In the previous three sections, we examined three issues—politics, inculturation, and evangelization—that penetrate right to the heart of how the Catholic Faith is perceived, practiced, and propagated in Asia. From the first century until today, these three realities—and their associated successes and setbacks—have defined the Church’s existence on the continent.
Far from going away, these issues promise to remain relevant far into the future. The Church in Asia will always be forced to respond to changing political landscapes, inculturation considerations, and evangelization challenges, but how it does so at this moment in history—amidst a rapidly modernizing and globalizing world—will leave a permanent mark on both the continent and the Faith.
Over the next 50 years, the freedom of the Catholic Church will likely continue to be compromised in communist China and Vietnam. In the former specifically, the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association will persist in ordaining bishops without the consent of the Vatican, leading to repeated escalations in tensions similar to the 2012 episode. Persecution of underground Catholics loyal to the pope will only intensify, yet just as centuries ago in Japan and Korea, many will remain true to their faith at any cost—including their lives. Historically, persecution has been the purifying fire of Christianity, and as the communist government continues its propaganda machine, Jesus Christ is quietly becoming more popular on Twitter than Chairman Mao.
Also within the next half-century, the Church will have to decide how to best express the Faith to an increasingly Eastern flock. This means confronting the issues of inculturation head-on, and with it, this question: Does the Catholic Faith belong to the culture, or does it make cultures? If the former, then the only thing “universal” about Catholicism will be the variation that exists in its practice throughout Asia—and indeed the entire world. History, however, points to the latter. The Catholic Faith has always had a transformative aspect on the culture around it, and in this regard, Catholicism is a culture within itself. Thus, in the future, the notion of inculturation will become not so much about forging a Catholicism that is European or Asian, but a Europe or Asia that is Catholic.
Finally, with regard to evangelization, Christ will continue to make new disciples through His Church. Historically, currently, and in the future, this missionary mandate has been, is, and will always be the biggest challenge for the Faith in every region. With regard to Asia specifically, the growth of Catholicism will undoubtedly increase. Nevertheless, the latest statistics confirm that much work remains to be done—to say the least.
If the Church is to truly “bring salvation to the ends of the earth” it will have to re-emphasize that the work of evangelization is not limited to the temporal, but extends to the eternal. Converts will not be made by an excessive focus on ecumenism and interfaith dialogue, but instead by emphasizing, as the Vatican was recently forced to re-affirm, the absolute truth of Jesus Christ and the Catholic Faith and against “relativistic theories which seek to justify religious pluralism” (Dominus Iesus 4). Having recovered the missionary zeal of the past, the Church of the future will proceed ever more effectively with the evangelization of the continent.
Indeed, if the Catholic Church in Asia can adequately respond to these challenges of politics, inculturation, and evangelization, the harvest of Christ’s seed will indeed be abundant. Even as it illuminates Asia, this light of faith will be visible far beyond the physical boundaries of the continent. Accordingly, in our final section of this project we’ll consider the implications of the growing Faith in Asia on the future face of global Catholicism.