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A dialogue experience of a Japanese Catholic.

I would like to share my experience of dialogue as a Catholic in Asia, by which I mean East, Southeast, and South Asia. I am from Japan, where the Christian population is one percent of the total and Roman Catholics are just thirty percent of that number. I was the first Catholic in my family and the only Catholic in our neighborhood in Tokyo. I belong to a religious congregation of Spanish origin. In Japan there are around 6,000 Catholic women religious, of whom ninety-eight percent are converts.

Interreligious dialogue for us is, first of all, our way of daily living. It is our way of relating to our Buddhist or Shinto families. It is our way of relating to our neighbors. One may have a Buddhist family next door and a Shinto family across the street. It never dawned on me that I had to preach the teaching of Christ to convert them to be Catholics. The attitude of a Japanese Catholic to his or her families and friends is that of natural respect, openness, and equality. If asked about one's faith, one will gladly share the experience of encountering the God of Jesus, remembering Peter's admonition: "Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence" (1 Pet. 3:15b-16a, N.R.S.V.).

I have worked with the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences at the Office for Human Development, which coordinates Justice and Peace organizations and CARITAS activities in Asia. In Asia, the Catholic Church is a very small minority, except in the Philippines. Therefore, almost every work we do to make society a more just and humane place in which to live is done through dialogue and in collaboration with other churches, religious organizations, and secular institutions of like-minded peoples. The work for Justice, Peace, and the Integrity of Creation is an enormous challenge in today's world. We believe that the only possible and realistic way to meet the challenge is to come together and use our resources in common.

Another meaningful experience of interreligious dialogue is to share each other's experience of God. There is a bishop in the Philippines who has been organizing exposure experiences for Buddhist nuns and monks who come to his diocese and stay with the Carmelite Sisters at their monastery. There is also an on-going interreligious dialogue among theologians. These four levels of dialogue-dialogue of life, dialogue for human and sustainable development, dialogue of spirituality, and dialogue of theology--are interrelated. Each level supports and enriches the other three levels in a meaningful way.

Asian bishops are convinced of the importance of concrete experience to implement our commitment to interreligious dialogue. Exposure-insertion experiences are often part of the programs organized by the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences. For example, a Bangladesh Catholic bishop was invited to stay with a Muslim family in a poor rural area. He slept in their simple house, ate with them, and listened to their stories. In such an experience, one truly meets the other. He or she is no longer just "a Muslim" but a concrete person whom you come to know in a deeper and personal way.

In Asia, the church has identified our way of being church as a church in living dialogue with the poor, with cultures, and with religions. We live in a world that is tragically divided, violent, and conflictive. Dialogue, therefore, is a pressing need for the survival of humankind. As Leonard Swidler has said, it is a question of "dialogue or death." Dialogue is also common sense. In Japanese, the word that means a person is written by two characters that mean a person among persons. To be dialogical is simply to be human. Dialogue is also a spiritual call. What does it mean to be a believer in today's world where millions are denied the right to live? What does it mean to be a believer in a world flooded with one-way information that does not create communion?

In a world full of monologue and exclusion, we believe that dialogue is the way to follow the God of Jesus who is the dialogue, the communion, the God of relationships.

Filo Hirota (RomanCatholic) is Regional Coordinator in Japan for the Mercedarian Missionaries of Berriz and a board member of the Japanese Catholic Council for Justice and Peace, Asian Peace Alliance-Japan. She is also assistant executive secretary, Office for Human Development of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences, and a Commissioner, Justice-Peace-Integrity of Creation, Union of Superiors General and general councillor for the Congregation. She holds a B.A. from Benedictine College of Atchison, Kansas, and studied at the Pontifical Institute "Regina Mundi."
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Author:Hirota, Filo
Publication:Journal of Ecumenical Studies
Geographic Code:90ASI
Date:Jan 1, 2002
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