Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Mongolia and Burma

John Allen has a fascinating piece about the "baby Church" in Mongolia, and what is drawing converts: the Church's social outreach, as well as the liturgy. The reformed liturgy in the vernacular, with active participation, which is different from their Buddhist religious experience, where "only the monks sing."
In the terms of Western Catholic debate, those results may well seem counter-intuitive. Over the last quarter-century, those forces concerned with Catholic identity have sometimes argued that the church has placed too much emphasis on social service, which can be delivered by humanitarian groups without any reference to the gospel, and on liturgical reform, which has made the Catholic Mass too much like worship services of other Christian denominations. According to this view, the priority should be to cover the distinctively Catholic elements of the church's life and spiritual mission.

What the Mongolian experience may suggest, however, is that what counts as "distinctively Catholic" is to some extent culturally relative. For Mongolians without much experience of what Vatican II called the "full, conscious and active participation" of laity in the liturgy, the reformed Catholic Mass in the vernacular language may in fact seem remarkably distinctive.

Even the fact of serving coffee, tea and cookies after Mass, Padilla said, is a departure from the normal Mongolian religious experience, and it's an important point of initial contact for many Mongolians who attend Catholic liturgies or events for the first time.
There's also a clear sense that everything that is done, is done as "part and parcel of evangelization." Not converting people by force, but certainly, it seems, proclaiming Christ.

It should, of course, be a no-brainer that what "works" in many ways is culturally dependent. Sherry W at the ID Blog has some helpful thoughts on Allen's piece, and also gives some information about the estimated number Christians in Mongolia: some 39,000, of which Catholics are some 500.

Meanwhile, Christianity Today has a brief piece about Burma's Christian ethnic minorities.

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