Asia is a focus of pope francis’ pontificate

Seoul (APA/KAP) – In the ecclesiastical statistics, the Catholics of Asia are far down the list. Just 3.2 percent of the continent's four billion inhabitants are Catholic, compared with 18.6 percent in Africa, 40 percent in Europe and as many as 63 percent in America. Of course, almost nowhere in the world has the church grown as much as in Asia. Today, one in ten Catholics lives there, a total of 134 million.

In addition to some hindrances and persecutions, many local churches in the giant continent with its diverse cultures and social models present themselves as vital and dynamic. This also explains why Pope Francis has made Asia a geographic focus of his pontificate. From 13. to 18. In August, he undertakes his furthest foreign trip to date to South Korea. And the next but one visit will be to Asia in mid-January 2015 – with stops in Sri Lanka and the Philippines.

Already in the first millennium, Christianity was also present in Central and East Asia from its ancestral regions in the Middle East. The St. Thomas Christians in India refer to foundations by the apostle Jesus. In the Mongol Empire in the early 14th century, there were. century 30.000 Catholics, who soon disappeared without a trace. Latin Christianity essentially arrived in the early 16th century. The Catholic Church spread to Asia in the nineteenth century through the great religious orders, the Franciscans, Dominicans and above all the Jesuits, and through missionaries like Matteo Ricci and Francis Xavier.

Of course, the Christian missionaries also followed the colonial rulers from Spain and later from the Netherlands, France and England. For a long time, this colonial mortgage burdened the situation of Christians, making them appear as foreigners, as followers of an exotic sect from Europe.

In addition, the inculturation of Christianity into the developed advanced cultures and religious traditions in Asia was usually less successful than in other parts of the world. In China and Korea, the strict rejection by Rome of rites close to the state, such as the veneration of ancestors or Confucius, led to a decline in Christianity in the 18th century. and 19. In the twentieth century, severe persecutions of Christians. In the past 50 years, Asian Catholics have made the transition from Euro-centered mission churches to independent local churches, most with their own hierarchy.

Apart from the majority Catholic states of the Philippines and East Timor, Catholics are a minority everywhere in Asia. But as different as their situation is between the Caucasus and Korea, between Japan and Indonesia, between Beijing and Islamabad, there are also similar challenges. Increasingly strong fundamentalist currents in Islam are making life difficult for Christians in Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia and Bangladesh. In India, radical Hindus are gaining influence, and in Sri Lanka, fundamentalist Buddhists are speaking out.

A special "success story" was experienced by the Catholic Church in South Korea. Here, Christianization was not initially carried out by foreign priests, but by native scholars who brought the new faith with them from journeys to China. From 190.000 Catholics after the Korean War in 1953, their number has risen to 5.4 million today. During the military rule in the 1970s and 1980s, the church and its Cardinal Stephen Kim were among the harshest critics of the political grievances in the country, which strengthened their reputation. There were no intact church structures in North Korea after the Korean War as a result of state repression. The Vatican does not give Catholic numbers for the north of the divided peninsula; foreign observers say 4.000.

Catholic development in Japan was less straightforward. After a considerable upswing after the end of the war, membership stagnated at around 550.000, just 0.4 percent of the total population. Unclear is until today church situation in the People's Republic of China, where one speaks of approximately 12 million Catholics. After Mao Zedong's victory, Christians were seen as potential counter-revolutionaries. During the 1966 76 Cultural Revolution, the Catholic Church was particularly harshly persecuted. Since the 1990s, the lines between pro-Rome and pro-patriot have blurred, becoming more mutually permeable.

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