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Asia Pacific Augistinian Conference

Convention address by Tony Banks OSA

The author, Fr Tony Banks OSA is presently an Assistant General of the Augustinian Order, and one of his tasks in that role is to be especially attentive to the Augustinian Order in the Asia Pacific; while based in Australia in previous years, he served as APAC President during 2008 – 2011.

Tony Banks OSA: New Evangelization through Collaboration in the Asia Pacific

 What appears here is a slightly abbreviated copy of the keynote address that was given at the twelfth triennial APAC Convention at Ketapang in Indonesia on 22 October 2014. The title of this keynote address was the theme of the four-day convention.


The first task of the Church and of religious life which must be once again assumed with enthusiasm is the proclamation of Christ to all. This task falls especially to consecrated men and women who bring the message to the growing number of those who ignore it. This mission is still in its beginning stages and we must commit ourselves with all our resources to bring it about. (Redemptoris Missio 1) The confident and mutually dependent action of missionaries must always seek better ways of responding to the demands of inculturation in such a way that the specific values of each people are not rejected but purified and brought to their fullness. (JPII, The Church in Asia, 1999) While remaining totally faithful to the proclamation of the Gospel, Christianity of the third millennium will also be characterized by the face of the many cultures and peoples where it is taken up and rooted. (Novo Millenio Inuente, 40)

Even though we love Augustine as our spiritual exemplar and inspiration it is Christ whom we proclaim. We bring our own set of glasses or lenses through which we view the world

- our understanding that grace conquers sin

- a deep sense of communio at all levels of the Church

- a wish to encounter others and seek unity of mind and heart

- a profession of love that is creative and liberating

- that the first action in love is to go within to the God who is with me so that I might recognise and proclaim the God beyond me { this can also be stated in terms of community)

These are gifts wee bear to our local community, to our congregation or circumscription and which the church charges us to bring to the Church of today and tomorrow. We have a legacy and a culture that is worth bearing beyond us.

This morning we have heard about New Evangelisation in Indonesia. We heard that this church of "Diversity in Unity" finds itself in dialogue

- with the multiple cultures of Indonesia

- with people of other faiths

- with the poor

- in a context of development

- in collaboration with the laity who are the Church

What do we bring as a group to the needs of our peoples? I am not always sure that we even understand who are the people we are called to serve!


I am not always thrilled with the term "New Evangelisation". While the notion that evangelization is at the forefront of the mission of the Church and is to be found in our baptismal call was reiterated by Blessed Paul VI in Evangeli Nuntiandi he located the source of this message firmly in the message of the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament.

When St John Paul II continued with this idea in Ecclesiam Suam there was specific mention of the ongoing nature of Evangelization. In the term of Pope Benedict XVI this call was transferred into a call for a renewed program of evangelization which seemed to have its base in the personal mission of Benedict to confront secularism in Europe.

Indeed the term new evangelization was seized upon by some in the Church to hark back to a pre- 1960 church in the West often without the learnings from evangelization in Africa, Asia and Latin America in the past 100 years. Some of these learnings were of an affirmative nature where evangelization efforts had borne much fruit yet some of the learnings challenged the Church and its practices.

Among these were the following four: openness to local culture, learnings in ecumenism, learnings in inter-faith dialogue, and the efforts of the local churches with regard to inculturation.

It is in Evangelii Gaudium that we see a call that places the Gospel at the service of the people rather than simply at the service of a style of proclamation and a recognition that evangelization is not new but rather the permanent call of Christ resounding across the centuries to people of every race, culture, language and way of life. And in ever-growing awareness in the Church that service is being understood as directed to the poor.

Today I would like us to utilise Evangelii Gaudium as our principal document in addressing the call to evangelise together as members of a wider Augustinian family. This message of the joy of being servants of the Gospel is core to our very existence as religious and as members of APAC.

Asia is the continent of the present and the future. We should not spend our time looking to the future too much for the power of Asia in the world is now a current phenomenon and its present situation is where the Church is called to minister. But Asia is not Christian territory. It is the birthplace of most of the great religions of the world. Here in the land of Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Shinto, Taoism we have an incredible history of peoples seeking the transcendent. The results of these searches have produced different responses. We live in a world that now comprehends not the differences of such responses but rather the evils of fanatically holding to the absolute truth of any one of the responses.

It is estimated that 3% of Asia is Catholic. That is 3%of 65% of the world's population. We have only one Asian nation with a Catholic majority. We are in a continent where the prevailing philosophies contain inherent wisdom but also contain customs that are in opposition to some of the major tenets of Christianity. We are in a continent marked with poverty but slowly learning the habits of consumerism and individualism as their material assets increase. In such a context what will be the nature of authentic evangelization?

Consecrated persons are called to be a leaven of communion at the service of the mission of the universal Church by the very fact that the manifold charisms of their respective Institutes are granted by the Holy Spirit for the good of the entire Mystical Body, whose upbuilding they must serve (cf . I Cor 12:4-11). Significantly, "the more excellent way" (1 Cor 12:31), the "greatest of all" (cf. I Cor 13:13), as the Apostle says, is charity, which brings all diversity into one and strengthens everyone to support one another in apostolic zeal. This, precisely, is the scope of the particular bond of communion which the different Institutes of Consecrated Life and the Societies of Apostolic Life have with the Successor of Peter in his ministry of unity and missionary universality.

The history of spirituality amply illustrates this bond and shows its providential function both in safeguarding the specific identity of the consecrated life and in advancing the missionary expansion of the Gospel. The vigorous spread of the Gospel message, the firm rooting of the Church in so many areas of the world, and the Christian springtime which the young Churches are experiencing today, would be unthinkable the Synod Fathers observed - without the contribution of numerous Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. Down the centuries they have maintained strong bonds of communion with the Successors of Peter, who found in them a generous readiness to devote themselves to the Church's missionary activity with an availability which, when necessary, went as far as heroism.  (Vita Consecrata 47)

The communion which consecrated persons are called to live goes far beyond their own religious family or Institute. Opening themselves to communion with other Institutes and other forms of consecration, they can spread communion, rediscover their common Gospel roots and together grasp the beauty of their own identity in the variety of charisms with greater clarity. They should compete in mutual esteem (cf . Rom 12:10), striving for the greater gift, charity (cf. 1 Cor 12:31).

Meeting and solidarity among institutes are thus encouraged, aware that "communion is closely linked to the Christian community's ability to make room for all the gifts of the Spirit. The unity of the Church is not uniformity, but an organic blending of legitimate diversities. It is the reality of many members joined in a single body, the one Body of Christ (cf 1 Cor 12:12) 

It can be the beginning of a joint search for common ways of serving the Church. External factors, such as having to comply with the new demands of States and internal Institute factors such as the decrease in the number of members, have already led to the coordination of efforts in the fields of formation, the management of goods, education and evangelization Even in these situations we can find the Spirit's invitation to a more intense communion. The Conferences of Major Superiors and Conferences of Secular Institutes are to be supported at all levels in this task.

The future can no longer be faced in isolation. There is a need to be Church, to together live the adventure of the Spirit and of the following of Christ, communicating the experience of the Gospel, learning to love the other's community and religious family as one's own. The joys and sorrows, the concerns and successes belong to everyone and can be shared. (Starting Afresh from Christ 30)

The documents of the Church are in support of evangelization in a collaborative manner. APAC is an entity that exists to foster cooperation across the family that calls St Augustine as its guiding spirit. So what should and could be our response? The first response is a common sign of solidarity that is this conference and our APAC organization. We have begun the proclamation but often it is simply a proclamation to one another. We hold conferences for co-workers who may already be in our fold. The challenge of collaboration is more than calling for common workers in projects we have already planned. Collaboration is more than nodding or indicating agreement or providing an extra hand - that is important but it should be so much more. As congregations we are sometimes giving of our excess to each other but our busy-ness means we pull back our resources.

And let us be very clear - our member congregations appear to be effective proclaimers of the faith but what more might APAC be capable of achieving? I am going to suggest that APAC needs to reflect not simply on its present realities but also share the future dreams of the different congregations: Is there a need for a conference on evangelization? On our core principles and means of evangelization? On our needs in the future? On Churches of the majority and churches for the minority? On issues of culture in diversity and unity? On our resourcing for spiritual outreach? For empowerment of the poor? On our common needs in formation -- initial and ongoing? On our missionary outreach both local and regional?

Such a conference should enable us to listen to the people of Asia and not just to ourselves - where are we called to be proclaimers? Where are we called to be like Paul, in his tent, on the fringes of the town? Where are we called to be agents of change who will never reap what we have sown for the Lord? Today at this APAC Convention we heard from parts of the church of Indonesia. We have heard and we will leave our brothers and sisters here to respond. Is this truly collaboration? lf we know each other's hopes maybe we can find ways to support out of our poverty.

In the question of future resourcing we do not yet have a directory or listing of where our congregations are inviting others to share in their wealth, present or future. There has been a pattern of cooperative ventures as illustrated by Barangay Magay - Tanuan, Leyte. But similar ventures are being undertaken by single circumscriptions as with the adoption of an island by the OSA Cebu Province. Some ventures are labelled as APAC, and others carry a different label. An outsider, and even an APAC insider, can be confused by the use of the APAC label. The geographical listing requested by Fr Bernard (APAC President) would assist greatly in seeing all of our ministries as corning under an APAC umbrella. If we can report to each other we might even be seen as evangelizing by others. Our need for common communications is a key to developing trust and support.

There is nothing to prevent us from missioning together. I give you some limited examples. The OSA Australian Province is preparing men for the founding of the Order in Vietnam, and we will need guidance from the Assumptionists and their experience. The Assumptionists have one house of aging men in New Zealand - they are looking for support from other members of the Augustinian family to preserve our family's presence in that country. The bishops of Taiwan, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos have requested workers from the male congregations and the ASOLC Sisters receive many requests. We have isolated Augustinians in China, and not overlooking the efforts of our Recollect brothers. Are we content to remain with our own people or does the Gospel call us to continue travelling, like Paul, bearing the Word by example and sometimes by speech? And if we are the pilgrims then maybe Augustine, our inspiration and author of rules for common life for men, women and clerics, calls us to go as collaborators. In economics there is a clear understanding that centres of specialization are not competitors but rather contributors to each others' success. Could it be the same in religious life and effective evangelization?

We need to acknowledge that our gatherings are expressions of collaboration and of challenging us to acknowledge our baptismal role as evangelizers. Our formandi are exposed to the shared values among us. The conferences on justice, on spirituality and on education are core expressions of coming together - but are they true models of collaboration? Do we simply put ourselves forward as the answer and forget to acknowledge that working with sheep is an experience of smells, of mess, of birth and death and that our reports appear on refined paper and glorious Powerpoint colour devoid of the mess?

So let us continue our conferences but let us commit to a greater collaboration:

- Common acknowledgment of a need for better expressions of communio among the different religious experiences of Augustinian life.

- Openness to a greater missionary presence in Asia that can be shared and co-supported by working together.

- Open discussions on where our unity finds its limits and where our diversity can be transformed into our strengths.

- An appreciation that our roots in mendicancy and monastic lifecall us to develop the interior life so treasured in Asia and to work alongside the peoples of Asia as their partners.

- Is there any possibility of further developing inter faith dialogue and inter religious dialogue (by training of younger members) so that like Augustine we can deal with the diversity of Asia as he dealt with the diversity of North Africa.

- A desire that our spirituality calls us to be an expression for the church that is becoming - we commit ourselves to greater collaboration with the laity.

- Empowerment by sharing our spirituality with our lay Augustinian brothers and sisters so that they become the proclaimers of tomorrow.

- That planning would be collaborative from the outset rather than singular by a circumscription while later inviting the participation of others.

The list is not exhaustive; it is an opening gambit in a long dialogue. Please feel free to move beyond these points immediately but at least be challenged by Evangelii Gaudium and the call to move beyond.

Tony Banks OSA
22 October 2014


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