be open and compassionate. We will need to evaluate some of our compulsions and preferences, and prioritize our resources.
Formation for justice is also a formation to live with the tensions of life. Living gently with our limitations is a very important justice-attitude. From the microcosm of our local community to the macrocosm of the global project, the tension will always be there. But each action has its shadow.
3. A few more examples
3.1. Community Living
Justice and compassion should be learned in the communities where we live. Many of us live in international communities, giving extra opportunities and extra grace to be in touch with the injustices of many countries and people.
The stories of the people who are close to us can open our hearts to compassion and solidarity for oppressed people in so many places.
3.2. Living in Italy
Living in Rome and in Italy can be a grace to open our hearts. I would say that Italy is probably the most just country from all the other ones I have lived in or visited. The tolerance of the Italians for the gypsies and immigrants is amazing.
I feel a great gratitude to the Italian people for accepting me/us foreigners into their beloved country. Everyday I am inspired and frustrated too to see how Italians can live with tension and un-clarity.
Not being able to speak good Italian is another grace; like a child, by looking or groping for words I (we) can remain always with an open heart to learn!
3.3. Fair trade
In our community we drink fair trade coffee in the morning. Its taste might be a bit unusual and the price is a bit more expensive. And yet, it is the coffee that connects us daily with the lives of the poor laborers in Latin America who have to toil for life. The simple act of drinking coffee can connect us to the poor farmer who may not be able to send his/her children to school.
It also reminds us that we can make our compassion productive by knowing -that a fair trade price will be paid to the families who work in fair trade cooperatives, -that the farmer will be able to feed his family&.
3.4. Amnesty International
The story of political prisoners can be a great help not to forget the sufferings of many people imprisoned all over the world. Peter Beneson had the genial idea to turn his anger at repression in Portugal into productive compassion for imprisoned students. The appeals for i nostri appelli includes this month, Li Wangyang and Le Wanglin. To write a letter to Chiang Che Min is also writing our own heart.
Since my arrival in Rome, I have used the bicycle as my means of transportation and encouraged others to do so. Timothy Radcliff wrote in his interview that we see a world very different from the perspective of Mercedes Benz when we are on a bicycle.
I also do hope that the mayor of Rome will be more compassionate to add a separate bike lane on all the streets of Rome so that biking becomes a bit easier. The JPIC promoters could pay the mayor a trip to Holland, to see how every street in the Dutch cities has a bike lane. It needs a bit of stretching the imagination, but it can surely be done!
4. A Final Story: The Way of the Cross
For some time in Taiwan I was chair of AI. Some religious communities invited me give a talk to JPIC and I tried to introduce to these communities some concrete actions for justice. Since many communities had the tradition of having a weekly way of the cross, I suggested that once a month they could change this practice of praying the passion of Christ by writing a letter asking for the release of a political prisoner. Both actions have the same purpose: discipleship.
By reflecting on the passion of Jesus, we are invited to follow his way. Political prisoners are continuing the passion of Christ. To work for their cause or for their release is to continue the mission of Jesus in a very concrete way.
Integrating JPIC formation into our programs will mean to stretch our imagination to make our compassion deep, our actions creative and productive, and our formation solid, focused and flexible.