Being Church in Asia: New Evangelization and Challenges

Joseph Mattam, SJ.

(Asian Conference on New Evangelization, 4-6/9/2012, Ishvani Kendra, Pune).


Since some time, the expression “New Evangelization” has come into our theological and ecclesial vocabulary and the Pope has called for a Synod to articulate a vision and strategy for such an endeavor. This is addressed primarily to those who were once believers and are now no more interested in the Christian faith; millions in Europe and America show no more interest in the ‘faith’ that once governed their life. Proclaiming the gospel to such persons is not going to be an easy task. However, this invitation to New Evangelisation (NE) is a grace filled moment for the Church to return to Jesus and rediscover itself in the way Jesus had envisaged his Body to be in the world, as the salt, leaven and light.  If the Church responds to this invitation and becomes the kind of Church that Jesus wanted, then this NE will be a great blessing for the world.  This calls for a lot of honesty; we need to look at the past and see where we have gone wrong which has led so many to leave the church. It seems to me that the only way we can do this NE is by going back to the very old pattern of the early church of the first century, when there was a lot of enthusiasm, zeal and commitment to Jesus. Obviously, we cannot turn back the calendar and the clock, but we can look back to our roots and rediscover the essentials that we seem to have allowed to slip away.

In this paper I shall not focus on the normal themes like the wider context that affects the message, as we are familiar with our context: religious pluralism, religious intolerance, communalism, and fundamentalism; the massive poverty of the millions; illiteracy; female infanticide; child labour; abuse of women and many other factors that deeply affect our  mission work. This is an important area that we have to keep in mind. But I rather want to focus on the reasons for the present impasse, which unfortunately the Lineamenta does not seem to do, and see what it is that is going to be ‘new’ in our present day approach. Without a proper diagnosis, one cannot prescribe a remedy.

1. The Old Approach

At first we shall look briefly at the ‘old’, as what happened in the past has its effects on the Church today, and especially on the abandoning of the faith by millions of ‘believers’. In the early centuries, ‘gossiping the gospel’ by every member of the believing community was the way the faith spread; also the mutual love of the members of the community brought in followers (Acts). Later with more aggressive evangelisation, due to the natural-supernatural divide that made baptism absolutely necessary for salvation, evangelisation came to be the task only of the Clergy and Religious. In this period certain emphases marked our efforts.

1.1 Great importance to doctrines

The evangelisation work in the past emphasized a great deal (far too much) the importance of dogmas, doctrines and statements of faith formulated and taught by the Church.  Faith itself was understood as an assent to these truths. Catechism books emphasized doctrines and children had just to memorize many unintelligible formulae. This emphasis had devastating consequences like heresy hunting, the Inquisition, burning of heretics, torture, witch-burning and other cruelties in the name of the God, and divisions in the Body of Christ. There was a time when people were in awe of words like ‘hypostatic union’, ‘transubstantiation’, ‘consubstantial’, etc, but today people just do not care about these and similar words; they just ignore such.  I am not saying that doctrinal developments are unnecessary; they all had their reason at certain time in history; but now we need to go back to the Gospels and present Jesus to the people. What was originally a revolutionary, counter-cultural movement became dogmatic and ritualistic rather than being faithful to its original call to be radical, revolutionary and prophetic.There was also a shift from experiencing Jesus to thinking and talking about Jesus.

1.2 Emphasis on cultic practices

Another emphasis of this period was cultic practices and rituals. The Church has built thousands of beautiful churches and developed elaborate, lengthy liturgies in various Rites. The number of sacraments grew and finally, thanks to Peter Lombard’s synthesis, the 4thLateran Council declared that there were the present seven sacraments. Prayers, Novenas and other devotions too grew, as also the number of saints and blessed, though it was during John Paul II’s time that the greatest number was added to the list of saints and blessed. The mediatory role of the saints was very much emphasized, as God came to be seen more and more like the emperor, inaccessible to the ordinary, requiring mediators on earth and in heaven. So, our unique God-given Mediator, Jesus suffered a setback.

1.3 Monoculturalism

Mono-culturalism ruled the Church for centuries. The church as it was in Europe was literally transplanted in the so-called mission countries allowing no creativity in these countries. Examples abound: Mateo Ricci, de Nobili and others who attempted something in line with the culture and habits of the people were not only opposed but were condemned. The perennial theology of St Thomas was compulsorily taught everywhere and that too, in Latin. That assured uniformity which was considered a great value. The Church remained basically Eurocentric; even today when one looks at the number of office bearers in the Vatican Curia and central commissions, and the number of Cardinals one sees that it is mostly Eurocentric, though there are more Christians in Africa and Asia compared to the European countries.

1.4 The Clergy-Laity Divide

The clergy-laity divide is another characteristic of this period that has deeply affected the life of Christians. Without denying the great good the clerics have done throughout the centuries, we must not ignore the harm it has done to the Church. This division which was not known for the first two centuries, would eventually control the life of the Church. This division does not stem from Jesus, for he did not seem to want a two-tier Church made up of a superior class called Clerics and an inferior class of the laity. For Jesus, all his followers are equal as brothers /sisters/friends (Matt 23.8ff; Jn 13), though they have distinct functions. Paul was clear about the distinction of charisms and functions but without the notion of a hierarchy of persons (1Cor 12. 12ff; Rom 12.4ff; Eph 4.11ff) and was unaware of what today we call ‘priests’. [1]

Jesus did not leave behind him a hierarchy, a class of people called “priests”. Whenever he used the term ‘priest’ it was about the Jewish priests for whom he had little regard (Luke 10.31; 17.14). Jesus never spoke of himself or any of his disciples as priests; the gospels and the genuine Pauline epistles do not present Jesus as a priest. If Jesus had spoken of himself as a ‘priest’ that would have totally misled the people about his identity and mission. Only the letter to the Hebrews, with justifiable reason presents Jesus as a priest and his murder as a sacrifice; but then that is the end of priesthood. The main function of the Jewish priests at Jesus’ time was offering sacrifices, and Jesus, like the prophets before him (e.g., Amos 5.21-22, 25) was opposed to sacrifices (Matt 9.13; 12.7); his cleansing of the temple, the prediction of its destruction and his words to the Samaritan woman (Jn 4. 21-24) show that he wanted a completely new form of worship and a new type of community which would give primacy to interpersonal relations over cultic acts (Matt 5.23; 25. 31ff). Jesus does not seem to have interest in cultic practices. His visits to the temple were primarily to teach. Through his attacks on them the temple priests became the arch enemies of Jesus and, ultimately it is they who turn him over to the Romans. Had Jesus wanted the priesthood to be the backbone of his community, definitely he would have spoken about it. The generally held view that on Maundy Thursday Jesus ‘ordained priests’ has no foundation in the NT.  Besides, from what I have mentioned above, it is clear that Jesus could not have thought of ordaining ‘priests’ before his death, as ‘priests’ were not in his horizon. Professor Herbert Haag of the Catholic Universities of Tubingen and Lucerne says: “The New Testament does not recognize any priesthood, whether sacramental or universal” (H. Haag 1997: 72)[2]. Quoting Haring, Haag says: “The Church of the first three centuries did not know…either the concept or the reality of a ‘clergy’” (p. 45); he traces the formation of classes of priests separated from the people back to the “fall of the Constantinian era” (p. 45).

The NT had a multiplicity of ministries, but by the 3rd century these are channeled into the threefold ministry of Bishop, priests and deacons, formed into a hierarchy of an order of priests. With this, there emerged a class called the laity, the non-clerics. Clerics are the norm, just as when we used to speak of ‘non-Christians’ the understanding was the norm was ‘Christian’. “The brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Pet 5.9) eventually became 2 classes, the ordained and the non-ordained, one superior to the other, and their distinction became characteristic of the Church.  The majority of the members of the Body of Christ are devalued, as only the ordained can hold offices in the Church, preside over the worship and participate in the decision making processes.

1.5 The leaders Jesus wanted

Jesus spoke about and wanted to leave behind him leaders who would be different from leaders in the world and gave them very clear and precise instruction. “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you, must be your servant and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave” (Matt 20.24-28); “But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no one your father on earth…The greatest among you will be your servant” (Matt 23. 8-11); “But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves… I am among you as one who serves” (Lk 22. 24-27); see Mark 10. 35- 45 and John 13. 1-18).

Can anyone recognize in the present day Church leaders(Reverends, Lords, Graces, Excellencies, Eminences, Holiness) the kind of leaders Jesus envisaged? The function of the leaders Jesus wanted to leave behind was to “feed my lambs”, “take care of my sheep” and “feed my sheep” (Jn 21.15-17); namely, to care for and build up the community, and not the service of God by offering sacrifices and by producing and defending doctrines. The early disciples of Jesus followed his teaching and practiced the “brotherhood throughout the world” as is evident in the writings of Paul. While, he was conscious of his authority as an apostle (Gal 1.1), he speaks of himself as a servant (1 Cor 3.5), others as his brothers/ sisters/ fellow prisoners (Rom 1.13; 1 Cor 1.10; 2 Cor 1.8). Paul commissioned Timothy and others to leadership in the community by laying hands on them, but this cannot be seen as an ordination to the ‘priesthood’. The idea of a ‘priest’ does not arise in the first two centuries. Haag concludes: “This survey has shown that all ministries are the creation of the Church. None can be traced back to Jesus, not even that of the bishop, and least of all that of the priest.” (Haag,108). The ministries arose as response to the problems the community faced (e.g., Acts 6).

The later leaders either ignored or refused to follow the teaching of the Lord, and on their own authority declared themselves ‘priests’ busy with ‘sacrifice’, and patterned themselves on the empire, taking titles, dress code and behaviour pattern from the empire system: Reverends, Lords, Eminences, Excellencies and Holiness which have nothing to do with what Jesus wanted, and in fact, are explicitly opposed to what he had wanted. The empire system with its craze for power, privileges, wealth and luxury corrupted the leaders. The civil societies of Greece and Rome were highly hierarchical and that is the pattern the Church leaders followed instead of the Gospels. They also moulded God unto the image of the emperor. Yves Congar, in Power and Poverty in the Church,[3] has shown clearly how this development on the pattern of the empire happened. At a time when the Bible was not read by the people, any practice could be defended as coming from the Bible; but today, as everyone can read what is in the Bible, and biblical scholarship is spreading very much, we may not ignore what is given there so clearly about the leaders and how they have deviated from what Jesus wanted.

2. Comments on the old approach

2.1 Positive contribution

Christianity is the basic inspiration of European culture and civilization. Literature, art, music, etc all are inspired by Christian themes; the Churches in Europe are architectural marvels. In Africa and Asia Christianity came to the rescue of the oppressed and the suppressed population through education and health care ministries. The Dalits and other oppressed groups were at least partially liberated. The Religious, especially women, have rendered great service to the orphans, sick, handicapped and other underprivileged persons. Obviously, this description is not exhaustive.

2.2 Negative impact

But with the coming of Christianity, the indigenous people who lived with gospel values like egalitarianism, concern for one another, anti-consumerist, anti-greed and nature-friendly attitudes abandoned those and took up the European consumerist, greedy competitive culture. Christianity, with its emphasis for centuries on “saving souls for an after-life” has not succeeded in preventing wars, colonialism, and genocide as in America, slave trade, economic disparities and structured injustice through trade and economic policies; the Holocaust and other atrocities. Christian nations have colonized the Asian and African countries and impoverished them. This is surely not inspired by the Gospel. There is hardly any period in the history of Europe when there were no wars. Jesus had taught nonviolence! Christian presence in the West has not in any way prevented sexual abuses and sexual promiscuity which are on the increase. Now churches are becoming empty of occupants and more and more churches are being bought by Hindus and Muslims. The number of Catholic and Protestant churches being taken over by Muslims is really shocking.[4] The number of persons officially leaving the Church is also increasing.   

Thus the old approach has not been a great success when we look at the overall picture. We keep in mind too, that even after 20 centuries of aggressive, hectic missionary efforts we have not reached more than 25% of the world population and less than 2% in Asia.  Hence it is that we need to think of something really ‘new’ for the NE, not a repetition of the past.  People are not buying set formulae or pious platitudes anymore; the old emphases did not succeed in bringing people to a spiritual awakening. There is an anguished and sometimes confused search, for a more liberal outlook. Modern people mired in profound cultural change want to know who they are, what enslaves them, what stands in the way of spiritual progress. They want to rediscover God beyond all that has been identified through the years with the name of God: laws, norms and doctrines.

2.3 Marginalization of the majority

Another unfortunate consequence of the old system due to the clericalisation, is the marginalization of the majority of Christians, especially women; their charism and gifts have been neglected and they have been reduced to passivity. This neglect and marginalizing of more than 99% of the population cannot but have the kind of result that we are seeing today; the next great exodus will be of women, as they too have been marginalized and treated as second class citizens. The past history of the Church is a history of clericalism, ritualism, legalism and dogmatism; none of which helps the growth of the kind of community Jesus wanted, and these drive people away from the Church.  Any society which neglects such a large percentage of its population, pushing them to the margins and making them voiceless and passive will eventually die; but so far due to the iron fist approach of the hierarchy, and the “shoot the messenger” policy, by silencing, punishing and finally excommunicating dissidents, the Magisterium has managed to keep the system going; but this is not going to be possible anymore.

2.4 Departures from the Church

There are many causes for departures from the Church, like growing secularization, materialism, consumerism, individualism, the loss of sense of sin, etc, but one of the major causes for the large scale departures from the Church seems to be the clericalisation and the culture of the hierarchy, as many recent studies have shown. American Sociologist priest Andrew Greeley in his forthcoming book, Priests: A Calling in Crisis says “for some reason, priests of all generations are unable or unwilling to see the clergy as responsible for the departure of disaffected laypersons—a problem that today plagues the U.S. Church”.

In 2011, William J. Byron, SJ and Charles Zech, conducted an “anecdotal” survey for the diocese of Trenton on “Why are they Leaving?” I quote below some statements from this report of Byron. It shows clearly that “The church in America [read: the clergy] must face the fact that it has failed to communicate the Good News cheerfully and effectively to a population adrift on a sea of materialism”.  “The recent church teaching on end-of-life issues; the moving, instead of removing, of priests and bishops involved in the molestation of children…; and the absence of any priest I can talk to.”  Others refer to “the exclusion of women and married men from the priesthood; the absence of priests ready to listen to the people; lack of trust in the management”; “I have no way of influencing the selection or change of a priest or bishop”. “Deploring the absence of any feedback mechanism to hear from the voiceless laity”, “leaders are unwilling to discern the presence of the Spirit in what laypeople are saying” (Byron 2011; http://www.

Byron published an article in America, 30 April 2012: “Why they left: Exit interviews shed light on empty pews”.  In this study he gives a lot of insights into why people left the Church. I quote below some of the answers of the people interviewed. “Ask a question of any priest and you get a rule”. Several chose to specify that they separated themselves from “the hierarchy”.  One said, “I stopped going regularly because the homilies were so empty”. A woman wrote, “I tried different Catholic churches in the area because I just didn’t seem to be getting anything out of the Mass, especially the homily”. The question about their pastors was answered with words like: “arrogant,” “distant,” “aloof”; “insensitive”, “priestly pomposity,”  “aloofness” pointing to “clericalism” in the diocese.  “Hypocrisy, history of discrimination against women, unwelcoming attitude”; “Bishops covering up child abuse and transferring offending priests to other parishes.”  Several respondents noted that they were victims of sexual abuse by clergy. Many gave: “the exclusion of women from ordination” as the cause of their separation.

Henri Boulad, SJ in a personal letter to Pope Benedict XVI speaks about the serious situation the Church in Europe is facing; religious practice is in constant decline; seminaries and novitiates are emptying. Many priests are leaving the priesthood; many of them, both in Europe as well as in the Third World live in concubinage; the language of the Church is out of date, anachronistic, boring, repetitious, and totally unsuited to our age. It is clear that our faith is very cerebral, abstract and dogmatic. It speaks little to the heart or the body. Hence many Christians are turning to the religions of Asia, to sects, to New Age, to evangelical churches, occultism and more. The paternalistic style of a Mater et Magistra Church is definitely off the mark and no longer fits the bill today. Dialog with other churches and religions is today in a disquieting decline (http://www. henribouladonline; copied in a letter to me).

Thomas C. Fox writing on “Abusive Ecclesial authority” says, “Some bishops are acting like bullies, abusing the authority of their offices in name of enforcing orthodoxy”; “The notion of a hierarchical Church is both foreign, inimical and anathema to current liberal, free-thinking and secularist thought. … Abusive authority will remain like an unwanted cancer, depleting life from the Body of Christ” (Fox 2012).

Professor Anthony M Stevens refers to the Vatican and clerical narcissism as a reason for people leaving the Church. He quotes Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny who spoke of the Vatican’s “dysfunction, disconnection, elitism and the narcissism that dominate the culture of the Vatican to this day.” He defines “clericalism” as “an elitist mindset, together with structures and patterns of behavior corresponding to it, which takes it for granted that clerics—in the Catholic context, mainly bishops and priests—are intrinsically superior to the other members of the Church and deserve automatic deference.” The culture of the hierarchy of our Church has been cited in various studies as being one of the causes of the growing disaffiliation of Catholics from the Church.

Hans Zollner, SJ, a clinical Psychologist and Dean of the institute of Psychology at the Gregorian, has confirmed that he has been studying the phenomenon of growing narcissism within the Catholic clergy (http:// Abuse of Ecclesiastical Power).

“More than a hint of hypocrisy” is the title of an article by Tom Robert in the National Catholic Reporter (31/7/2012); he says the inaction of the bishops in the child abuse cases “has angered and disillusioned so many current and now-former Catholics.” “Need for Vatican Transparency” is the editorial of the Tablet (18/8/2012); it says: “the VatiLeaks affair highlighted something rotten in the Vatican system: administrative chaos, rivalries rather than partnerships between those in the highest levels of the Roman Curia, allegations of financial mismanagement” (p.2). The dogmatism of the hierarchy and bossing over the people are forcing people to leave the Church. More and more frustrated Catholics are turning to News Media to voice their disapproval of the culture of the hierarchy. A Web Site Dedicated to Removal of a Catholic Bishop of a Major Diocese – the Diocese of Cleveland OH (http:// has come into operation.

Archbishop  Howard J. Hubbard of the Catholic Diocese of Albany writes about the “Failings in the Church’; he refers to Clergy sexual abuse, parish closures, anemic parish life, pastoral insensitivity,  poor preaching/liturgy, failure to implement the reforms of Vat II, esp. in participation and Collegiality,  and the new translation of the missal (Published on 10/6/2011 in Evangelist On Line Edition, Web Site. Also in Origins, Nov 17/2011).

The National Catholic Reporter of 29/8/2012 reports that at Beaver Island people are departing in droves from an idyllic, close-knit Catholic community because of the behavior of its new pastor.

What the late Cardinal Martini of happy memory said is also remarkable. He said :”the Church must admit its mistakes and begin a radical change, starting from the Pope and Bishops…The Pedophilia scandals oblige us to take a journey of transformation” (Reported in New York Times, 1 Sept. 2012). In his last interview with Fr Sporshill, S.J. he said that the Church was “200 years out of date” (Reported by  Andrea Tornielli  in his Facebook). 

We might also add that often the Religious do not live up to their call and cause scandal; the consumerist culture that has invaded religious communities also causes scandal.

Finally, the remark of Bishop Geoffrey James Robinson of Sydney should wake us up. He said “The Pope and the bishops have lost credibility and it is only the People of God who can restore it to them” (March 2012 in Chicago

Due to the lack of priests, in some places in Belgium and Holland people have begun settling up their own ‘ecclesias’ with lay men and women presiding over the Eucharist; some Catholics look at them as being Protestants, but this is going to be the shape of things to come. Very sincere Catholics are dismayed that their churches are incapable of changing and seeing the ‘signs of the times’ and responding to them creatively and lovingly (Gladys Ganiel: New York Times, 17th July, 2012).

3. New Evangelisation

Without the willingness on our part to look honestly into the causes of our present situation and are ready to take effective steps, the whole talk of NE will be just that: empty talk. What, then, are the new elements to be emphasized in the NE? I can think of a few very important aspects.

3.1  Emphasis on Jesus and not the doctrines. The NE will go back to Jesus; we would focus on Jesus and expose people to the unique and beautiful person that Jesus is so that, just as the early Christians who were attracted to this person and were ready to suffer and die for him, we enable people to discover Jesus. Remember, in the first century there were no doctrines or dogmas. We would emphasise Jesus’ options, value system and his priorities. I see Jesus as a call to live fully, to love wastefully and to be all that each of us can be. I believe our purpose as the followers of Jesus is to build a world where everyone has a better chance to live, love and be and share the earth of God. That seems to me to have very little to do with carting around doctrines and dogmas enunciated in past centuries which were all responses to problems that arose in particular places and times. What is needed in the NE is not repeating toothless old stuff, but rather presenting faith in Jesus in a language that recasts the faith in a pertinent and meaningful way for men and women of today.

For Jesus, orthodoxy was not as important as orthopraxis. “Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord”, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven (Matt 7.21).  The Church was not the object of Jesus’ preaching; he announced a dream, the Kingdom of God that represents an absolute revolution in relationships between people and with God. Jesus did not teach any new doctrine, but a new way of life, a nonviolent form of life, as is expressed in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7). He taught us that we are all brothers/sisters as we have one Father in heaven (Matt 23.8; 6.9); that we should love God by loving the neighbour, by meeting the needs of the needy (Matt 22.34ff; 25.31ff); he gave priority to proper interpersonal relationship over cultic practices (Matt 5.23; Matt 25.31ff; Lk 19.1-10). He spoke of the importance of forgiving, seventy times seven (Matt 18.21-35; 6.12). Jesus was a man rooted in God whom he named ‘Abba’ with whom he spent many hours in silent prayer. By his long hours of prayer he showed us that prayer was not a matter of words addressed to God to inform God (Matt 6.7) or change God’s mind, but a surrender to the Father’s will. The only prayer he taught emphasizes that we are all brothers/sisters, meant to honour God as father in the way we live and thus bring about the rule of God on earth (the Kingdom) by sharing bread, by unconditional love and by mutual protection (Matt 6.5-14).

3. 2. This approach takes Jesus not as the founder of a new religion but as the Way, the Truth and the Life of what each one of us can be. Some consider him as a reformer of Judaism and the early disciples continued going to the temple as long as it stood. When the temple was destroyed in 70 CE, and only when they were no more allowed in the synagogue they began to look at themselves as distinct from the Jews. There is a great deal of controversy around Matt 16.16-19.[5]. Just as we take the idea of incarnation from the Gospel of John, we need to take also the founding of the Church from John, where the emphasis is not on orthodoxy but on love. That is going to be the Church of the future.

3. 3. The NE will go beyond the clergy-laity divide to the Community as Jesus envisaged it, namely a brotherhood/sisterhood of people who would live in love, serving one another as brothers/sisters/friends. Here the ‘foot washing’ Master becomes the ideal. “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3. 28). These words of Paul will have to be taken seriously to understand the nature of the community that Jesus wanted and in NE, we would need to go back to the type of community that Jesus envisaged.  

3.4 Leadership according to what Jesus wanted. In no other area was Jesus as explicit and clear as in this area, for Jesus the kind of leadership for his “contrast community” was very important. The Jewish nation was to be a contrast community; but with the coming of the Monarchy it ceased to be a contrast community. The same thing happened to the Church: Jesus had envisaged his followers to be a contrast community and thus to be the salt, leaven and light; but with the leaders following the empire system, the Church also ceased to be a contrast community, and became a religion like any other with dogmas, doctrines, priesthood, rules, regulations and religious practices, none of which was of interest to Jesus. For, from around the 3rd century the leaders began modeling themselves on the empire system, and that is what is continued.  This will have to change radically and revert to the pattern suggested by Jesus, which has not been so far attempted in the Church, for as Jesus told Peter at the foot washing that “later you would understand what I am doing” (Jn 13.7) that ‘later’has not yet happened in the church as the leaders have chosen to follow the pattern of the empire, both in life style, titles they took for themselves, their dress and other claims to honour and dignity. In Kerala, for example, the bishops’ houses are called Aramana, Palaces. Going beyond the Church-made clergy-laity divide, the leadership will have to form themselves into the kind of persons envisaged by Jesus: servants of the community, as I have described it earlier. NE will be a non-starter without taking this first step; it will be like a man with no hair on his head waxing eloquent about cultivating a full grown lush hair on the half bald. The fact that the last two millennia the leaders took another route is no reason for not going back to the insights of the NT. Just as it is never too late for any sinner to repent, and return to Jesus, it is never too late for the hierarchy to repent. The call for a NE may be seen as a providential opportunity for the Church to rediscover its true nature, its Jesus-willed image of a servant Church, Body of the foot-washing Servant God. Unless this trend is reversed and come to what Jesus wanted, no Evangelisation is going to be effective, as the leaders follow the ‘worldly outlook’.

Leadership is a service to the community and it ought to be open to every member of the Church who is willing and capable of serving the community. Once the sacred aura about the priesthood is removed and seen as a development within the community during its many centuries of growth, we can go back to the community that Jesus dreamt of and it would speak to the people of today, unlike the present day clerical church which no more attracts people to Jesus. We will need to go back to Jesus’ leadership style and form leaders who would be authentic, honest, humble and truthful, with clear vision of what Jesus wanted, not men and women who look for prestige, power and privileges for themselves. These would be God-centred persons, as Jesus was, walking in faith and be the living embodiment of Jesus’ compassion. 

3.5 The NE will focus on the youth, their enthusiasm and idealism and enable them to be fully involved in the life of the community. That is why a new type of leadership which respects all members and is not authoritarian or autocratic will have to be developed. The leaders will have to respect the freedom of individuals, and make use of the gifts of every member for the wellbeing of the community. We will need a multiplicity of approaches. We need to focus on the essentials as coming from Jesus. Not our old tradition of doctrines and laws.

3.6 The NE will open doors of love and compassion to all and play down the importance of canon law books. The NE will approach people to listen to them, and learn from them. We need to work at winning over hearts, not hardening them. Humility and genuine love would be the characteristics of the community we want to form. Jesus’ command to teach people what he has taught us, namely, “love one another as I have loved you”; “be compassionate as your Heavenly Father is compassionate”, will be done more by our life than our words. The NE will recognize the relative unimportance of the later developments which were often due to the problems of someone in the West, which often resulted in a new doctrine. These will have to be relativised and we would emphasise the NT thrust of proper living. So many of Paul’s letters, for example, speak of the way of life of the disciples and proper attitudes of a Christian (Col 3.12ff; Gal 5.16ff, Eph 4.17ff, etc). What sociological form it will take, we shall have to wait to see and by remaining open and obedient to the ever present and dream-creating Spirit of Jesus we will be able to work out what is required, just as the early Christian communities formed ministries as and when the need arose. 

3.7 The NE will have to use expressions, forms of prayer and worship which are more suited to the Indian mind and spirit. In Asia one would emphasise the contemplative tradition, as against the present practice of volumes of vocal prayers.  If we remain close to the New Testament, then there is no need to fear of any alienation, as the NT is itself very eastern in spirit and formulation. Since, in the past we were presenting doctrines and formulae from the West that we had to speak of inculturation.

3.8 In the ecclesiology of the early Church, we notice that there existed a healthy pluralism and the presence of various types of local Churches marked by diversity in patterns of worship, kerigma, ministries and organizational set up; yet dynamically united in the same faith. In the following centuries, the increasing emphasis on homogenization, uniformity and centralization suppressed this initial variety and creativity of the local Churches. We will have to follow effectively the inspiration of Vatican II which rediscovered the importance of local Churches within the universal Church. Our interest is not to carry some existing structure to a new place, but by letting the Gospel take root in the lives of the people and allow new forms of leadership, worship, etc to arise within the different communities. In the future the concern will not be uniformity and centralization, but just as in the early Church, there were many forms of Church communities in different places, a multiplicity of forms will have to co-exist. The neurotic urge of the Vatican to control everything will have to be curbed.  In future the universalism of the Latin Church will have to give way to local cultures, languages and customs. 

3. 9 The NE also will focus on women in the Church and enable them to contribute their charisms and gifts at various levels for the wellbeing of the community. During the last two millennia, while they have contributed much to the betterment of the people by their selfless services, at the level of leadership they were totally absent from the Church and this mistake has to be corrected.

3.10 The NE calls for discernment and repentance, especially on the part of the hierarchy, as they have contributed much to the present impasse we have reached. There is a saying that the fish rots from the head; something similar has happened in the Church, as the leaders took the path of the empire abandoning Jesus’ teaching.  This obviously is going to be the test about the sincerity of the Church in its call for NE. Without a serious and genuine discernment about what has gone wrong, all the conferences will be just talk among intellectuals, with no pastoral effect. To make our “Asian” voice heard by the Synod of Bishops our conference may urge for a process of discernment and repentance as part of the process of NE.

3.11 What I am suggesting is a ‘Radical evangelisation’, namely, Radical understood in the sense of going back to the roots in Jesus; to evangelize as Jesus evangelized focusing on the transforming and saving power of God’s unconditional and abundant  love. We must understand Radical, New Evangelization in terms of the Jesus Movement cutting across religious boundaries; we do not focus on Church membership. Jesus addressed the human problem from the perspective of his prophetical mysticism and even paid for it with his life. Just as Jesus presented God to people in the way he lived, namely in giving food to the hungry, health to the sick, hope to the hopeless, freedom to the sinner and life to the dead (he was the good news), we too have to become the good news that we want to proclaim, not by more words as by our life. As followers of Jesus we have the same responsibility to address the human problems of today from the same prophetical and mystical perspective rather than being preoccupied with church membership, which is primarily a sociological concern. This radical/new evangelisation invites us to join hands with people of good will cutting across religions and ideologies and address the human concerns; then perhaps more people might follow the Jesus movement. Jesus’ focus on the Kingdom of God is precisely that approach. It will be very unfortunate if we keep on repeating a few outdated and obsolete dogmas and forget the burning issues of humans today. We will be more relevant only if we go out of our narrow domestic concerns. Jesus’ dream of the Kingdom of God included all types of people from the most diverse backgrounds, religions, cultures and genders (see the wedding parables; for some of the ideas here I am indebted to M. I. Raj, S.J.).

3.12 For this new and radical Evangelisation, Jesus’ instruction to his disciples in Mark’s gospel (6.7-13) is very relevant.  He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick – no food, no sack, and no money in their belts. They had to travel light. His suggestions would have sounded to the disciples as rather inefficient, slow and rather primitive. The Church down the centuries has become overloaded with a lot of baggage: of doctrines, laws, customs, ceremonies, rituals, institutions; the movement Jesus started has become a monument; community became a bureaucracy. Simplicity was the heart of Jesus’ movement with only a walking stick and no money; they had to trust the people whom they serve would care for them. We need to examine if we have permitted possessions and power over others to substitute for service to others in the spirit of true simplicity. We need simplification at various levels and spheres. We may dream of a day when going back to the earlier form of the Eucharist when it was celebrated in homes, presided over by the head of the family or group and thus build up Eucharistic communities of love, concern, care and service. Jesus had spoken about the “little flock”, not empires. We need to form living, meaningful small communities where everyone is known and knows everyone. We need to train ourselves to recognize Jesus in the community, in each of the participating members. Thus, through these small ‘Eucharistic communities’ the whole Church will be effectively an Evangelizing Church.


What John O’Malley, SJ says is my humble request to the leaders.  He says that the Vatican II has moved us  “from commands to invitations, from laws to ideals, from definition to mystery, from threats to persuasion, from coercion to conscience, from monologue to dialogue, from ruling to service, from vertical to horizontal, from exclusion to inclusion, from hostility to friendship, from rivalry to partnership, from suspicion to trust, from static to ongoing, from passive acceptance to active engagement, from fault finding to appreciation,…, from behavior modification to inner appropriation.” (quoted in: Kaiser 2012).


Boring, Eugene, M. (1995): The Gospel of Matthew, in The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol 8, Matthew, Mark, Abingdon Press, Nashville.   

Brown, Raymond .E., Donfried, K.P. and Reumann, J. (1973):  Peter in the New Testament, Minneapolis: Augsburg.

Byron, W. SJ and Zech Charles (2011): On their Way out: What exit interviews could teach us about lapsed Catholics, America , 3 January, 2011.

Byron, W. (2012): “Why are they leaving: Exit interviews shed light on empty pews, America, 30 April.

Filteau, Jerry (2012): “Unusual Study asks former Catholics why they left the Church”, in National Catholic Reporter(, 23 March. 

Fox, Thomas C. (2012): National Catholic Reporter, 1 May (

Gladys Ganiel (2012): New York Times, 17th July.

Haag, Herbert (1997): Clergy & Laity: Did Jesus want a Two-Tier Church? Burns and Oates, Wellwood, Kent 

Kaiser, Robert Blair (2012): “The Second Vatican Council has already made us free”, in National Catholic Reporter, Aug 7. 

Raj, M.I., S.J  (2005):  Learning from the Bible to do Contextual Theology, Vol 2, Delhi, (unpublished Doctoral thesis). 

Stevens, Anthony, M. (2010): http://onfaith. “The Abuse of Ecclesiastical Power”http://www.catholicapologetics. info/ modernproblems/vatican2/abuse.htm

[1] In Rom 15,14ff he refers to his ‘priestly service’. About this, Nicolas King says:”This is not the only time in Romans Paul uses this liturgical language: see 12.1. Is he trying to snare the attention of his Jewish readers, and win them to his side”? The New Testament, Freshly translated by Nicholas King, Kevin Mayhew, Suffolk, p.375.

[2] 1 Peter 2.9 is not about cultic priesthood but about the holiness of the community, a people set apart for God, coming from Exodus 19.6.

[3] Helicon, Baltimore, 1964

[4] In Germany as a whole, more than 400 Roman Catholic and more than 100 Protestant churches have been closed since 2000, according to one estimate. Another 700 Roman Catholic churches are slated to be closed over the next several years, and many have been bought by Muslims  (cfr.

[5] Commenting on these verses The New Interpreters’ Bible says: “Matthew’s most important editorial change is the addition of these words to Jesus’ response to Peter. Their origin continues to be disputed, but the majority of scholars would attribute them to pre-Matthean tradition or to Matthew himself, rather than tracing them back to the historical Jesus” (E. Boring 1995:344).  In a footnote to this text, referring to R Brown (1973), Peter in the New Testament, the author adds: “The dominant scholarly view now regards the sayings, and perhaps the whole scene, as a retrojection of post-Easter confession into the narrative of Jesus’ life.”  Another footnote says: “This passage was not used for support of the papacy until the third century and later, and then was opposed by leading figures such as Origen and Augustine.” (p. 345).  Brown makes a similar observation about Matt 16.16b-19.  “In the exegesis of the Church Fathers and, indeed, even of the medieval theologians (including Thomas Aquinas) surprisingly little attention was focused on this text for establishing the authority of the Roman church” (R.E. Brown 1973: 83). Besides, the fact that the parallel passages in Mark (8.27-30) and Luke (9.18-20) do not have these words also adds weight to the arguments given above that these words are not of the historical Jesus, but a post resurrection addition due to the situation of the community of Matthew at the time of the writing of the gospel. Due to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 C.E. the future of Judaism was in jeopardy as the Jews were deprived of their religious and cultural centre.  Various factions that existed had to find a synthesis for them to survive. “This synthesis and the process of its construction and the emergence in the post-70 period are referred to as formative Judaism” (M. I. Raj 2005: 289).  Today, authors claim that the Gospel of Matthew makes more sense when it is read against the background of formative Judaism. During this time the confession of Jesus as the Messiah was sufficient reason for exclusion from the synagogue (Jn 9.22). By the time Matthew wrote his gospel, his community had separated itself (or was forced to) from the mainline Judaism. (M I Raj,p. 294). Yet, the Matthean community was trying hard to show their Jewishness by bringing the Mosaic Law to the centre of their communal life. They had to show that their faith in Jesus as the Messiah was not an aberration from the Jewish faith but was its very heart. They wanted to hold on to their continuity with the old, while they were also looking forward to the work of God in the Gentile Church (M I Raj, p. 294). “They were struggling to define and defend a Jewish Christianity to the Jews, on the one hand, and to realize their identity with gentile Christians, on the other.  This twofold challenge explains the basic tensions encountered in the Gospel” (M.I. Raj p.295).  Matthew accomplishes this difficult task by presenting the Christian Church as “a perfected or fulfilled Judaism, brought to its goal by the long awaited Christ” (M.I. Raj, p. 295; See Gal 6.6). Since they have been rejected by the Jews, they had to set up their own ‘Church’ and hence Matthew speaks of the founding of the Church on Peter. Matthew suggests Jesus and his disciples as the true and new Israel; hence Jesus says he has not come to abolish the law but to perfect it, etc. (Matt 5.17-20; M I Raj 296). About this text R.Brown says in a footnote that “Aramaic speaking origin is not necessarilyequivalent to origin from the historical Jesus or even origin in the Jerusalem Christian community…We have pointed out the possibility of post-resurrectional origins…that possibility has to be combined with a theory of subsequent community influence on the development of the scene” ( R.E.Brown 1973: 91, footnote no. 212).