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Asian Church should become ‘more Asian, less Roman’

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(UCAN)The Churches in Asia need to seize the moment to stress the Asianness of the Church as Pope Francis encourages Church communities to become more grounded through continental contextual theologies, says Redemptorist Father Vimal Tirimanna, one of Asia’s leading theologians.The 67-year-old professor of theology at the Pontifical Accademia Alfonsiana in Rome says the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conference (FABC) should build on the theological foundations laid by yesteryear Asian theologians.

The priest, also a member of the Theological Commission of the General Secretariat for the Synod 2021-2024,  also believes the synodal process will change “the Church upside down” if the process is taken seriously. Father Tirimanna spoke with UCA News on Oct. 20 on the sidelines of FABC’s first general conference (Oct.12-30) organized in Bangkok as part of its golden jubilee celebrations. Excerpts from the interview:

Q: What do you think the FABC has achieved in its 50 years?

A: The Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conference has a very good foundation thanks to our forefathers, who worked for it in the 1970-80s. We are celebrating 50 years now and I think we should get inspiration from those pioneers. Of course, we cannot go back and should not go back literally to what they were because the world has changed, and realities have changed. We should move on based firmly on the foundation they have already laid.

The essence they gave is the Asianness of the Church. Otherwise, tell me why should we meet as the FABC here. If we are not here to build on that essence of Asianness, it is all a waste of money, time and energy. We should cherish and develop a sense of Asianness in every aspect of the Church paying attention to the contemporary signs of the times. That, I believe, is the meaning of the existence of the FABC.

The FABC should continue to work. Let me be specific. We need to be Asian but as things stand today, the Church in Asia is not yet fully Asian. The FABC should continue to work and it has a lot of ground to cover. In the initial three decades of the FABC, it was bubbling with Asianness. But that Asianness has been gradually waning.

However, we cannot and should not go back to the 1970s and 1980s. We have to face today’s reality and respond. Today’s Asia is not the Asia of the 1970s or of the 1980s. So we have to be Asian according to today’s Asia.

Q: Is a fully Asian Church even possible?

A: We have to be Asian, otherwise, we don’t need an FABC. Take for example the Latin American CELAM (the FABC equivalent in South America). It is through and through Latin American. And the FABC trails behind it. But as things stand, the reality is there is not much of a difference between European theology and the FABC’s theology. Of course, I’ll be too naive to say that as a blanket statement. Certainly, there are certain Asian elements in our Churches. It’s there … but much reduced. We can be more Asian, that’s what I am saying.

Q:Why is the Asian Church attempting to reduce its Asian elements?

A: Frankly speaking, I don’t think that the Asian Church is consciously attempting to reduce her Asianness. However, the reasons for the lack of enthusiasm for being Asian can be traced to the pontificates of Papa Wojtila and Papa Ratzinger that perceived relativism as the major issue the Church has to respond to. During that time, most Asian bishops were trying to follow the Roman agenda, for obvious reasons. That’s what Rome wanted. The freedom, which Paul VI gave, what Vatican II gave, was not there. Pope Paul VI allowed and encouraged the openness and freedom to be Asian, to be theologizing in the Asian way. But in the later decades, we see it being taken away little by little, little by little.

With the arrival of Pope Francis, we have gained much more space to be Asian because he’s a Third-World man who would surely understand what it means to be in the Third World. He was the cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires in Argentina.

Secondly, he’s promoting contextual theology. So, this is our Asian moment. We need to seize it. But I’m sorry to say I don’t see the enthusiasm and energy to do that. We can do much more than what we are doing because this is our moment. If we lose this, I wonder whether God will give us another moment like this.

Q:What do you mean by contextual theology?

A: Any theology should help Christians to understand and respond to their faith in their own histories, in their daily life, in their culture, and in their socio-political nuances. These realities in Asia provide us with our context, and these realities are completely different from any other part of the world. Continental contextual theologies are local theologies to be developed as a faith-response to these continental realities. Roman or European theology will not be able to understand and respond to our realities in all their complexities. What we need is an Asian theology.

Vatican II has given us the freedom to develop these contextual theologies. This is the moment for us. I’m so happy that I’m living in this moment. I’m very hopeful about this space and freedom which Pope Francis reiterates. But will we use that space and the freedom to continue to build an Asian theology? I’m not sure. At the same time, I say this with a certain amount of hope. But I would have loved to have more inspiration from an Asianness than what we see today.

Q:How will the universal Church benefit from these contextual theologies?

A: One of the finest theological elements which the FABC developed and contributed to the universal Church was the theology of inter-religious relations. The first document of the FABC Theological Advisory Commission was trying to understand how Christians could practice their faith without negating or looking down upon the beliefs of other religions in Asia, following the guidelines given by Vatican II.

I want to mention the names of a few Asian theologians here, who worked hard to lay the foundations for the FABC’s theology — Father Felix Wilfred from India and Jesuit Father Catalano Arevalo from the Philippines. I also remember Jesuit Father Aloysius Pieris of Sri Lanka. We may have differences of opinion with them. For example, I may not agree as a bishop with certain views they hold but their work for the FABC was seminal and indispensable.

Their main common point was that there are three main living realities in Asia: religions, cultures, and the poor. These founding fathers of FABC theology, of course, together with the pioneer FABC bishops, considered that Christian existence in Asia can be appreciated only through triple dialogue — with religions, cultures and the poor. These triple realities characterized Asia in the seventies, and they continue to characterize Asia even today and that will characterize Asia even tomorrow.

After all, our major Asian religions are here to stay. Whatever our other problems are, we are very religious still in Asia. Secondly, cultures. We are still culturally conditioned people more than any other non-Asian country, probably some African nations may be exceptions. Thirdly, our poor. They are not going to go off in the near future. So the dialogue with these three living Asian realities is a must. Of course, in our globalized world, all these are becoming social realities in many other parts of the world too. Asia is typically characterized by them.

I believe FABC will somehow regain its theological prominence because I believe in the active presence of the Holy Spirit. Otherwise, a conference like this will not have happened, a hope like this will have never been lit. However, I also think that we lack daring theologians of the caliber of those, who were there at the foundation. We don’t have them today. Simple as that. We have theologians who mostly repeat what the early Asian theologians said, or what the Vatican is saying. We do not have theologians who can take Asian theology forward, but I believe that the Holy Spirit will lead the FABC in His own way.

Q:What should be their priorities in this journey forward?

A: We have newer issues that beg for theological engagement here in Asia. We should have more time for dialogue with women, youth, and the environment. But please don’t put those dialogues on par with the triple dialogue because the triple dialogue is what gives us our Asianness our Asian identity in theologizing. 

Environmental issues are here as they are in other parts of the world. Issues of women and youth are also global. We should not lose what characterizes us. Have a dialogue with everybody, but let’s be Asian. If you are not focused well, everything becomes important even with regard to dialogue. That means nothing is important. Have a dialogue but don’t say they are Asian issues alone. But the issues of women in Asia are not that of Europe. So European solutions will not help Asian women. I think I have made my point clear.I am in the Theological Commission, and Pope Francis is interested in Asian Churches. All the national episcopal synodal reports I read last month in Frascati together with my colleagues spoke about the role of women in the Church.

Here, I think of the report from Sri Lanka, which pleasantly surprised me as it said, women are the lifeblood of the Church in Sri Lanka. So we should give them more place, much more than now in ecclesial life. All that is true. But for heaven’s sake don’t copy North American and European women’s agenda and bring it here. For example, women’s ordination. Is it an Asian issue? I’m asking that question. I won’t say anything more. Are not women’s social subjugation, their oppression, and man-dominated societies in Asia typically our Asian issues? We also have issues of pushing women to be migrant workers in foreign lands.



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Credibility in governance through elections and not security forces

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Ranil Wickremesinghe

By Jehan Perera

President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s warning that he is prepared to declare a state of national emergency and use the military to suppress any public protests for change of government would reflect the pressures he is under. The manner in which he has used the security forces to deal with the protest movement has been unexpected. His words and deeds are contradictory to what he has previously stood for as a five-time former prime minister. This is especially true in the case of the ethnic and religious minorities who have consistently voted for him and his party at elections. They have felt safer and more secure under his governments which always sought to reduce the heavy hand of state oppression in which national security is given pride of place. He has always promised them much though he has been unable to deliver on much of what he promised.

Notwithstanding the unfortunate rhetoric and actions of the present time the belief still persists that President Wickremesinghe is the best of the available options. Recent pronouncements of the president have reignited hope that he will address the problems of the religious and ethnic minorities. He has stated that he does not want to leave this problem to the next generation. He has said that he wants to resolve this intractable national problem by the country’s 75th independence anniversary on February 4 next year. The hope that the president will make a fresh effort to resolve their problems has led the main Tamil party, the TNA, to desist from voting against the budget which passed with a relatively small majority. Their spokesperson, M A Sumanthiran said in Parliament that due to the president reaching out to them, stretching out his hand, they did not vote against the budget although they disagreed with it.

It is not only in words that the president has reached out to the ethnic and religious minorities. Reports from the north and east indicate that the Maveer (Heroes) Day commemorations this year took place without incident. During the past two years scores of people were arrested and a massive presence of security forces blocked the people from participating in public events. On this occasion the security forces did not get involved in any attempt to stop the commemorations. University students distributed sweets and even cut a birthday cake to celebrate slain LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran’s birthday. The analogy that the president drew to himself being seen as a Hitler who exterminated ethnic and religious minorities is misplaced. The release of those held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act for engaging in similar acts in the past would further contribute to the reconciliation process.

WORSENING CRISIS

In this context, the president’s use of militaristic rhetoric can only be understood in relation to the growing economic crisis that shows no sign of abating. The anticipated IMF bailout package is at risk of getting indefinitely delayed. It was initially anticipated to come in September then in November but now January is being targeted. Japan’s top brokerage and investment bank, Nomura Holdings Inc, has warned that seven countries – Egypt, Romania, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Czech Republic, Pakistan and Hungary – are now at a high risk of currency crises. Sri Lanka is in third place on the table of risk. The next devaluation of the rupee could see another spike in inflation that will make the cost of living even more unbearable to the masses of people.

The president is on record as having said that the economic crisis will get worse before it improves. Both anecdotal and statistical evidence indicates that it is indeed worsening. University teachers at the University of Sabaragamuwa reported that attendance in their classes was down by at least a quarter. Students who come from other parts of the country are unable to afford the cost of meals and so they stay at home. A study by the Institute of Policy Studies has shown that about four percent of primary, 20 percent of secondary and 26 percent of collegiate students had dropped out of school in the estate sector, which is the worst affected. The future costs to the country of a less well educated population is incalculable and inhumane.

As it is the situation is a dire one for large swathes of the population. Research from the University of Peradeniya has revealed that close to half of Sri Lanka’s population, 42 percent (up from 14 percent in 2019) are living under the poverty line. Professor of Economics Wasantha Athukorala has said there is a dramatic increase in the poverty level of over three-hold across the past three years. In 2019, nearly 3 million people lived below the poverty line, but that number has increased to 9.6 million in October 2022. In these adverse circumstances stability in a polity can be ensured either through legitimacy or through force. It would be tragic if the latter is the choice that is made.

ELECTORAL SOLUTION

President Wickremesinghe has been stressing the importance of political stability to achieve economic development. His recent statement that the security forces will be used to negate any unauthorised protest is a sign that the government expects the conditions of economic hardship to escalate. The general public who are experiencing extreme economic hardship are appalled at the manner in which those who committed acts of corruption and violence in the past are being overlooked because they belong to the ruling party and its cliques. The IMF has made anti-corruption a prerequisite to qualify for a bailout, calling for “Reducing corruption vulnerabilities through improving fiscal transparency and public financial management, introducing a stronger anti-corruption legal framework, and conducting an in-depth governance diagnostic, supported by IMF technical assistance.”

It is morally unacceptable even if politically pragmatic that the president is failing to take action against the wrongdoers because he needs their votes in parliament. As a start, the president needs to appoint a credible and independent national procurement committee to ensure that major economic contracts are undertaken without corruption. Second, the president needs to bite the bullet on elections. The country’s burning issues would be better accepted by the country and world at large if they are being dealt with by a statesman than by a dictator. Government that is based on the people’s consent constitutes the sum and substance of democracy. This consent is manifested through free and fair elections that are regularly held. Local government elections have been postponed for a year and are reaching their legal maximum in terms of postponement. These elections need to be held before March next year.

Elections will enable the people to express their views in a democratic manner to elect their representatives for the present. This would provide the government with guidance in terms of the decisions it is being called to take to revive the economy and place the burden in a manner that will be acceptable to the people. The provincial council elections have been postponed since 2018. Democratically elected provincial councils share in the burdens of governance. The devolution of power that took place under the 13th Amendment was meant to promote ethnic harmony in the country. The president who has taken the position that he is for a solution to the ethnic conflict should seriously consider conducting the provincial council elections together with the local government elections se their financial costs. By doing so he will also gain legitimacy as a democratic statesman and not a dictator.

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WEDNESDAY – Movie Review

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The Addams Family is back with a new tale to tell! Originally created by Charles Addams as a comic strip published in The New Yorker, it offered readers a sarcastic take on the ‘typical nuclear family’ by substituting it with a more macabre bunch of strange and eerie individuals. Since then the titular family has been adapted on to the big screen many times, from live action movies to animated versions, the Addams Family has gained many fans throughout the years. Created by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, with Tim Burton working on four episodes of the eight-part series, Wednesday is a welcoming tale for young fans, but unfortunately fails to think outside the box and remains anchored to the floor with a messy storyline.

Dead-eyed Wednesday Addams (Jenna Ortega) is a stubborn, independent and intelligent teenager in this new series. Her penchant for attracting trouble wherever she goes alarms her parents, Morticia (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Gomez (Luis Guzmán). With an already strained relationship with her parents (specifically her mother), Wednesday is enrolled at Nevermore, an academy for outcasts like herself. Having attended the academy themselves, Morticia and Gomez are hopeful that their daughter will ‘fit right in’. Caught between trying to build her own identity and other teenage complexities, Wednesday soon finds herself in the middle of a twisted mystery.

This is the first time audiences are introduced to a teenage Wednesday, which allowed the creators to build a new world on their own terms, but while keeping true to the original nature of the character. The creators do a fair amount of world building by introducing other outcasts like the Fangs (vampires), Stoners (Gorgons), Scales (sirens) and Furs (werewolves), among others. Nevermore Academy itself is beautiful and comes with the classic package of creepy crypts, hidden rooms and secret societies. The series also offers a decent amount of gore, although they could have added more given Wednesday’s proclivity for gore-related activities. The series deals with classic young-adult tropes which includes teenage crushes, bullies, relationships and even prom, among other things. The series navigates through Wednesday’s journey of self-discovery, which is a new avenue for both the character and the fans. From understanding and displaying her emotions to discovering her identity and understanding her peers, the series takes a deep dive into heavy material.

Ortega’s performance as the titular character plays a major role in keeping audiences glued to the screen. This is also the first time viewers are shown a teenage Wednesday Addams, which works to Ortega’s benefit as she depicts more dimensions to the ghoulish, morose character many are associated with based on previous renditions. Her facial expressions and ability to deliver on seriously emotional moments strengthens her role as the lead. The rest of the Addams Family, even with limited screen time, lack the eccentricities their characters should have. Hopeless romantics Morticia and Gomez seem incompatible in this version and Uncle Fester is far less crazy than he ought to be. The only member worth mentioning is the Thing—a severed hand— who brought more character and spirit to the series acting alongside Ortega. With barely any room to develop a majority of the characters are prosaic and tedious, even though they remain vital to the plot.

Apart from Ortega, Gwendoline Christie and Emma Myers deserve honorable mentions for their roles as Nevermore’s head teacher, Larissa Weems and the peppy Enid Sinclair respectively. Enid quickly became a fan favorite as the character was the polar opposite to Wednesday. Her character is vital to Wednesday’s character development and their journey to find common ground as mismatched individuals is amusing.

Christina Ricci who played Wednesday in the 90s returns as ‘normie’ teacher, Miss Thornhill and unfortunately barely stands out and this in large part due to the messy storyline. The series is bogged down with numerous subplots and overlapping tropes and the characters with potential for growth are completely overlooked. With love triangles, bullies and killer monsters on the loose, the series self-destructs and the climax sinks into disappointment.

At the end of the day, Wednesday plays to the beat of the new generation and touches on new themes, which is welcoming seeing as the character should grow up at some point. While not everyone may relate to Wednesday’s teenage perils, it is interesting to witness her growth and her journey as an ‘outcast’ or ‘weirdo’. And while Wednesday doesn’t exactly offer a distinctly unique story, it gives audiences a small taste of what Jenna Ortega’s Wednesday is capable of. Creating a story around a well-established franchise is a difficult task, and in this case the creators fail to add value to their visions. If the series continues, the creators will have the opportunity to think further outside the box and push the limits to Wednesday’s character and give audiences a bone-chilling experience. Wednesday is currently streaming on Netflix.

 

 

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Stage set for… AWESOME FRIDAY

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The past few weeks have been a very busy period for the new-look Mirage outfit…preparing themselves for their big night – Friday, December 2nd – when they would perform, on stage, for the very first time, as Donald Pieries (leader/vocals/drums), Benjy (bass), Niro Wattaladeniya (guitar), Viraj Cooray (guitar/vocals), Asangi Wickramasinghe (keyboard/vocals), along with their two frontline female vocalist, Sharon (Lulu) and Christine.

They have thoroughly immersed themselves in their practice sessions as they are very keen to surprise their fans, music lovers, and well-wishers, on opening night…at the Peacock, Berjaya Hotel, in Mount Lavinia.

Action starts at 8.00 pm and, thereafter, it will be five hours of great music, along with EFFEX DJs Widhara and Damien, interspersed with fun and excitement…for the whole family!

Yes, opening night is for the whole family, so you don’t need to keep some of your family members at home – kids, especially.

Working on their repertoire for Friday, bassist Benjy says “what we will dish out will be extra special, with lots of action on stage.”

It would be interesting to see Sharon (Lulu) doing her thing with Mirage, after her early days with the Gypsies, and, I’m told, a dynamic performance from Sharon is what is in store for all those who make it to the Peacock this Friday

Edward (Eddy) Joseph (centre) with Donald and Benjy

While the band was at one of their practice sessions, last week, they had a surprise visitor – Edward (Eddy) Joseph, a former member of the group Steelers, who is now based in Germany.

Eddy is here on a short visit and is scheduled to return to Germany, tomorrow (30).

He spent an hour with Mirage, at their practice session, and says he is disappointed that he would not be around for the group’s opening night.

However, there is a possibility of several well-known personalities, in the showbiz scene, turning up, on Friday night, to experience the sounds of the new-look Mirage, including Sohan Weerasinghe and Joey Lewis (from London).

Rajiv Sebastian, too, says he is keen to be a part of the fun-filled evening.

You could contact Benjy, on 0777356356, if you need to double check…their plans for AWESOME FRIDAY!

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