POVERTY, CULTURE, RELIGIOSITY & CONTEMPORARY RESPONSES IN ASIA PACIFIC

By Armada Riyanto, CM[1]

The topic handed over to me is vast to discuss in details, since there are immense problems to discuss and cope with. As far as I can get the clue, studying political charity does not mean that we shall learn how to do politics in Machiavelian sense, that is, to pursuit political power; or, we strive to offer charity with somehow political intention. Charity, by nature, is not political; it is human and, surely, christian; it is concretization of effective and affective love. So, learning the topic we are urged to offer charity in such a way that it can be efficacious and corresponding to the needs of the poor within their socio-political and cultural conditions. In so doing, our charity should be based on proper study of socio-political situation. Vincentians should not remain indifferent to what socio-politically occurs in everyday life. Globalization, multiculturalism, fundamentalism (radicalism), religious revivalism are real phenomena produced in our society of today. They demand us to give responses.

As written in the program, this topic is dealt with in the area of “to see”. In the social teachings of the Church, “to see” is the first phase before proceeding to other ones, “to judge” and “to act”.[2] “To see” suggests observing, hearing, experiencing, looking at the lived reality. In this phase we carefully and intentionally examine the primary data of the situation.[3] Following this methodological process, this paper will offer a brief panorama of overall situation of poverty, culture, religiosity and contemporary responses in Asia Pacific. Data and statistics quoted are probably not new, yet they are recently produced in scientific papers and hopefully are still relevant to our study; or, the actual realities are not far from such data. The study will flows in the following outline with its contents:

  1. Poverty (the meaning of being poor, overall stats, rural poverty, urban poverty, poverty in uplands, indigenous, scheduled castes, coastal fishermen, environmental poverty, feminization of poverty)
  2. Culture (key components of culture, culture as civilization, culture as worldview, culture as symbols, culture as phenomenon of everyday life, culture as harmony, challenges to culture of harmony)
  3. Religiosity (Asia and religiosity, fundamentalism, religion for human being, religious tolerance and dialogue)
  4. Contemporary responses (to poverty, to diversity of culture, to religiosity)
  5. Concluding reflection

1. POVERTY

1.1. Understanding Poverty

Definition of “poverty” here might not be needed. Yet, it is worthwhile to listen to what the poor says about their understanding of poverty. Talking about poverty poor people have often referred to a range of dimensions they consider important. Income is only one of these many dimensions.[4]

In India, indigenous women (or ‘tribal women’ as they are called) described how they view poverty. Poverty, to them, was not having enough food from the farm, little or no access to drinking water, and low literacy. Landlessness, or very small holdings followed by dependency on wage labor, was seen as the main indicators of poverty.[5]

Group discussions among migrant youths and children in Vietnam identified specific situations that illustrate poverty to them: Being pulled out of school because parents cannot afford the costs; schools being closed down; teachers beating or humiliating poorer pupils; fathers drinking and beating mothers, shouting and quarrelling in the household, neighborhood fights; drug addiction; being considered inferior by wealthier households, being beaten by richer children; unstable income, being hungry, having poor clothes; concern about mother’s health and inability to afford good health care.[6]

A study of a Central Luzon village in the Philippines revealed a hierarchy of class and status categories based on the local residents’ assessment of themselves (the poor) and others in their communities. The criteria they used emphasized access to material goods and/or social relations. The poor categorized themselves in status groups according to access to basic survival means:[7]

Walang-wala (have nothing or next to nothing, meaning no land to farm, scarcely any income, tiny houses and, worst of all, little food).

Sumasala sa oras (missing meals).

Isang kahig, isang tuka (living hand-to-mouth and eking out a living like a chicken scratching and pecking the ground).

Agaw-buhay (hovering between life and death).

What about the meaning of poverty in Indonesia? Last year in connection with commemoration of the Independence Day, Susilo Bambang Yudoyono, the current president, delivered speech saying: “The Government earnestly considers and takes more concrete measures to advance the welfare of the people in Papua, particularly in the areas of health, education, basic infrastructures, public housing, and food resilience. The Government undertakes with high seriousness to provide opportunities and equalities to the original sons of Papua …” (16 August 2006). Speaking about how to advance the welfare, the president tells what the meaning of poverty and being poor would actually be in Indonesia. We can perhaps make a list of some components of it as follows:

“Original sons of Papua”. This means that poverty in Indonesia is identical with the life of the indigenous. Sons and girls of Papua are just one of the examples of indigenous people neglected here. They are not the only one. There are still plenty indigenous who suffered poverty such as Dayak in Kalimantan especially in the deforested lands. Besides, there are indigenous in Sulawesi whose way of living is still traditional (not to say “primitive”) and many more others in different regions of the archipelago of Indonesia. Their traditional way of life does not seem to be accessible to advancement of welfare.

“Poor health service.” Here poverty means par-excellence lacking good health service. Indonesia has been one of countries suffered from bird flu. Besides, there have been thousand children, mostly poor ones, suffering from malnutrition, starvation[8] or lacking of good quality of food that causes them to be sickly ones with big stomach and “tiny” brain. These children are usually found in villages, remote places, uplands, coastlands, inner part of forested lands.

“Low quality of education.” This problem happens to young people whose parents cannot afford the expense of schools. Education in towns and cities could be that with good quality, yet oftentimes it has been too expensive. Besides, education in remote places in the Islands especially outside Java is always in low quality.

“Problem of basic infrastructures.” This is the crucial problem of small islands or remote places in the big ones like Papua, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Flores where streets, schools, electricity, health services are not properly established. Or, if they have been set up, they have often been neglected. Consequently, poverty is just everyday life. People have difficulties to break up poverty and to develop their quality of life.

“Homeless.” This means that poverty is a condition in which house is so expensive to afford. Besides, in many places they are also landless. In Indonesia homeless means landless as well. They belong to the vulnerable ones.

These definitions cannot be used for uniform comparisons, but they provide significant insight into the dimensions the poor consider important to their definition of poverty. It is now widely acknowledged that poverty is a multidimensional concept that cannot be captured by a single dimension of human life.

1.2. Overall poverty

Table 1: Regional comparison of income poverty in developing countries[9]

People living on less than US$ 1 a day (million)

1987

1990

1993

1996

1998a

East Asia and the Pacific

417.5

452.4

431.9

265.1

278.3

South Asia

474.4

495.1

505.1

531.7

522.0

Asia and the Pacific

891.9

947.5

937.0

796.8

800.3

Europe and Central Asia

1.1

7.1

18.3

23.8

24.0

Latin America and the Caribbean

63.7

73.8

70.8

76.0

78.2

Middle East and North Africa

9.3

5.7

5.0

5.0

5.5

Sub-Saharan Africa

217.2

242.3

273.3

289.0

290.9

Total

1 183.2

1 276.4

1 304.3

1 190.6

1 198.9

Asia and the Pacific as % of world total

75.4

74.2

71.8

66.9

66.8

Some 1.2 billion people in the world are estimated to consume less than a ‘standard’ dollar a day and are therefore in ‘dollar poverty’. Although the share of Asia and the Pacific Region in the world’s total poor declined by 8.6 percentage points between 1987 and 1998, this region still accounts for roughly two thirds of the total poor.

Using the headcount ratio, about two fifths of the populations in South Asia were under the poverty line in 1998, and the incidence of poverty in East Asia and the Pacific was much lower at 15.3%. Within the region, progress in poverty reduction has varied widely. The headcount ratio dropped dramatically for East Asia and the Pacific, from a high of 26.6% in 1987 to 15.3% in 1998, but the decline was more modest in South Asia (44.9% to 40.0%). Poverty incidence, as measured by the headcount ratio in 1998, was higher in South Asia than in any other region of the world, except Sub-Saharan Africa.[10]

In the case of Indonesia, according to the speech of President Susilo Bambang Yudoyono, among the whole Indonesian population 16% are still living in poverty line in 2005. But, I think as Indonesia have got difficulties to develop economy due to internal and international crisis, there are for sure more than the number of percentage mentioned by the President.

Table 2. Poverty in the Population of Indonesia, 1976–1999

Year Number of Proportion

Poor People of Poor

(million) People (%)

1976

44.2

40.4

1978

38.9

33.4

1980

32.8

28.4

1981

31.3

26.5

1984

25.7

21.2

1987

20.3

16.1

1990

17.8

14.3

1993

17.2

13.8

1996

15.3

12.3

1996*

24.6

19.8

10/1998*

31.9

25.7

2/1999*

32.4

25.0

8/1999*

25.1

20.2

* These figures are based on calculations by BPS-World Bank in Penyempurnaan Metodologi Penghitungan Penduduk

Miskin dan Profil Kemiskinan, 1999. Source: BPS, cited in ADB (2000b).

 

1.3. Rural Poverty

More than two thirds of the world’s poor (of 1.2 billion) are in Asia, and poverty is disproportionately concentrated in the rural areas of the region. There are 75% of the poor live in the rural areas. And yet, the situation is not good as only about 12% of total ODA (Official Development Assistance) is devoted to agricultural development.[11]

In the case of Indonesia there is somewhat a sluggish policy over rural development. Though Indonesia is not yet categorized into industrialized state, recently people have been desperately trying to abandon their lands. The government for sure recognizes the crucial problem of farmers, yet politically it remains paralyzed to resolve immense challenges of the so-called “globalization”. Assuming that developing countries have sometimes become victims rather than protagonists in the globalized world, I think the similar condition is happening in other countries of Asia Pacific. The fact that poor people are those who live in rural areas is indeed true.

Poverty is basically a rural problem in Asia and the Pacific Region. In all countries of the region, poverty is disproportionately concentrated in the rural areas. And between 80 and 90% of the poor are rural in all the major countries of the region. The headcount ratio is also higher for rural areas everywhere except for Mongolia.[12]

Table 2: Distribution of poor in rural and urban households in Asia

Distribution of Poor (%)

Country/Year

Rural

 

Urban

Southeast Asia

 

Indonesia, 1990

83.4

16.6

Laos, 1992/93

87.8

12.2

Malaysia, 1987

86.0

14.0

Thailand, 1992

84.7

15.3

Viet Nam, 1992/93

89.1

10.9

East Asia

China, 1995

98.9

1.1

Mongolia, 1995

43.0

57.0

South Asia

Bangladesh, 1995/96

57.8

42.2

India, 1994

86.2

13.8

Nepal, 1995/96

94.0

6.0

Pakistan, 1990/91

75.0

25.0

Central Asia

Kazakhstan, 1996

57.0

43.0

Kyrgyzstan, 1996

59.8

40.2

Pacific Islands

Papua New Guinea, 1996

94.2

 

5.8

Source: Ahuja et al. 1997, as quoted in ADB (Asian Development Bank) 2005.

 

1.4. Urban poverty

700 million people in Asia and the Pacific live on less than US$1 a day, 400 million of which are residing in urban areas. Each day a further 120,000 people are added to the populations of Asian cities due to rural-urban migration and job-mobility.[13] Many Asian cities face deteriorating sanitation and environmental conditions, inadequate housing and infrastructure, and other problems. The Asian cities need the construction of more than 20,000 new dwellings, 250 kilometers of new roads, and additional infrastructure to supply more than 6 million liters of potable water.[14] Urbanization, however, is also a chance for the poor to escape poverty though oftentimes they fall into another traps of poverty and marginalization.

1.5. Poverty in uplands

In the uplands, the central issue is secure and reasonable property rights over the forests, the productive background of the indigenous people and other marginalized groups of rural poor. Through their management of the forest systems, these people provide the rest of the world with many valuable environmental services – including carbon sequestration, hydrological services, and bio-diversity conservation. But these and other valuable services are not compensated for in any way. Instead, the people who perform these services are forced to bear costs ‘external’ to the mainstream economies. People who live in the uplands as well as forests are concretely being marginalized.[15] Marginalization connotes nearly complete exclusion from the mainstream of economic and political activities.

1.6. Indigenous

About 70% of the world’s more than 250 million indigenous peoples live in Asia. These peoples are known by different names: ‘hill tribes’ in Thailand, ‘ethnic minorities’ in Viet Nam, ‘minority nationalities’ in China, ‘Scheduled Tribes’ in India, and ‘cultural communities’ in The Philippines.

The term “indigenous” was frequently associated with native people, native groups, isolated people, swidden farmers, forest squatters, and adat communities or adat law communities. Adat communities are ethnic groups who occupied Indonesian territory long before the nation was established. Therefore, they are usually isolated people. [16] They may have different socio-cultural identity, language, and territories; they may live in villages, remote areas, or suburbs; but they still lack access to the existing system. Adat communities live in many parts of Indonesia, in forests, mountains, and coasts. Some are nomadic, some sedentary. They may carry out gathering, rotational farming, agro-forestry, fishing, operating small-scale plantations, and mining for their subsistence needs. However, this does not mean that they are never involved in trade. Indeed, it is difficult to find communities really isolated from the external world. Interaction occurs to different degrees.

There are at least three basic causes of poverty in adat communities. First is the problem of inadequacy of access and unavailability of facilities and services for fulfillment of basic needs. The absence of means for education and health services, and of roads, markets, clean water, and other services is regarded as a reflection of a low quality of life. Second are socio-cultural problems that include values and behavior inimical to improvement of community life. Low work ethics, lack of creativity, consumptive behavior, and a short-term outlook are some values said to reflect a culture of poverty. Third are structural problems, namely, policies and regulations rooted in the wider system that do not favor adat communities. In this perspective, poverty does not derive from adat communities, but from those groups external to the communities that control the wider system. It is injustice embedded in the system that impoverishes adat communities. In short: “an adat community is not poor, but is made poor.” Thus, the problem is not “poverty” but “impoverishment.”

The fact that Adat community has been impoverished is clear from low quality of education they have. In many village of Adat communities there are elementary schools, yet no high school. Aside from education, health service is also not well established. Every month a health aide (mantri kesehatan) visits the village, but a doctor’s visit is rare. Prices of medicine are considered very high. In many places of Adat communities there is also lack of clean water. They got water from river which is already polluted.

1.7. Scheduled Castes

People who belong to the Scheduled Castes are among the poorest of the poor in South Asian countries like India and Nepal. In the central Indian State of Bihar, 93% of the people belonging to the Scheduled Castes (dalits), and 85% of those belonging to other backward castes, are agricultural laborers (IFAD 1999a). In contrast, 96% of the people belonging to upper castes are landlords and rich peasants. The poverty of the dalits is centered on landlessness, but is not confined to that.[17]

1.8. Poverty of Coastal fishermen

The fisheries sector in Asia provides employment to a large workforce, though they represent only a small proportion of the region’s vast population. Asia has a total of some 25 million fishers and fish farmers – four fifths of the world total, and more than double the number counted in 1970 (FAO 1998). In South and Southeast Asia, 10.4 million people work as full-time or part-time fishers, about 8.6 million of them in marine fisheries and the remaining 1.7 million in inland fisheries (Hotta 1996). They are generally among the poorest of the poor. For them, open access to fisheries resources is a last resort to eke out a living (Kaosa-ard et al. 1999).[18] Poverty in the coastal areas is a characteristic of Bangladesh, The Philippines and Viet Nam as well as Indonesia.

1.9. Environmental poverty

Over the past decade, there has been a corresponding increase in the incidence of poverty that can be attributed to environmental causes. Floods, landslides, declining natural resources productivity, droughts and urban pollution exert disproportionate impacts on the lives and livelihoods of the region’s 621 million (17%) people still living in poverty and on the additional 1.2 billion (30%) who remain highly vulnerable. Those in poverty are defined as people living on less than US$1 per day. The vulnerable population is defined as those living on income of US $ 1-2 per day.

The poor suffer more losses, illnesses, injuries and death as a result of resource degradation, natural disasters and pollution than the rest of the population, because they are more likely to be dependent upon natural systems for their livelihoods or to live in unsafe housing or in areas prone to disasters and pollution.

The environmental poverty perspective categorizes poor people in a manner that demonstrates how environmental conditions affect their well being. It draws attention to the needs of the

dryland poor–those living on arid and desert land areas;

flood-prone and disaster-affected poor–those frequently affected by flooding and natural disasters;

upland poor–those living in remote upland or mountainous areas;

coastal poor–those living adjacent to coasts and dependent upon coastal and/or marine resources; and

slum poor–those living in substandard settlements with high exposure to urban pollutants.

1.10. The Feminization of poverty

While nearly two thirds of the world’s poor are in the Asian and Pacific region, two thirds of the region’s poor are women. And poverty is particularly acute for women living in rural areas.

The notion of ‘feminization of poverty’ was first used to imply that women were making up an ever increasing share of the world’s poor as a result of recession and cuts in public spending.[19] The term has been used for any or all of the following situations:

• More women than men are poor.

• Poor women suffer more from capability deprivation than poor men.

• The severity of poverty is higher for women.

• Women face greater hardship in lifting themselves and their children out of the poverty trap.

• There are poor women even within non-poor families.

These meanings are complementary rather than contradictory. Poor women do tend to be poorer than poor men; even the better-off households often have poor women as members; and poor women suffer most from external shocks. The negative impact of reform measures that slashed public expenditure on health and education has hit women hardest. It has increased their burden since it is they who try to compensate for the shortfall of public services. During the Asian financial crisis of 1997/98, there was clear evidence that rural women bore much of the burden of the reduction in incomes caused by falling remittances from the urban areas.

In poor families, the gender division of labor and responsibilities for household welfare mean that the burden of poverty falls most heavily on women. Given gender disparities in education, health care, economic participation, and incomes, women are the most vulnerable category.

The number of women living in poverty has increased disproportionately over the past decade, compared to the number of men. Male migrants in search of work and consequent changes in household structures have placed additional burdens on women, especially those with several dependents.

The disproportionate numbers of women among the poor pose serious constraints to human and social development because their children are more likely to repeat cycles of poverty and disadvantage. Improving the political, legal, cultural, economic, and social status of women is thus pivotal to escaping the poverty trap.

2. CULTURE

2.1. Key components of culture

In Wikipedia, an “on-line Encyclopedia”, we got basic elements of culture. A common way of understanding culture is to see it as consisting of four elements that are “passed on from generation to generation by learning alone”:

  1. values
  2. norms
  3. institutions
  4. artifacts

Values comprise ideas about what in life seems important. They guide the rest of the culture. Norms consist of expectations of how people will behave. They are concrete in what we may call “habitus”, series of ethical customs and habits, including laws and sanctions enforced. Institutions are the structures of a society within which values and norms are transmitted. Institution is a part of culture as it is typical in different people of different places. With these first three elements, culture also creates “social control”. Artifacts are just material things derived from a culture’s values and norms. Anthropologists or archaeologists regard artifacts as those which were produced not just by skill of people in the past time; rather they depicted symbolically some ideas of culture.

2.2. Culture as civilization

Many people today have an idea of “culture” that developed in Europe during the 18th and early 19th centuries. This notion of culture reflected inequalities within European societies, and between European powers and their colonies around the world. It identifies “culture” with “civilization” and contrasts it with “nature.” According to this way of thinking, one can classify some countries as more civilized than others, and some people as more cultured than others. Some cultural theorists have thus tried to eliminate popular or mass culture from the definition of culture. Theorists regard culture as simply the result of “the best that has been thought and said in the world”. On this account, culture links closely with social cultivation: the progressive refinement of human behavior.

Today, in post-colonialism, the meaning of culture refers positively to civilization of human beings in a certain place with their own characters. Unlike several years ago when people of the developing countries identified the so-called “progressive culture” with that of Europe or USA, today people are proud of being themselves as they are in their own cultural contexts.

Civilization as one of the ways how one regards the meaning of culture also indicates dynamic character. Civilization is connected with historicity. To talk about historicity of culture means to talk about the changing of culture.

Does it mean that values, norms, institutions are changing? Yes. As human beings are always trying to develop themselves, their lives, their ways of thinking, values and other components of culture are not immutable.

Which one is true, human beings determine culture; or culture determines human beings? Culture is not given by God, it is human hands-made. Culture always develops it along with human beings’ progress of civilization. Yet, as we experience, we are bound with certain culture. We do not belong to any culture of any time. We live in our own contextual culture. With this understanding then there is complex and interdependent linkage between human beings and culture.

2.3. Culture as worldview

People started to understand culture as worldview in the time of ideology especially the Second World War. The Germans identified ideological nationalist movement – such as the nationalist struggle to create a “Germany” out of diverse nations – as cultural movement. In Asia, Mao was also the one who call the ideological revolution of the communists in Mainland China as that of culture on 1949.

The notion of worldview implies ideas of the ways how people define their relationship with the world. It can be something traditional inherited by the ancestors from generation to generation such as rites, popular “liturgical” celebrations, values, and series of laws. But, worldview is also connected with ideological ideas that people lives out and promotes.

In the case of Indonesia, people are used to be taught Pancasila. What is Pancasila? Pancasila is a worldview inherited by the worth cultural traditions that have been lived out by generation fro generation in Indonesia. But it is also an ideology that directs social system of life as well as the governing political power. Known as the “Five Principles” (panca: five, sila: principle) of (1) belief in one Supreme God, (2) sovereignty of the people, (3) deliberation to arrive at consensus, (4) humanitarianism, and (5) social justice, this ideology is based on the cultural heritage of the Indonesian cosmic world-view, and is influential in the ancient Hindu kingdoms of Sriwijaya in Sumatra and Majapahit in Java.


This cosmic world-view has an impact on the Indonesian way of life among various sectors of society. It serves as an “instrument” in human efforts to successfully cope with the problems of life. Reality is described as a universe out of which a meaningful structure is derived for the realm of human experiences. The world, human society and nature are seen as interrelated, and they make up one single field of experiences. The meaningfulness of this interrelationship is expressed in the psychological state of tranquility, peacefulness and interior equilibrium. Social interactions express attitudes towards nature, and the attitudes to nature are seen as socially relevant too.

2.4. Culture as symbols

Culture holds symbols to be both the practices of social actors and the context that gives such practices meaning. The “symbolic gloss” allows social actor to use common symbols to communicate and understand each other while still imbuing these symbols with personal significance and meanings. Symbols provide the limits of cultured thought. Members of a culture rely on these symbols to frame their thoughts and expressions in intelligible terms. In short, symbols make culture possible, reproducible and readable. They are the “webs of significance” in Weber’s sense that, to quote Pierre Bourdieu, “give regularity, unity and systematicity to the practices of a group.”

UNESCO suggests a definition of culture in which we find the wide sense of culture and understanding of symbol.

In its widest sense, culture may now be said to be the whole complex of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features that characterize a society or social group. It includes not only the arts and letters, but also modes of life, the fundamental rights of the human being, value systems, traditions, symbols and beliefs … it is culture that gives (man) the ability to reflect on (himself and the world). It is culture that makes us specifically human, rational beings, endowed with critical judgement and a sense of moral commitment. It is through culture that we discern values and make choices. It is through culture that (man) expresses (himself), becomes aware of (himself), recognizes his incompleteness, questions his own achievements, seeks untiringly for new meanings and creates works through which he transcends his limitations.[20]

Symbolism does not refer merely to arts that reflect or symbolize something real beyond appearances. It also implies complexity of human capacities to discern values and make right choices. With symbols people transcend their incompleteness and limitations in describing the richness of surrounding realities.

2.5. Culture as phenomenon of the everyday-life

Oftentimes we have heard people spontaneously saying of “culture of violence”, “culture of death”, “culture of corruption”, “culture of harmony”, “culture of hedonism”, “culture of materialism”, “culture of feminism”, “culture of gender equality”, “culture of fear”, “culture of terror”, “culture of terrorism”, “culture of globalization”, “culture of instant mentality”, “culture of getting sudden rich” (this happens in our experience: to some candidates and their parents especially from middle class or poor economy, being priest means being rich, since a priest has cars, amount of money, good relationship with the haves and business people, etc.).

The way of understanding culture as indicated above is based upon what we may call concrete experiences of “everyday-life”. The terminology “everyday-life” is taken from philosophy especially that of Alfred Schutz whose book, Phenomenology of the Social World, became emblematic line of phenomenological approach, the new mainstream of sociological research.

To Schutz, everyday-life is to be understood “that province of reality which the wide-awake and normal adult simply takes for granted in the attitude of common sense.”[21] In everyday life the style of lived experiences is that wide-awakeness. For Alfred Schutz, “consciousness is itself under the greatest tension, which originates from the attitude of full attentiveness to life and its necessities. In acts and doings that are directed toward the surrounding world, the ego is fully interested in life and is therefore wide-awake … It is the world from which we cannot escape as long as we are wide-awake, the world where stones hurt our toes, where desires demand satisfaction, where fears inhibit our freedom, where we encounter our fellows in the flesh and have to communicate with them.”[22]

So, when we hear people saying of “culture of violence”, we must remember that first of all indicates their awakening to the concrete world they live in. That saying of “culture of violence” does not refer statistically to objective facts of violence (though it can be so). The concrete world is given to us in sense of experience.

In this phenomenological point of view, the sense of culture suggests something dynamic as experienced concretely by people in their life-world. Let us take an example, “culture of corruption”. When people say it, such culture is their concrete concern as experienced in everyday life. And, it is true or, better expressed, it is undeniable, as people suffered a lot because of corruptions. As everyday life is also source of knowledge as well as moral values, we should deal with more such kind of understanding of culture rather than theoretical concept of traditions inherited from generation to generation. Such kind of the meaning of culture is perhaps more urgent to deal with. Let’s take a look at how concrete “culture of instant mentality” or “culture of hedonism, materialism” to our young candidates, or how urgent to promote “culture of harmony” in our society.

2.6. Asia Pacific and Culture of Harmony

Being young in its zest for life, Asia Pacific is ancient in its own cultural heritage. It can be seen not just from plurality of cultures, cultural rites and types of societies, models of economic practices, variations of technologies, arts, sciences, and philosophies. But, it can be clear from the most worth one that is “culture of harmony”. I underline the importance of “harmony” since Asia Pacific is granted with rich diversity of cultures. Diversity can be richness and challenge at the same time. It is richness, as diverse cultures indicate the beauty of differences. Yet, it is challenge as in many cases people of Asia Pacific have suffered cultural tensions, conflicts, or even civil wars.

Just take an example, Indonesia has a population of around 210 million people (2001), including 500 ethnic groups speaking more than 600 languages (dialects). This ethnic diversity is understood as an asset of cultural riches supporting state unity, which is reflected in the national motto, Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, unity in diversity.

All these have also contributed to the complexities of life, to its agony and ecstasy. Yet, in Indonesia too, we observe the search for cultural, human as well as religious harmony, that vibrant a dynamic totality attained by interacting with other pulsating and maybe conflicting parts.

Harmony in a certain sense constitutes “the intellectual and affective, religious and artistic, personal and societal soul of both persons and institutions in Asia” (Fourth Bishops’ Institute for Interreligious Dialogue, BIRA IV, 1984). Yet, it is not easy at all to achieve. In Indonesia these places like Poso, Ambon, Aceh, Papua, Sampit became emblems of disharmonious civilization.

2.7. Challenges to Culture of Harmony


– Of Socio-Political Crisis in Asia

Many situations in the Asian and Pacific reality threaten and contradict harmony. These negative factors have to be acknowledged. The Final Statement of the Sixth Plenary Assembly of the FABC in Manila 1995 declared: “We turned our attention to whatever threatens, weakens, diminishes and destroys the life of individuals, groups or peoples; whatever devalues human beings, conceived, born, infant, old; whatever socio-cultural, religious, political, economic, or environmental factor that threatens or destroys life in our countries. We identified some of these forces of death at work in Asia.”

That crisis hit cruelly Asia at the end of the ninetieth decade few years ago. Indonesia was one among the most suffering countries. The death toll might not be countless. Yet, for nearly all of Indonesian people such crisis brought a very bitter experience of living together. We saw conflicts of people everywhere around the regions. Moslems were against Christians, Buddhists, Hinduists and vice versa. Fundamentalist Moslems were against the moderate ones and vice versa. Human beings destroyed forests; and illegal logging was obviously uncontrolled.

Girls, women, mothers suffered a lot as they could not afford their basic needs. At the same time, they saw their children with hunger faces. When they joined in social movements or strikes against the regime demanding improvement of social system and better quality of life, easily were they detained and treated unjustly by the police. Women and social activists became those people facilely kidnapped and put in jail. Here is one the bitter chronicle of what was happening during the crisis written by Julie Suryakusuma, one the leading women experiencing the cruelty of the socio-political crisis during Suharto’s regime ending.

 

On Monday, February 23, 1998, at 11.50 noon, about 40 housewives and mothers from the Voice of Concerned Mothers (SIP), gathered together to express our concern. The aim was to focus government attention on the increasingly difficult economic situation which places a heavy burden on all people, but especially mothers and children. This activity occurred concurrently with the sale of cheap milk for babies and children … At 13.00 on the day they were released, the women held a press conference at LBH (the Jakarta Legal Aid Foundation), accompanied by Apong Herlina, an LBH lawyer who had been one of the lawyers present with them during their detention. She explained that the women had been charged with violating Article 510 (staging a procession without a permit). As the charge could not be substantiated, the women had to be released within 24 hours after they were taken in. They were detained for about 22 hours, and only signed an arrest warrant as they were about to leave … All the women felt very emotional from the experience. They felt insulted by the fact that they were treated like common criminals. It was an insult not only to their education, but also to their intelligence and their integrity.[23]

 

During the crisis, being far from promoting worth value of harmony Indonesian people as well as others in Asia cultivated concretely culture of violence. In time of violence people were against one another. There was somewhat bellum omnium contra omnes (war of all against all). In many cases women and children suffered most. There was no friendship as such. In sum, as Thomas Hobbes wrote four centuries ago, human being did pursuit vain glory[24], a glory that does not add anything else but human suffering.

– Economic Poverty

Economic poverty has resulted in “dehumanization,” manifested in joblessness, hopelessness, violence, street-crime, drug-abuse, prostitution and child labor. Besides disrupting the harmonious integration of the human person, such situations have affected par excellence women, mothers and housewives.

 

We are women, mothers and housewives from all classes and various social segments, joined in a group called the Voice of Concerned Mothers (SIP). We feel that the crisis in Indonesia is a great cause for concern. The price of essential commodities such as rice, cooking oil, and especially milk, has soared beyond reach. Medication is not only expensive, but also difficult to obtain. This is also the case with medical treatment, as well as the cost of education. If this condition is not immediately dealt with, the next generation will end up malnourished and undereducated. The current situation is the direct result of a government which does not pay attention to the interests of the common people and which represses their voices. Corrupt and unfair economic practices and an undemocratic political system exacerbate the situation. This perception is now widely held. However, discontented voices are systematically repressed. As a result, there is a prevalence of violence and crime – the spontaneous expression of a people who have never been allowed to think freely, let alone express their opinions democratically. The common people are also victims of the conflict of interest between the power elite, angry business groups busy trying to save their enterprises, and a confused middle-class. The influence of politics over economics is becoming increasingly apparent. Politics in Indonesia, as elsewhere, is the domain of men vying for power. However, the effect of this power-play is felt directly by women who from the start have been excluded from the process. Women are caught up in their daily lives, busy caring for their families and struggling for their welfare.[25]

 

After economic crisis people have started to enjoy an economic growth. Yet, according to the UN economic and social commission for Asia and the Pacific, in its recent report, the improvement in living conditions and living standards has often been offset by new social problems like urbanization and modernization.

Urbanization has resulted in the transfer of rural poverty to the urban setting. Modernization has resulted in social and cultural dislocation, where traditional values and accepted attitudes, like community, simplicity, sincerity, have been questioned and abandoned. Subsequently, secularism, materialism and consumerism and their offshoots, individualism, competition, exploitation, are becoming accepted ideologies of a new middle class indifferent to the marginalized (Cf. FABC Papers, No. 59, p. 27).

In recent years many Asian countries have experienced a marked increase in industrialization, combined with economic growth. This process is linked to and dependent on the phenomenon of an increasing economic globalization.
The fast economic growth in Asia often breeds a mentality of “getting rich fast.” The consequence is that corruption at all levels of society increases: in administration, business and educational facilities, down to the private sector. This occurrence of widespread corruption threatens the proper functioning of political life in some Asian countries, and undermines the trust of the people in authority at many levels.

Such mentality of “getting rich fast” creates new kind of culture that is “culture of corruption”. This culture has been common to people in private as well as public services in such a way that there seems to be absence of moral distinction between right and wrong or just and unjust.

3. RELIGIOSITY

3.1. Asia and Religiosity

Asia is the womb of ancient cultures as well as religiosities. Asia is also the birthplace of the world’s great religions: Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Shintoism, Sikhism and Taoism.


In spite of the common Asian world-view which perceives reality as “one,” and in spite of a widespread tolerance which subscribes to a basic equality among all religious convictions, Asian religious pluralism remains a problem. The problem is acute, because Asian religions still constitute a powerful force controlling the consciences of people and influencing every area of their social life. As such, they can serve to bring together peoples and nations in unity and harmony, or cause division and fragmentation. Sadly, to a large extent, the latter has been the experience of the Asian peoples.

3.2. Fundamentalism


As there is a strong bond between religion and culture, fundamentalism and communalism have given rise to numerous conflicts and bloody violence. Such conflicts and violence, besides having disrupted harmony, have also resulted in the loss of human lives and the destruction of sacred temples, especially in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, all in the name of religious affiliation and cultural patrimony. In Sri Lanka, conflicts between ethnic and linguistic groups have been a cause of continual violence and bloodshed. The events surrounding the razing of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in December, 1992 have demonstrated how devastating the forces of religious fundamentalism can become. In the whole of the Indian subcontinent, there have been clashes between Moslems and Hindus, during which Hindus were chasing the Muslims in Bombay, and Muslims retaliating by persecuting Hindus and destroying their temples in Pakistan and Bangladesh.

In Indonesia there were hundreds of Christian and Catholic churches burned down by fundamentalists; several houses of prayer that belonged to Buddhists, Hinduists, as well as Confucionists were destroyed; some mosques were hit by other fundamentalists. Terrorism has been one of expressions likeable to fundamentalists. Fundamentalism in Indonesia usually comes from those people who underwent some kind of activities in the Middle East claimed as “jihat” (action to defend God). In the case of Islamic fundamentalism, young people who had “jihat” experience outside Indonesia becomes trouble makers in the Archipelago.

3.3. Religion for human beings

Yet, religion has also something worth to human being. Reflections on religiosity have led me to the following “spaces” for religion in society:

First, religion brings completion to human liberty. Most, if not all, religions speak of emancipation from oppression, from evil, pain, suffering and death. To the three levels of freedom, we can add a fourth level that encompasses all three-spiritual freedom, which is total freedom. In the words of Pope John Paul II, “Freedom is the measure of man’s dignity and greatness. Living the freedom sought by individuals and peoples is a great challenge to man’s spiritual growth and to the moral vitality of nations… Freedom is ordered to the truth, and is fulfilled in man’s quest for truth and in man’s living in the truth.” Religion speaks of the language of hope, the hope of total emancipation and fullness of freedom.

Second, religion provides the rites and rituals for institutionalization of civil society. It is important not to underestimate the importance of rites and rituals in the institutionalization of civil society. “Through ritual, beliefs, values and human ordering are invested with the aura of the sacred, at least in the sense of asserting a foundation beyond ourselves for inalienable rights and common horizons.” Religious rite deepens the conviction of the human person-participants in civil society by embodying the source of authority in its institution.

Third, religion sets the way of life of loving and caring, and laying the ground for standard of ethical behavior. Religion, especially oriental religion, is a way of life, of living in harmony with nature and with others, through loving and caring for one another. Religion addresses the heart and speaks of the transcendent source and ultimate end of all values. Confronted with the challenge of ethical relativism in our complex modern society, civil society can appeal to the Golden Rule that is found in all religions expressed in different ways. Religion attests to the universality of values of peace, solidarity, justice and liberty. Civil society in its effort to build a civilization of love based on these universal values and in a culture of freedom needs religion as its impetus.

Finally, religion founds the unity and diversity of peoples and cultures. The fear of “difference” can lead to the denial of the humanity of “the other” leading to a cycle of violence, of genocide and ethnic cleansing. And yet, transcending otherness, there is a common humanity. We all belong to one family. Different cultures are different ways of facing the question of the meaning of existence.

In Indonesia as well as India, for instance, one often hears simple people saying that all religions teach the same basic moral teachings that God is one and all have to reach Him in the end. People only take different paths to get there. The Catholic Church almost twenty-five years ago announced novel ideas through Vatican II, its historic council. It no longer spoke in harsh terms about pagans, or in a tone of self-complacency as if it alone had the monopoly to total truth about God. Vatican II documents in Nostra Aetate (1965) nos. 1 and 2 stated that in this age, with people drawing more closely together and the bonds of friendship between different peoples being strengthened, the Church examines with greater care her relation to non-Christian religions. Aware of her duty to foster unity and charity among individuals and among nations, the Church reflects on what people have in common and what tends to promote fellowship among them.

Nostra Aetate further states that the Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these (other) religions. She has a high regard for the manner of life and conduct, the precepts and doctrines which, although different in many ways from her own teaching, nevertheless often reflect that truth which enlightens all people.

The Council brought this consciousness to many, and while some were struggling with these proclamations, it went a step ahead to instruct itself and its faithful in these words. The Church, therefore, urges her sons to enter with prudence and charity into discussion and collaboration with members of other religions. Let Christians, while witnessing to their own faith and way of life, acknowledge, preserve and encourage the spiritual and moral truth found among non-Christians, also their social life and culture. Nostra Aetate (1965) This consciousness has given birth to what is called after the function it serves, “inter-religious dialogue”.

3.4. Religious tolerance and dialogue

Religious tolerance is considered as an expression of one’s attitude towards other religions and to some specific religious situations. However, religious tolerance does not exist in a vacuum, but in definite concrete situations, and can vary according to the situation. In some circumstances like scripture reading, religious tolerance is high, whereas in some other areas this tolerance could be quite low.

This religious tolerance is studied in view of inter-religious dialogue. Dialogue, in the strict sense of the word, is defined as: “Conversation between two or more people or an exchange of opinions, discussion or a political discussion between representatives of two nations or groups.” (Oxford English Dictionary, 1986). Thus, dialogue by its very nature, involves communication between two individuals, between two groups or amongst many groups. Although it could take place in many contexts, such as political, social, educational and others, the discussion in this paper will be limited to communication enhancing and facilitating inter-religious dialogue.

Religion is something that leads people to God, exhorts its followers to live good moral lives and calls people of God to be of one mind and heart; but the present state of affairs shows an inconsistency between preached and lived religion, its tenets and practices, and its doctrine and behavior.

This causes an immense amount of dissonance, this time from the angle of religious beliefs. Religion here, instead of achieving its positive function of mutual love, understanding among peoples, unity, purity, etc. has in the end made them less tolerant. There is clearly an inconsistency. Tolerance goes hand in hand with intolerance. This inconsistency is one the major problems in religiosity.

4. CONTEMPORARY RESPONSES

4.1. To poverty

The amazing phenomenon of contemporary responses to poverty in the world as well as in Asia Pacific regions has been declared as MDGs (Millenium Development Goals). MDGs are not just series of common goals to achieve. They depict something deeper than just goals consented by the world leaders. Since creation human beings have been against one another. MDGs indicate marvelous understanding of togetherness, of working together, of “camminare inseme” (journeying together).

World leaders at the September 2000 UN Millennium Summit agreed on the Millennium Declaration for accelerating democratization and securing peace, scaling up development and poverty reduction, ensuring environmental sustainability, and promoting global partnerships. [26]

The development agenda was further elaborated in 2001 into the Millennium Development Goals. The MDGs are a set of time-bound and measurable targets for combating problems including poverty, hunger, disease, environmental degradation and discrimination against women.

The MDGs are now at the heart of the global development agenda. For each goal, one or more targets have been set, mostly for 2015, using 1990 as a benchmark. Indicators have been identified to measure progress against each target. Each goal, with their respective targets and indicators, needs to be adjusted according to the specific country context. The goals are:

  1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  2. Achieve universal primary education
  3. Promote gender equality and empower women
  4. Reduce child mortality
  5. Improve maternal health
  6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
  7. Ensure environmental sustainability
  8. Develop a global partnership for development

Here, I just wish to quote “targets” and “indicators” as ADB (Asian Development Bank) in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN-ESCAP).[27] Asia and Pacific as a whole is on track to meet the MDGs. However, there are major problems with specific MDGs, such as meeting the mother and child health targets, women’s empowerment, and some environmental goals. Though there are still crucial problems to solve, some basic elements are already mentioned in the MDGs. Knowing the importance of partnership and collaboration to serve to the poor, the Vincentians should prepare themselves with abilities of working together.

Goal 1 – Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger

 

TARGETS

INDICATORS

1. Halve between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than $1 a day.

  • Proportion of population below $1 (PPP) per day
  • Poverty gap ratio (incidence x depth of poverty)
  • Share of poorest quintile in national consumption

2. Halve between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger.

  • Prevalence of underweight children under five years of age
  • Proportion of population below minimum level of dietary energy consumption

Goal 2 – Achieve universal primary education

 

TARGETS

INDICATORS

Ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling.

  • Net enrolment ratio in primary education
  • Proportion of pupils starting grade 1 who reach grade 5
  • Literacy rate of 15-24-year-olds

 

Goal 3 – Promote gender equality and empower women

 

TARGETS

INDICATORS

Eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education, preferably by 2005, and to all levels of education no later than 2015.

  • Ratio of girls to boys in primary, secondary and tertiary education
  • Ratio of literate women to men of 15- to 24-year-olds
  • Share of women in wage employment in the non-agricultural sector
  • Proportion of seats held by women in national parliament

 

Goal 4 – Reduce child mortality

 

TARGETS

INDICATORS

Reduce by two-thirds, between 1990 and 2015, the under-five mortality rate.

  • Under-five mortality rate
  • Infant mortality rate
  • Proportion of 1-year-old children immunized against measles

Goal 5 – Improve maternal health

 

TARGETS

INDICATORS

Reduce by three-quarters, between 1990 and 2015, the maternal mortality ratio.

  • Maternal mortality ratio
  • Proportion of births attended by skilled health personnel

 

Goal 6 – Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases

 

TARGETS

INDICATORS

1. Have halted by 2015 and begun to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS.

  • HIV prevalence among 15-to-24-year-old pregnant women
  • Condom use rate of the contraceptive prevalence rate
  • Number of children orphaned by HIV/AIDS

2. Have halted by 2015 and begun to reverse the incidence of malaria and other major diseases.

  • Prevalence and death rates associated with malaria
  • Proportion of population in malaria risk areas using effective malaria prevention and treatment measures
  • Prevalence and death rates associated with tuberculosis
  • Proportion of tuberculosis cases detected and cured under directly observed treatment short course (DOTS)

 

Goal 7 – Ensure environmental sustainability

 

TARGETS

INDICATORS

1. Integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programs and reverse the loss of environmental resources.

  • Proportion of land area covered by forest
  • Ratio of area protected to maintain biological diversity to surface area
  • Energy use (kilogram oil equivalent) per $1 GDP (PPP)
  • Carbon dioxide emissions (per capita) and consumption of ozone-depleting CFCs (ODP tons)
  • Proportion of population using solid fuels

2. Halve by 2015 the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water.

  • Proportion of population with sustainable access to an improved water source, urban and rural

3. By 2020 to have achieved a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers.

  • Proportion of urban population with access to improved sanitation
  • Proportion of households with access to secure tenure

 

Goal 8 – Develop a global partnership for development

 

TARGETS

INDICATORS

1. Develop further an open, rule-based, predictable, non-discriminatory trading and financial system (includes a commitment to good governance, development and poverty reduction – both nationally and internationally)

2. Address the special needs of the least developed countries (includes tariff and quota-free access for least developed countries’ exports; enhanced program of debt relief for HIPCs[28] and cancellation of official bilateral debt; and more generous ODA for countries committed to poverty reduction)

3. Address the special needs of landlocked countries and small island developing States

4. Deal comprehensively with the debt problems of developing countries through national and international measures in order to make debt sustainable in the long term

Official Development Assistance

  • Net ODA, total and to LDCs[29], as percentage of OECD/DAC[30] donors’ gross national income (GNI)
  • Proportion of total bilateral, sector-allocable ODA of OECD/DAC donors to basic social services (basic education, primary health care, nutrition, safe water and sanitation)
  • Proportion of bilateral ODA of OECD/DAC donors that is untied· ODA received in landlocked countries as proportion of their GNIs
  • ODA received in small island developing States as proportion of their GNIs

Market Access

  • Proportion of total developed country imports (by value and excluding arms) from developing countries and from LDCs, admitted free of duties
  • Average tariffs imposed by developed countries on agricultural products and textiles and clothing from developing countries

o Agricultural support estimate for OECD countries as percentage of their GDP

  • Proportion of ODA provided to help build trade capacity

Debt sustainability

  • Total number of countries that have reached their HIPC decision points and number that have reached their HIPC completion points (cumulative)
  • Debt relief committed under HIPC initiative, US$· Debt service as a percentage of exports of goods and services

5. In cooperation with developing countries, develop and implement strategies for decent and productive work for youth

  • Unemployment rate of 15- to 24-year-olds, each sex and total

6. In cooperation with pharmaceutical companies, provide access to affordable essential drugs in developing countries

  • Proportion of population with access to affordable essential drugs on a sustainable basis

7. In cooperation with the private sector, make available the benefits of new technologies, especially information and communications

  • Telephone lines and cellular subscribers per 100 population
  • Personal computers in use per 100 population and Internet users per 100 population

4.2. Response to diversity of culture

Promote culture of harmony. Fact that Asia Pacific is the cradle of diverse cultures is clear from the everyday life that we concretely experience. Diversity is worth but also can become source of bitter conflicts. In some places of Indonesia, let’s take a look at Sampit, a small town known as the place where conflicts between the Dayak and Madurese people had began, diversity is indeed something crucial. We cannot say simply that diversity is worth. We have to acknowledge that diversity is a challenge to respond.

The picture of the Asian situation is not an altogether “doom and gloom”. In Asian Pacifician civilization, we observe how the “coincidence of opposites” has been all along a characteristic way of life and thought. In ancient Chinese thought, harmony requires the interplay of seemingly-antithetical elements such as human person and nature, yin and yang, benevolence and autocracy. The two components are regarded as mutually necessary, rather than irreconcilable; the antagonistic elements are interdependent partners without whose joint activities a harmonious society would be impossible. Harmony is not the attainment of an absolute standard, but the happy outcome can be achieved when one takes account of all circumstances.

The Javanese people of Indonesia think that everyday life cannot continue unless we cultivate the sense of harmony. Each Javanese is urged to live out harmony not just with one another but also with creatures, the world, and harmony within oneself. In such kind of wisdom, the sense of self in Javanese tradition is somewhat complex. The Javanese believes in “Manunggaling Kawulo Gusti” (unity of God within one’s self). The sense of “unity” cannot be understood in Western notion. It says something the harmonious presence of a human being within his/her self. And the source of harmony is nothing other than the presence of God within me (myself).

Promote culture of peace. As we can imagine easily people of Asia Pacific have often fallen into trap of conflicts for many reasons such as economical crisis, socio-political disorder, or cultural rivalry, we need peacemakers. Saint Vincent did some exemplary actions of reconciling peoples who quarreled during popular mission activities. In today condition, being Vincentian should also mean being promoter of peace. “Peace” is not only a situation without physical conflict. It suggests a peaceful and conducive situation in which people may live in solidarity, collaboration, as well as dialogue.

4.3. Response to Religiosity

Dialogue of life, of working together, and of faith. In responding the challenge of religiosity in Asia Pacific, inter-religious dialogue or inter-ideological / cultural dialogue is to be cultivated in any kind of circumstance. Far from being an easy task, inter-religious dialogue has often been frustrating and sweating. We ourselves cannot help but acknowledge that inter-religious dialogue seems to be more formal, artificial and pretending than radical, genuine, and authentic movement. Those who involve themselves in and experience religious dialogue often fall into a dark corridor that they should go through. There have been so many studies, theological-philosophical-cultural reflections, countless appointments done, yet still there are vast stones, thorns, and blocks. Karl Rahner conceives of “Christian Anonym”; Leonard Swidler proposes “the Dialogue Decalogue”[31]; C. Arrevalo suggests “indigenizing or theology”; Raimundo Pannikar offers concept of “intra-religious dialogue”, and many more scholars …

But, who would deny that inter-religious dialogue (at least of life and work)[32] is still the most necessary action to cultivate our being together in everyday life within diverse cultural traditions and socio-political dynamism of Asia Pacific region? Only, it is still to be expressed concretely again and again. Inter-religious dialogue is an unfinished project or, better expressed, an ongoing formation of life itself. Oh, we have just done a small response.[33]

5. CONCLUDING REFLECTION

Well, pretending of having offered many things I am scared of saying nothing. Apologize myself for drawing much attention. Here, let me propose personal words as my modest concluding reflection hoping that few of them may hint little inspirations to our aim of formation in connection with “political charity” of our beloved candidates.

The poor and us

We see them, the people who are poor.

We watch them in streets, houses, villages, mountains, poor coasts, televisions, everywhere.

We talk to them. Occasionally.

We share with them. Rarely.

We mingle with them. Only if needed.

We visit them. For school activities or exposures.

We share with them. For research.

We count them. For project proposals.

We discuss and analyze them. For our own benefit and purpose.

What? They are nothing other than only an object.

Do we really love them? Affectively? Effectively? Efficaciously?

Who are they for us?

One who has good experience of living with them, not just for research or exposure, would find that the poor people have some amazing richness. I am not talking something material as we conceive such as money or good shirts or beautiful houses.

In them we find true happiness, or what we call, true happy detachment.

In them we find true longing to something worth.

In them we find humility.

In them we learn simplicity.

In them we see meekness.

In them we know cheerfulness.

In them we learn true charity.

In them we meditate what we often call “mortification” and true fast.

In them we perceive true sense of being human.

In them we discern true sense of being religious.

In them we discover true faith.

In them we learn true love.

In them we see human strength.

In them we find wisdom.

In them we learn true obedience to God.

In them we experience of God’s presence in the world.

In them we learn true hunger and thirst for divine Truth.

In them we study to be God’s true disciple.

In their poor presence we find ourselves “poorer” than what we might think of.

In their poor presence we discover the richness of spiritual richness.

But, do we really concretize our learning from them?

When they got themselves in trouble, we should not close our eyes.

When they cry for help, we should not be idle and close ears.

When they are voiceless, we should not keep silent.

When they are hungry, we should not be doubtful to haste relief.

When they are persecuted, we should dare to defend them in proper ways.

In brief, we do what we can possibly do for them.

Mostly recommended, it’s urgent, we do in collaboration, or in working together as well as possible.

Beatitudes of Reconciliation

Blessed are those who are willing to enter into the process of being healed, for they will become healers.

Blessed are they who recognize their own inner violence, for they will come to know non-violence.

Blessed are they who can forgive self, for they will become forgivers.

Blessed are those who are willing to let go of selfishness and self-centeredness, for they will become a healing presence.

Blessed are those who listen with compassion, for they will become compassionate.

Blessed are those who are willing to enter into conflict, for they will find transformation.

Blessed are those who know their interdependence with all of creation, for they will become unifiers.

Blessed are those who live a contemplative life stance, for they will find God in all things.

Blessed are those who strive to live these beatitudes, for they will be reconcilers.

(Sisters of St. Joseph, Concordia, Kansas.)


[1] Armada Riyanto, CM is doctor in philosophy from the Gregorian University, Rome. He is currently rector of Widya Sasana College of philosophy and theology at Malang and chairman of the CCC.

[2] This methodological process was initially promoted by a Belgian priest named Fr. Cardijn. Prior to World War II he inspired many Catholic social action groups such as the Young Christian Workers, Young Christian Students, and the Christian Family Movement. This observes (see)-judge-act method was also recommended in the 1961 encyclical letter entitled Mother and Teacher: “There are three stages which should normally be followed in the reduction of social principles into practice. First, one reviews the concrete situation; secondly, one forms a judgment on it in the light of these same principles; thirdly, one decides what in the circumstances can and should be done to implement these principles. These are the three stages that are usually expressed in the three terms: observe, judge, act.” (Pope John XXIII, 1961, Mother and Teacher, 263.)

[3] The 2nd phase is to Judge – This is the heart of the process and it involves two key parts: a. Social Analysis — Obtaining a more complete picture of the social situation by exploring its historical and structural relationships. In this step, we attempt to make sense of the reality that was observed in Step 1. Why are things this way? What are the root causes? b. Theological Reflection – Analyzing the experience in the light of scripture and the Catholic social tradition? How do biblical values and the principles of Catholic social teaching help us to see this reality in a different way? How do they serve as a measuring stick for this experience? (Obviously, the word “judge” is used here in a positive sense, meaning to analyze the situation. It does not imply that we judge other people or that we are judgmental in the pejorative sense.) 3. to Act – planning and carrying out actions aimed at transforming the social structures that contribute to suffering and injustice. It is important to remember that this is a process. It is a cycle that is continually repeated. That is, after completing Step Three, the participants return to Step One – observing new realities, making new judgments, and finding new ways to act. This process is intended for groups working collectively, rather than for single individuals. The group process allows for a richer reflection, a deeper analysis, and a more creative search for effective action. The 2nd and 3rd methodological steps will proceed to the other studies. This paper bears the first one, to see.

[4] According to the data of 2003 IFAD (International Fund for Agricultural Development) although the Asia and the Pacific Region has made impressive progress in the last three decades in economic growth and poverty reduction, the rate of poverty reduction seems to be slowing down. http://www.ifad.org/ (Accessed on June 20, 2007).

[5] The IFAD-funded Bihar-Madhya Pradesh Tribal Development Program, 1997.

[6] Source: Save the Children Fund 1999.

[7] Source: Kerkvliet 1990 as quoted in IFAD 2003. Cfr. http://www.ifad.org/ (Accessed on June 20, 2007). See also the meaning of poverty in the web “povertyNet” http://web.worldbank.org (Accessed on June 10, 2007) & in the web “a dollar a day” http://library.thinkquest.org/05aug/00282/over_whatis.htm (Accessed on June 10, 2007).

[8] The World Health Organization (WHO) defines malnutrition as “the cellular imbalance between the supply of nutrients and energy and the body’s demand for them to ensure growth, maintenance, and specific functions.” The term protein-energy malnutrition (PEM) applies to a group of related disorders that include marasmus, kwashiorkor, and intermediate states of marasmus-kwashiorkor. The term marasmus is derived from the Greek word marasmos, which means withering or wasting. Marasmus involves inadequate intake of protein and calories and is characterized by emaciation. The term kwashiorkor is taken from the Ga language of Ghana and means “the sickness of the weaning.” The term is first used in 1933, and it refers to an inadequate protein intake with reasonable caloric (energy) intake. Edema is characteristic of kwashiorkor but is absent in marasmus. Studies suggest that marasmus represents an adaptive response to starvation, whereas kwashiorkor represents a maladaptive response to starvation. Children may present with a mixed picture of marasmus and kwashiorkor, and children may present with milder forms of malnutrition.

[9] IFAD 1999.

[10] http://rspas.anu.edu.au/economics/prc (Accessed on June 5, 2007).

[11] ADB 2005 (Asian Development Bank). http://www.adb.org/ (Accessed on May 20, 2007).

[12] IFAD 2001. http://www.ifad.org/poverty/region/pi/PI_part1.pdf (accessed on June, 15 2007).

[13] ADB 2005.

[14] Ibid.

[15] http://rspas.anu.edu.au/economics/prc (accessed on June, 10 2007).

[16] The term as described in the Social Minister’s Decree, No.5 of 1994, referred to “groups of people who live or are nomadic in geographically remote and isolated areas and are socially and culturally alienated and/or still underdeveloped compared to other Indonesian communities in general.” Underdeveloped in the definition was in regard to health, education, housing, clothing, and ways of life.

[17] Asian Development Bank 2005. Op.Cit.

[18] IFAD 2001. Op.Cit.

[19] Asian Development Bank 2005.

[20] Herve Carrier, “Understanding Culture: The Ultimate Challenge of the World-Church?” in The Church and Culture since Vatican II: The Experience of North and Latin America. Edited by Joseph Gremillion, University of Notre Dame Press, 1985, 19.

[21] Alfred Schutz and Thomas Luckmann, The Structures of Life-world, Volume II. Translated by Richard Zaner and David J. Parent, Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1989, 3.

[22] Marcelo Manimtim, CM, The Concept of Lifeworld in Jürgen Habermas, Rome 1993, 49.

[23] This letter is published on line under title, “Letter of Julia Suryakusuma, Voice of Women”, March 13, 1998.

[24] Leviathan, Chapter XIII.

[25] Ibid.

[27] See websites of the ADB as well as UNDP and UN-ESCAP dealing with programs and projects set up for achieving MDGs especially in the region of Asia Pacific. Targets and indicators are quoted from ADB’s website accessed on June 1, 2007.

[28] HIPC – Heavily Indebted Poor Countries, see http://www.web.worldbank.org (Accessed on May 25, 2007).

[29] LDC – Lease Developed Countries, see http://www.un.org (Accessed on May 25, 2007)

[30] OECD – Heaveily Indebted Poor Countries / DAC – Development Assistance Committee, see http://www.oecd.org (Accessed on May 28, 2007).

[31] 1st COMMANDMENT: The primary purpose of dialogue is to learn, that is, to change and grow in the perception and understanding of reality, and then to act accordingly. 2nd: Interreligious dialogue must be a two-sided project–within each religious or ideological community and between religious or ideological communities. 3rd: Each participant must come to the dialogue with complete honesty and sincerity. It should be made clear in what direction the major and minor thrusts of the tradition move, what the future shifts might be, and, if necessary, where the participant has difficulties with her own tradition. No false fronts have any place in dialogue. 4th: In interreligious dialogue we must not compare our ideals with our partner’s practice, but rather our ideals with our partner’s ideals, our practice with our partner’s practice. 5th: Each participant must define himself. 6th: Each participant must come to the dialogue with no hard-and-fast assumptions as to where the points of disagreement are. Rather, each partner should not only listen to the other partner with openness and sympathy but also attempt to agree with the dialogue partner as far as is possible while still maintaining integrity with his own tradition. 7th: Dialogue can take place only between equals, or par cum pari as the Second Vatican Council put it. Both must come to learn from each other. 8th: Dialogue can take place only on the basis of mutual trust. 9th: Persons entering into interreligious, interideological dialogue must be at least minimally self-critical of both themselves and their own religious or ideological traditions. 10th: Each participant eventually must attempt to experience the partner’s religion or ideology “from within”; for a religion or ideology is not merely something of the head, but also of the spirit, heart, and “whole being,” individual and communal. The “Dialogue Decalogue” was first published in the Journal of Ecumenical Studies in 1983 and has been translated into more than a dozen languages. It is presented here in a slightly revised and shortened version. Journal of Ecumenical Studies, 20:1, Winter 1983 (September, 1984, revision). See also in http://www.fiu.edu/~religion/Commandments.htm (Accessed on June 2, 2007).

[32] The Plenary Assembly of the FABC at Tokyo 1986 did speak of “the phenomenon of religious revivalism” with its tendencies “to religious dogmatism, fundamentalism and intolerance in precept and practice,” leading even to “violence and serious conflicts.” Fundamentalism appears as “a defense-reaction which gives religious belief a socio-cultural, and even political role of cohesion in the face of ‘anomie’ that threatens one’s identity. Irrational religious emotions offer a simplistic force of unity and self-defense,” and thus become a source of conflict. Religious revivalism poses its challenge to us Christians towards a deeper renewal of faith.

[33] It is in this light that one should listen to the assertion of Pope John Paul II that the action of the Holy Spirit is operative in the lives of non-Christians not in spite of their religious adherence, but rather at its essence and foundation. Redemptor Hominis, March 4,1979, AAS 71 (1979): 275–76.

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