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Archdiocesan Mission Office has new focus on Asia

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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

By Staff Report

ARCHDIOCESE — Bill Thoman was equipped with two observations upon returning from his 10-day trip to the Philippines in January.

He jokingly said his waistline grew after he ate the daily meals that were a common occurrence in the country. But that didn’t compare to the spiritual appetite he inherited from the immersion trip to Southeast Asia.

“I was amazed at how much smaller the world was for me,” Thoman said. “If anything, I’ve become more interested in how people are alike instead of how we’re different.”

Mike Gable, director of the archdiocesan Mission Office, speaks with local representatives of the Asian Catholic community at a meeting to plan the World Mission Sunday Mass Oct. 18. (CT/E.L. Hubbard)

Thoman, a physical plant director at St. Teresa of Avila Parish, was one of 14 individuals from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, including six from the parish, who traveled  to the city of Talisay on the island of Cebu last Jan. 19-29.

“When the opportunity came about I was really thrilled,” Thoman said. “I always had an interest in Asian cultures, and it was a good opportunity to immerse myself.”

The intent of the journey was for Cincinnati residents to understand the Filipino culture and meet some of the local people who work in missions. Father Ken Hendricks, who is from the archdiocese and works in the Philippines, was a tour guide. Father Hendrick’s church, located on the island of Biliran, invited the group to his small parish for a festive celebration at the end of the Christmas season.

The trip also offered a glimpse into the start of a twinning relationship with St. Teresa of Avila Parish in Cincinnati and St. Teresa de Avila in the Philippines. As of late September, the two parishes were formalizing the covenant and hope to sign it Oct. 15. Father Tom Bolte, pastor, said the relationship is “wonderful” and the Cincinnati parish has supported its Filipino neighbors with many prayers.

Thoman said the trip gave him a greater appreciation of how Catholics celebrate halfway around the world.

“It really drove home how universal the church is,” Thoman said.

That’s exactly what Mike Gable wants to emphasize as the archdiocese continues its five-year Asia solidarity project, which started in January. Gable, who is the director of the archdiocesan Mission Office, said the purpose of the project is to:

• Create a climate of awareness, education and advocacy on Asia in the parishes, schools and institutions in the Cincinnati area.

• Honor local Asian Catholic communities and better appreciate the cultural/spiritual gifts they bring to the local and global church.

• Consider building twinning relationships with Asian parishes and dioceses and create better connections with missionaries in Asia.

• Develop more networking, friendships and solidarity among Asian Catholics and Catholics of other backgrounds.

• Integrate Asian Catholics into the existing local Catholic communities.

From left, Mindy Dinh, Chen Vu and Van and Phan Tran participate in the planning meeting. (CT/E.L. Hubbard)

Those points reflect an opportunity for organizers and participants of the project. The World Mission Sunday Mass at Sacred Heart Church in Fairfield Oct. 18 will have an Asian emphasis.

“The Lord calls us to take principles from the Gospels” and apply them domestically and around the world, said Gable, who will visit Taiwan and Vietnam in January 2010.

Gable wanted Mass with an Asian influence early in the project to attract more local Asian Catholics. He has also reached out to Cincinnati-area clergy and parishioners who have visited Asia in order to get a broader perspective.

“There is a lot of listening involved,” Gable said.

Franciscan Father Dan Kroger, CEO/publisher of St. Anthony Messenger Press, is on the planning committee. Father Kroger worked in rural areas of the Philippines from 1979 until 1986 and taught theology from 1991-2007 to students from China, Japan, Korea and Indonesia at De La Salle University in Manila.

“What we’re hoping is to expand the Catholic consciousness that number one, the church is bigger than the West. There is a huge population in the East and it’s really an exciting area,” Father Kroger said.

Chato Villa, coordinator of Filipino ministries in the archdiocese, said strong values in Asian cultures foster well-being, justice and love — all of which are central to the Catholic faith.

“Asian cultures have a strong sense of family; harmony binds the family,” Villa said. “Respect for the elderly and authority shape their experiences. Fervent religious faith is a vital source of strength for the Asian societies. Building community is another strong value that is rooted in Asian cultures.”

Maryknoll Father Les Blowers was a missionary in South Korea for more than two decades until 1988. He said Asian Catholics are “evangelistic” in their faith.

“They are very pious,” Father Blowers said. “They have deep faith; they have a great devotion to the Blessed Mother.”

Father Kroger said he saw 30,000 people attend Masses in Manila that started every hour beginning at 3 a.m. That is just one example of the strong devotion of Asian Catholics, who have been recognized by the Vatican in a significant way in the past decade.

“The history of the church in Asia is old as the church herself, for it was in Asia that Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit upon His disciples and sent them to the ends of the earth to proclaim the good news and gather communities of believers,” said the Ecclesia in Asia document from Pope John Paul II in 1999. The pope issued the apostolic exhortation after the 1998 Asian synod to plan for the new millennium. In it, he affirmed that in Asia “the church must live by dialogue.”

The Archdiocese of Cincinnati has had two other successful solidarity projects this decade — Central America (2000-04) and Africa (2004-09). Gable said there are similar goals for Asia, and a formal report will outline the significant points from the project.

Gable said that through the project he wants to engender understanding about the religious, political, economic and social issues that are important to Asian Catholics. A summit is being considered so that members of the Asian Catholic community can join for fellowship. It will also give a scholarly perspective to all Catholics.

Thoman, who is on the planning committee, said learning about Asian Catholics didn’t stop with his trip in January. He has been open to promoting the project, including offering a 30-minute PowerPoint presentation to anyone interested in the trip.

“I want to meet more people of the Filipino and Asian communities here in Cincinnati,” Thoman said.

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