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Find truth in culture.

In an increasingly diverse church--one developing most rapidly in places like Asia, Africa, and Latin America--it is more important than ever for Catholics to understand the relationship between culture and faith. But what is the best guide to faith--culture or tradition? A recent lecture at Chicago's Catholic Theological Union by Jose de Mesa, a lay Filipino theologian and program director of the East Asian Pastoral Institute in Manila, sought to answer this question.

De Mesa outlined the attitude that has prevailed in the Catholic Church for centuries and retains a prominent position in the missiology of Pope John Paul II, namely that tradition is the best guide to faith, especially when negotiating the interaction of the gospel and culture. In this approach, doctrinal formulations are applied to a local situation and culture. An example is the Vatican's discomfort with certain forms of "inculturated liturgy" in which indigenous forms of expression such as dancing and blood libations find a place in the Roman Rite of the Mass.

As de Mesa pointed out, however, this top-down approach, is itself inculturated. The imposition of revealed truths on diverse cultures grew out of a Western culture, but this Euro-American tradition is not the only guide to faith.

As an alternative, de Mesa began with two assumptions. First, people have always been cultural--Jesus was cultural, and the Christian message has always existed in a culture. Second, the foundation for God has already been laid in culture. Mission is about uncovering and facilitating the experience of God in a culture.

For de Mesa, culture, rather than tradition, should be the primary guide for understanding faith. Rather than simply applying revealed truths to situations, the church should seek out how local cultures discern the faith. For instance, as many Asian Christians declare, "Rice"--not bread--"is life." While bread has been the staff of life for cultures in which the Judeo-Christian message began and developed, to Asians the bread of life is a foreign concept. Such an observation does not deny the Real Presence of Jesus or the importance of bread. It simply seeks a way to express the life God gives in locally meaningful terms.

As the Second Vatican Council affirmed, the Catholic Church is a church on pilgrimage--on its way but not yet arrived at its goal of the realization of the kingdom of God--and therefore is in need of change, said de Mesa. In a world church, Catholicism needs to move beyond a European expression of Christianity--which has had its place and time--to seeking out the face of God in the experiences of all the world's cultures.
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Title Annotation:Theologian says culture, not tradition should be guide for understanding faith if Catholic Church is to reach into Third World.
Publication:U.S. Catholic
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2000
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