Special Assembly for Asia of the Synod of Bishops : OFFICIAL RESPONSE OF THE JAPANESE CHURCH TO THE LINEAMENTA


The Official Response of the Japanese Church does not follow the questions added to the Lineamenta. However, i […]

The Official Response of the Japanese Church does not follow the questions added to the Lineamenta. However, it represents what the Bishops’ Conference of Japan gathered from the valuable opinions sent from throughout the entire nation, and we sincerely hope it will be a useful contribution to the discussion at the Special Assembly for Asia of the Synod of Bishops.



(1) Three Months Needed for Translation

Upon receipt of the English and French translations of the Lineamenta published in Rome on September 3, 1996, we began at once to have it translated into Japanese. This took about three months. Copies of the translation were distributed to each diocese on December 17, 1996. In each diocese the Bishop took the lead in common study sessions and made it the subject of prayer.

(2) Discussion at two Plenary Assemblies

After the Bishops of each Diocese received the Japanese translation of the Lineamenta, they studied them together with the priests of their dioceses for about two months and tried to formulate an answer to the questions of the Lineamenta. However, though they had asked their priests for an answer to the questions of the Lineamenta, the reaction was that it was not possible to answer those questions. Then, at the discussion at the Extraordinary Plenary Assembly (Feb. 18-21, 1997) on how to prepare the official response, as we shall note below, many opinions were expressed on the questions themselves as well as about requests to be made of the Synod itself.

a) Opinions of the Bishops concerning the questions of the Lineamenta themselves: Since the questions of the Lineamenta were composed in the context of Western Christianity, they are not suitable. Among the questions are some concerning whether the work of evangelization is going well or not, but what is the standard of evaluation? If it is the number of baptisms, etc., it is very dangerous. From the way the questions are proposed, one feels that the holding of the Synod is like an occasion for the central office to evaluate the performance of the branch offices. That kind of Synod would not be worthwhile for the Church in Asia. The judgement should not be made from a European framework, but must be seen on the spiritual level of the people who live in Asia.

b) Hopes for the Synod: If the Synod is to be carried out for the Church in Asia, it must have a different approach than for other continents. The same approach as in the West will not be successful. The most important thing is the “inculturation” of our thinking. As the Holy Father says, our objective must be a “New Evangelization.” In other words, a new zeal that is different from that we have had till now, new expressions (and a completely different method of communication), new methods (a different approach than the traditional one). If we are to have a Synod for Asia, in order that the method and process may be different from that for a Synod for the West or for Africa, before composing the Instrumentum laboris the priorities of the Church of Asia must be presented clearly.

Accordingly, the Bishops’ Conference decided that they would prepare their own questions for the Japanese Church and ask the opinions of the major seminaries, theology faculties, and the various religious congregations.

Four months later at the Ordinary Plenary Assembly (Jun. 16-21, 1997), they considered the more than 325 replies submitted by the Bishops themselves, the major seminaries, the theology faculties, religious congregations, individual priests and religious, councils of the laity, etc., and composed the Official Response of the Japanese Church that is given below.



l. Proposals Concerning Methodology

(1) Consideration of Asian Countries Without a Common Language

Among all the countries of Asia there is not one which has as a native language those ordinarily used by the Holy See (Italian, English, French, German, Spanish). Countries like India and the Philippines which have many different languages use English as a kind of common language. However, among the almost 40 nations which are to take part in the Special Assembly for Asia of the Synod of Bishops, they are a real exception. To fail to take this fact into account and to hold the Special Assembly according to the same time schedule and methodology as those of Europe and America, etc. is ill-advised. It is necessary to provide a period of preparation of at least six months from the publication of the Instrumentum laboris until the Synod itself. (We should like to point out that it took three months from the publication of the Lineamenta to its translation into Japanese and distribution to the Bishops). The Bishops of Japan consider it most important to translate the Instrumentum laboris, study it carefully, and prepare themselves in prayer.

And for the same reason we request that, together with determining English and French as the languages to be used at the Synod, provision be made for simultaneous translation from English and French to Japanese, and other languages as requested by the other Conferences.

(2) Use of a Methodology Suited to Asia Spirituality

Unlike Europe and Africa, the differences between the various nations of Asia are so fundamental that a basically different methodology than that used in the Synods held up to now is called for. Using the methodology of the West as is for the Special Assembly for Asia will not be successful. Some sessions and activities should be included to work toward a united image and a new paradigm to include the varying realities and cultures of Asia, the differing mentalities and spiritual traditions.

The issues to be discussed during the Synod should be decided right after the Bishops have convened. This is to assure that there is ample time for mature deliberation in order to arrive at their final recommendations.

The decision concerning the global direction of the Synod should not be made by the Roman Secretariat, but should be left to the Bishops from Asia. The choice of the Chairpersons of the committees and small groups which are to direct the work of the Synod should also be left to the Bishops from Asia. They should follow their own sense of the process and the special needs of the assembly.

The Bishops taking part in the Synod should be permitted to consult and ask the comments of experts concerning the different matters treated during the sessions. These experts should be persons recommended by the Bishops themselves for their knowledge of the Church, the World, and especially of the realities of Asia.

(3) Use Should be Made of the Fruits of FABC; Focus Should be Limited from the Beginning

For more than 25 years the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) has been involved with the reality of the Church in our countries and made important statements. We propose that the fruit of the work of FABC should be made good use of at the Synod.

For example, we propose that the practice of having a representative of the Church of each country give a report, which usually takes two weeks, be discontinued, and a representative of the two blocks of FABC and the Middle East first give a report on their history and current problems, and thus limit the focus of the issues to be taken up by the Special Assembly for Asia of the Synod. In this way, the very wide-ranging and many-faceted figure of the living Church in Asia is presented, and the main points of the presentation becomes clear, and there will be time at the end to make a concrete plan.

(4) Dividing into Groups

At Synods up to the present, groups were formed according to the languages of the West (Italian, English, French, German, Spanish, etc.). However, we request that for this Special Assembly for Asia the groups be divided, not according to language, but according to themes or Religious Cultures (Islamic Culture, Hindu Culture, Hinayana Buddhist Culture, Mahayana Buddhist Culture, Confucian Culture, etc.).

(5) Participation of Various Observers

One common anti-evangelical problem among the countries of Asia is discrimination against and oppression of women. In order that we can grasp and judge this reality, we request the participation of women observers, well-acquainted with the problem. The Major Superiors’ Association of Religious Women of Japan is prepared to send a religious woman suitable for this task.

With few exceptions, the Catholic Church in almost all the countries of Asia is a religious minority. In order to grasp and judge this situation, we request that representatives of the traditional religions and experts in dialogue with other religions be called to participate as observers.

(6) To Revitalize the Catholic Church of Asia

The Catholic Church in Asia, even entering the third millennium, has to continue the work of evangelization in the midst of many other religions. Making the most of this fact, we hope that the Synod will be one that will encourage the work of evangelization that we are carrying on. The Church in Asia has many tasks and problems, but rather than stress the negative side, we hope that this Synod will be one that will encourage us from now on, too, in the midst of many problems to continue our efforts against heavy odds. We do not hope for a Synod aiming at discovering how the Asian Church can be propped up by the Western Church, but one where the Bishops of Asia have an honest exchange and learn how they can support and encourage one another. In other words, we wish to participate in the spirit of people really involved with one another, not seeking how “they can have life more abundantly,” as if we were speaking about some third persons, but of how “we together can have life more abundantly.”

(7) Focus on Relationship with Other Asian Religions

In Asia, in addition to Christianity and Judaism, there are also Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, and other great religions. Moreover, there are Animistic Religions which believe in the existence of spirits (and Popular Religions, Cosmic Religions, etc.), which have a wide influence. A culture that has developed receiving the influence of these varied religions is fundamentally different. What about considering at the Special General Assembly for Asia, not the global connection of Christianity with all the problems of Asia, but the relationship of Christianity with each religion and each culture? Unless we do so, we may end up only with abstract discussion and without anything concrete or useful that the Church of Asia can do for the realistic service of the Kingdom of God.

2. Considerations for Composing the Instrumentum Laboris

(1) Christology

One finds in the Lineamenta a certain “defensiveness” and apologetic attitude. This makes the expressions presenting certain other theological positions clearly unfair and inadequate. This is especially clear in the section on Christology. This does not help the faith of Asian Christians. What is necessary is an open and spiritual Christology rooted in real life and alert to the problems of modern people.

We should try to discover what kind of Jesus will be a “light” to the peoples of Asia. In other words, as the Fathers of the early Church did with Graeco-Roman culture, we must make a more profound study of the fundamentals of the religiosity of our peoples, and from this point of view try to discover how Jesus Christ is answering their needs.

Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, but in Asia, before stressing that Jesus Christ is the TRUTH, we must search much more deeply into how he is the WAY and the LIFE.

If we stress too much that “Jesus Christ is the One and Only Savior,” we can have no dialogue, common living, or solidarity with other religions. The Church, learning from the “kenosis” of Jesus Christ, should be humble and open its heart to other religions to deepen its understanding of the Mystery of Christ.

(2) Ecclesiology

The image of the Church presented in the Lineamenta is not as rich or deep as that of Vatican II. Especially, the image of “The Church as People of God” and “The Church as Servant” are not stressed. These two images have special meaning for the Church in Asia, which in order to serve God’s kingdom lives in a minority position with and for others. Their absence would be unfortunate for the Synod.

The central issues of “Service” and “Dialogue” developed by the FABC are two very important points for the Catholic Church in Asia, which are not sufficiently stressed in the Lineamenta.

(3) Soteriology

The theme of “Mission of Love and Service” proposed by the Catholic Church in Asia must be one that responds to the real thirst of the people of Asia. That is to say, it must make clear, in a way the people can understand, the content of the salvation which Jesus brings. And again, in order to proclaim to the people of Asia the universal message of salvation, we must study how to express this message.

(4) Missiology

In the Lineamenta, without attempting to explain what the term can or should mean, the word “Proclamation” is stressed and used over and over again. Considering the Asian context, not enough attention is given to the necessity of “Dialogue.”

In the context of evangelization in Asia, “compassion with the suffering” has been identified time after time at the General Assemblies of the FABC as a most important element. In missionary work among those of other religions what is more important than convincing words is the attitude of standing by the side of the weak and powerless and showing them compassion.

In the Lineamenta a great deal is made, as in traditional scholastic theology, of “distinctions” and “differences.” However, in the tradition of the Far East, it is characteristic to search for creative harmony rather than distinctions. In the documents published by the FABC over the past 25 years there have been many examples of this “asian-ness.” Isn’t it important for the Asian Synod to discuss how we are to accept the truths to be found in Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, etc., how we are to evaluate them, and how we are to work together?

The questions at the end of the Lineamenta ask for an evaluation of our missionary activity. However, when we treat a situation in Asia where it is difficult to increase the number of baptisms, a “success orientation” of “trying for better results” can only discourage the missionary. We need a vision of evangelization that gives joy and a sense of purpose to a Christian living as one of a minority in the midst of many traditional religions. An evaluation based not on the number of baptisms but rather from the point of view of “How faithful have we been to our mission of evangelization?” is necessary.

(5) Other Points

The theology on which the Lineamenta is based is the theology of the Christian West, and appears to the eyes of non-Christians as overly self-complacent and introverted. Based on this kind of theology, we cannot approach the unsettled Asia of today. In the Lineamenta there is a lack of understanding of Asian culture, especially the Asian culture of today, which is a mixture of traditional Asian culture and an Americanized modern culture. Moreover, it does not appear that we can be satisfied with modern Western theology, either. Especially if we consider that even in non-Christian cultures, we can never say that the redemption of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit is absent.

The historical analysis of the Church gives the impression of being centered in India.
There is a great lack in the treatment in the Lineamenta of the problem of Churches in the Siberian area of the former Soviet Union and the Churches of the Middle and Near East, the problem presently faced by the Church in China, the difficult situation of the Socialist Nations of the Indochina Peninsula, and the pain of separation between the Republic of Korea and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, etc



Based upon the theme of the Synod “Jesus Christ the Savior and His Mission of Love and Service in Asia: ‘ …That They May Have Life, and Have it Abundantly'” we propose the following eight topics.

(1) An Asian Theology: to develop a missiology, pastoral practice, and spirituality that is based not on a Christ whom we only grasp in our minds, but who speaks to us in our hearts through his living presence and activity. The flowering of the Gospel within a culture (inculturation).

a) A Christology seen from the cultural ambient of Asia: how to present Jesus in Asia. In what sense is Christ “The Way” and “The Life” for the people of Asia?

b) Liberation from a Western-style Church and the creation of a new vision: What does the salvation brought by Jesus Christ mean in the concrete? How to express the message of universal salvation so that it can be understood by the people of Asia.

(2) Taking a New Look at Evangelization and Nourishing the Faith To Foster an Asian Faith

a) Sharing experiences in evangelization and faith, and learning from one another: rather than theological explanations, theories, and articles of faith, emphasis is given to meeting God and the overall spiritual journey in mind and heart. Also, an exchange concerning the limits felt to the “Western-type” of missionary activity used up to now.

b) To study a concrete plan for the formation of priests and the faithful, and of sharing responsibility with the faithful.

c) To look for and set up a faith-education program for youth that corresponds to their new culture.

d) The formation of migrant Christians as evangelizers.

e) To determine the positive role of women in evangelization.

(3) Taking a New Look at Celebrations and Liturgy in Asia (Are we making use of the good points in each culture?)

(4) To Provide Light for the Various Problems of Asia (Making use of the documents of FABC)

a) Poverty and the various problems of modernization: especially, the breakdown of the family, prostitution, the population explosion and the education of youth, the low status of women, discrimination, the destruction of the environment, etc.

b) Political corruption and dishonesty, bribery, oppression.

c) Secularization accompanying modernization and urbanization, a materialistic and hedonistic atmosphere, and a decline in morality.

d) The contradictions of daily living in a capitalistic and technologically oriented society.

e) The influence of the media.

f) The problems of religious fundamentalism, cultural colonialism (the loss of traditional culture), etc.

g) Maintaining communion with the Church in China (taking into account the situation after the return of Hong Kong and Macao to the rule of Mainland China).

(5) Renewing our Solidarity with the Poor. Addressing the Problem of Poverty with all our Strength and Working with Love and Service

a) Material and social poverty brought about by social injustice.

b) Spiritual and moral poverty brought about by the inflation of egoism to support and advance ideological materialism and consumerism.

(6) How to Continually Form a Scale of Values Based on the Christian View of Person and thus Incarnate “His Mission of Love and Service” (How to make the concrete love of Christ grow in people’s hearts): In union with the UN and other NGO’s, to form public sentiment toward respect for human life, respect for human rights, social justice, peace, freedom, solidarity, etc.

(7) Asian Spirituality and Inculturation of the Gospel

a) By evangelization how can we bring to blossom the spirituality long-valued in East Asia, which seeks by discipline to open one’s heart, spirit, and life to the absolute?

b) How can the originality of Christianity be brought into dialogue and harmony with other religions?

c) How can the spirit of Christianity become part of “the culture of youth” in Asia?

(8) Dialogue With Other Religions

a) To try many concrete and varied approaches to dialogue.

b) To strive to exist and live together with people of other religions.

c) To establish a richer identity of the Church.



Problems in which the Church in Japan is Now Involved, and Problems for the Future

(1) The Bishops’ Conference of Japan published in 1984 “Basic Policies and Priorities of the Catholic Church in Japan”: “Basic Policy a) Each of us Catholics should be missionary and transmit the joy of faith to our brothers and sisters who do not yet sit at Christ’s banquet. We should lead many people to baptism and with them be collaborators in the work of salvation. b) In Japan’s present society and culture there already are evangelical seeds but it is also a fact that many Japanese are driven into a weak position where they are oppressed and discriminated against. All of us Catholics, with the power of Christ, should cultivate these seeds together with our ‘little brothers and sisters’, and proclaim the Gospel that should change present society and culture into a society that respects all and everyone.”

The Bishops’ Conference together with all the faithful, religious, priests, and Bishops became as one and not only showed their determination to work together for the evangelization of Japan, but have already held two “National Incentive Conventions for Evangelization: NICE” (Cf. Bishops’ Conference of Japan, “‘Let Us Live Together in Joy’ – Letter of the Japanese Bishops to the Catholic Christians of Japan”, a response to NICE I, and “The Family and Evangelization – Towards Building up a Church Community Supportive of the Family and Alive to the Gospel”, a response to NICE II).

At present, to break down the barriers that have existed till now, we are endeavoring to build up a Church community, together especially with those who are disadvantaged in Japanese society, to make the Church a place where people can live together in joy with God and with one another. (Concretely: a) viewing social problems in the light of the Gospel, working to provide guidelines for their solution, b) forming a system for ongoing faith-education, c) revitalizing the liturgy, d) reconsidering diocesan and parish structures, etc.).

(2) In Japanese society, the Catholic Church is a real minority Church and a weak Church. In this situation we are striving to discover what it means for us to say “The Church is the sacrament of the Kingdom of God.”

(3) With the great increase of foreign immigrants to Japan, we are well on the way to becoming a multi-nationed Church. We are trying to develop a pastoral method that takes account of this reality (Cf. Episcopal Commission on Social Activities of the Bishops’ Conference of Japan, “Seeking the Kingdom of God which Transcends Differences in Nationality”).

(4) Taking into account the fact that the Church in Japan is becoming a Church without young people, we are searching for the ways to form Catholic movements and communities that embrace believers of all ages.

(5) Summarizing the injustices which Japan committed against Asia (colonization and participation in economic invasion, etc.), the Church of Japan asks forgiveness, and has begun a new movement to establish peace (Cf. The Declaration of the Bishops’ Conference of Japan, “RESOLUTION FOR PEACE – On the 50th Anniversary of the End of the War”).

(6) As a Church which is a living victim of atomic warfare, we continue to plead for the abolishment of nuclear weapons and express our opposition to atomic experimentation (Cf. Bishops’ Conference of Japan, “An Appeal for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons”) .

(7) We are striving to handle the situation of Japanese society which is characterized at the same time by spiritual deprivation and economic affluence.

(8) We continue to call upon the Japanese Government to keep to a minimum the harm to the environment that accompanies the industrialization of the whole of Asia, and the cooperate for the true development of Asia.

(9) In answer to the appeal of the Holy See, we are calling upon the Japanese Government to reduce the debt owed by foreign countries.



To take a new look at the connection between the Churches in Asia and the Holy See. That is, to consider a system of establishing relationships not based on “centralization” but on “collegiality.” We ask the Holy See to give more recognition to the rightful autonomy of the Local Churches .

For example, it is strange that approval should have to be obtained from the Holy See even for Japanese translations of liturgical and catechetical texts already approved by the Bishops’ Conference. To contribute to the evangelization of the region, to encourage inculturation, to build up real “collegiality” among the Churches in Asia, trust should be shown to the Local Churches and the independence of the Local Churches should be respected in matters concerning administration, etc.

July 23, 1997

Catholic Bishops' Conference of Japan