We all are born into one culture. Our inherited culture is dear and familiar to us. It has formed our way of living, thinking, feeling, dressing, eating, enjoying, suffering, giving birth, getting married, being single and dying… Our inborn culture is the mental soil on which we were brought up. It has nourished and strengthened us to become conscious and responsible human beings. We may change our nationality or even our religion – but we cannot change our inborn culture.
Culture as base of our identity
Cultures have emerged wherever people are living together for long time in the same territory experiencing together fortune and misfortune, breathing the same air, enjoying the same nature and being exposed to the friendliness or adversity of people from outside. Customs and social relationships have developed over centuries, beautifully presented in poems, legends, songs dances, theatre. Therefore, our culture is essentially part of our identity which we share with people of the same territory, the same history, the same social and political experiences.
When we are gathered with Jesus Caritas on continental or international level we share our cultural identities and enjoy cultural variety among us. How different we are culturally! Bengali culture is quite different from Pakistani culture, Filipino culture from Korean, Myanmari from Indian or Vietnamese culture…
Rapid cultural changes
Historically, in the colonial period culture of native and colonized people was either oppressed, exploited or “well protected” so that nothing could change as colonial power holders ruled the world. At the end of colonial imperialism and after two disastrous world wars, the world has greatly changed politically and culturally. From now on societies of cross-cultures emerged. What was rejected and oppressed got recognized and appreciated. We are far away from being now a “global village”. Differences and conflicts are continuing worldwide although in different structures and international relations. But many nations have become multicultural nations. What the Indian people had experienced over centuries is now reality elsewhere: people of different cultures are living peacefully together, side by side. Accept a few isolated countries like North-Korea or Bhutan everywhere else people of different cultures are engaged in joint ventures, activities and programs with unlimited chances and challenges of inter-cultural encounter and exchange.
Jesus and his culture
Jesus belonging to the people of Juda was born into the Jewish. Culture and religion at that time were identical. The Scribes and High Priests doubted or denied Jesus being a true Jew. Jesus questioned their understanding of culture and religion.
Jesus met people of other cultures. He went beyond cultural customs and religious rules when he addressed the Samaritan woman and the Syro-Phoenician woman although the Jews did not maintain relations with them. He was open to the Roman centurion and healed his servant. Culture was for Jesus not a barrier to meet non-Jews. What Jesus had initiated his followers implemented after his Resurrection and after the outpouring of the Spirit all over the world. They went beyond all cultural frontiers and founded an intercultural global society, the Catholic Church.
Charles de Foucauld beyond his French culture
Charles de Foucauld was a true French, proud of his culture and conscious of its superiority. When striving for worldly success, he joint the French army and later explored Morocco systematically. While losing his faith he was in Morocco deeply impressed by the culture and religion of the Tuareg tribe. When he gradually realized that God exists he rediscovered his original faith. From that time on he wanted nothing else but living for Jesus. Trying to live a hidden simple life like Jesus in Nazareth he ended up, after several detours, in the Sahara of Morocco. He wanted to live among the Tuareg a simple life as Jesus lived in Nazareth. The French immersed into the culture of the Tuareg. Bro. Charles was pioneering intercultural witness of the Gospel.
Diocesan priests – Intercultural messengers of the Gospel
We are living today in multicultural societies. I am day after day amazed to meet people of different colors, different clothes, different appearances. Time has gone when colonial powers had dominated other nations with their culture and missionaries introduced their culture to people in Asia or Latin-America. With the Vatican Council “cultural reversion” took place. Superiority cultural attitude of the West ended, while values of subjugated cultures were recognized and appreciated.
Nowadays, converting history, priests from Asia and Africa are leaving their home countries and their traditional culture to serve in countries with prevailing western culture. Only some Fidei Donum priests availed themselves in previous missionary countries for the time being to support local churches to implement Vatican Council´s recommendations. That was my experience in Bangladesh.
Many priests from Asia and Africa, religious and diocesan, are in the meantime part of pastoral teams in the West, serving local churches and thus being living bridges of their own and their new culture. They are breathing with two lungs – the lung of their inherited culture and the lung of the culture of their host country. Many of them are highly accepted and appreciated by the local Christians. Intercultural dialogue is the way to learn culturally and spiritually from each other. Intercultural priests are messengers of universality and complementarity within the Church. Intercultural identity is a characteristic of being priests in our time. Jesus Caritas offers us special chances to be brothers on intercultural ground enriching one another by sharing what each one represents particularly and of what we have in common. The coming Asian Assembly in Korea will be such a gracious moment of intercultural encounter and sharing.