Catholicism in Asia

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Above is the graphic that will serve as the introduction for my Minor in Writing capstone project, an interactive essay on Catholicism in Far East Asia. I am studying this topic because I want to better understand some of the issues–particularly those involving politics, inculturation, and evangelization–that affect how the Catholic Faith is lived in this region of the world. In doing so, I hope my project will help my Western audience to become more aware of the unique challenges and hopes of the Church in the East and to better appreciate the global face of Catholicism.

In many ways, I think my graphic is emblematic of my own challenges and hopes for this project as well. For example, I am very excited to consider the aspect of evangelization–how can the Church make new converts in an area that is predominately non-Christian and, in some areas such as China and Vietnam, even hostile to the Faith? Accordingly, I chose as my theme a scriptural quote to highlight this challenge of making the Gospel relevant “To the Ends of the Earth.”

Similarly, my graphic also represents a challenge I am facing in my project. The inscription at the top is the very same scriptural quote in Latin. At first glance, this may seem out of place. Why Latin? Wouldn’t a rendering in Chinese, Korean, or Japanese be more appropriate for a project about Asia? Actually, this is precisely the issue I’m struggling with as I progress in my research. Latin is the official language of the Church, a powerful symbol of the universality and timelessness of the Catholic Faith–whether in Europe or the Americas or Asia. Yet recent times have seen a shift from the uniformity that once characterized Catholic practice and worship to more culture-specific forms, especially in Asia. As a result, this exchange, this interplay, this–to some extent–tension between the Catholic Faith and the culture in which it is lived is sure to become a central theme of my final project.

Click and Listen

If your computer speakers are on, you should now be hearing some Gregorian Chant! Specifically, you’re listening to the Te Deum, the traditional Catholic hymn used to give thanks to God.

As you might of guessed, the new multimedia skill I learned was how to play music in the background of blog posts and web pages in WordPress. This knowledge would have been very useful for my gateway portfolio on the Mass, but at least I’ll be able to use it for this capstone project on Catholicism in Asia. Music is an extremely important aspect of the Catholic Faith, and the ability to automatically incorporate it into my project will hopefully add an aesthetic element that complements the words on the page.

Learning this skill was not nearly as easy as I thought. At first, I thought it would be so simple that I wasn’t sure if it would even qualify for our assignment over spring break. Perhaps I should have known that simple is not necessarily synonymous with easy, especially if you’re not the most tech-savvy person in the world.

As might be a typical starting place, I first googled “wordpress play audio on page load” and the first hit returned was this WordPress help forum which seemed to answer my exact question. All I had to do, some “expert” claimed, is add a single line of HTML code to the wordpress editor specifying the audio file to be played.

Well, not so fast. Even after I uploaded my file, located the HTML editor (which recently WordPress not-so-conveniently renamed the “Text” editor), and modified the code accordingly, the music upon page load was nowhere to be heard. What was worse, WordPress kept deleting the code fragment, requiring multiple copy-pastes every time I wanted to try again. Even more puzzling was the fact that people in the forum claimed it worked fine for them.

As it turned out, I happend to find an alternate suggestion on an obscure programmer’s blog. The code that this expert gave was also one line, but completely different than the first. The result was completely different too…it worked! While I’m glad to have finally learned how to play music in the background of WordPress, I didn’t realize it would be such a cyber wild goose chase!

Anyways, enjoy the Gregorian Chant…

“Why I Write” Revisited

Back in Writing 220, I devoted the first part of my “Why I Write” essay specifically to why I don’t:

I don’t write to be creative. I don’t write to express my feelings. I don’t write to satisfy an urge to expose some hidden inner self for which there is no other outlet. And most especially, I certainly don’t write because I enjoy it—in fact, for me the physical act of writing is often more tedious and trying than exhilarating and enjoyable.

Fast forward to now, and I think this lamentation perhaps needs a bit of clarification. In a sense, I do write to be creative–if I didn’t I certainly wouldn’t have ever applied to the Minor in Writing Program. I do write to express my feelings–isn’t that exactly what an argumentative essay or opinion piece is? And, though writing has certainly not become any easier for me over the past year and a half, it’s not as if it can’t also be incredibly rewarding.

I guess for me the difference lies in the distinction between the ends and the means. If I say I don’t write to be creative, express feelings, or for enjoyment, it’s because I view these things not as the ends of writing, but the means. The way I look at it, the end of writing is something much deeper–to expose a truth that was previously hidden. I think this principle helps to explain the connection between my writing and my passions for statistics and Christianity. As I wrote in the essay:

For just as Christ’s divinity was cloaked by His humanity, so too in statistics is the significance of data hidden behind its numbers. It is the job of the statistician, by the practice of his field, to seek out this veiled truth, much as it is the job of the Christian, by the practice of his faith, to seek out the transcendent God.

So, ultimately, what excites me about writing is its ability to convey truth. The is the ultimate reason “Why I Write”. At the same time, who’s to say you can’t have a little bit of fun in the process?

Jesus Comes To (or from?) Asia

As a sophomore, I took a class on Christian missionaries in Asia, creatively titled “Jesus Comes to Asia.” For the final exam, we had to write some short essays on two novels we read for the course. I never thought I’d quote it in a writing class, but one of my essays concluded as follows:

In Endo’s novel, the Asian Christian convert, Kichijiro, comes to Asia. In Spence’s novel, the Asian Christian convert, Hu, quite contrastingly comes from Asia. Although its setting only a century after Silence renders the prefiguration somewhat premature, the reversal evident in The Question of Hu is nevertheless indicative of the transition that is to soon occur. That once in Europe “Hu begins to preach”—even if only mockingly or coincidentally—is a sure sign that soon Jesus will no longer just come to Asia (Spence 84). In just a matter of time, Jesus will come from Asia.

Reading this passage two years later, I am almost shocked by how much it relates to my current project about Catholicism in Asia. Let me explain…

The first half of the class focused almost exclusively about how Christianity was introduced to Asia. Foreign missionaries from Spain, for example, were instrumental in converting the natives of the Phillipines to Catholicism at the beginning of the Age of Exploration. Later, Jesuits priests took the Faith to India, Japan, and eventually China. By the time the class reached the ninteenth and twentieth centuries, however, a curious thing happened. Asia stopped importing missionaries and began to export them. Today, in response to the current crisis of faith in the West, Asia is sending missionaries to the very lands that once sent missionaries to it. This can be seen even locally, as two of the Catholic priests that serve in parishes here in Ann Arbor are Indian. Indeed, following the theme of the course, Jesus is coming from Asia, not just to it.

I think this issue opens up a whole new dimension of my project that, frankly, I had forgotten about. Before, I was viewing the East and the West a bit in isolation. In reality, though, it seems that they are much more connected than I thought. As I continue with my research, I will be especially attentive to the ways in which, centuries after being introduced to the Catholic Faith by the West, Asia is starting to return the favor.

Not like counting sheep

My mentor for my capstone project likes to joke that he’ll talk about his Graduate dissertation to anybody who needs to catch up on sleep. The book-length paper is on the English language and how people’s attitudes towards it changed after the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century. Specifically, he is studying old teaching guides and rhetoric books from the period to see how attitudes evolved with regard to what people considered “proper” English.

Now, if I was feeling particularly self-conscious and wanted to hide my nerdiness I would say–and it wouldn’t be a lie–“go ahead and tell me about it, I am quite behind on sleep.” More than likely, though, the brain wouldn’t have time to censor the words which express my true feelings–“Wow! Tell me more! And, by the way, can I have a copy when you’re done?”

Perhaps it’s because of my interest in Christianity? Or my interest in history? Or my enrollment in the Minor in Writing program? Actually, my interest in my mentor’s dissertation topic is probably due to it’s unique location at the intersection of all three.

From what I’ve heard, writing a dissertation about any topic is quite a formidable task. My mentor has been working on his ever since I met him during my sophomore year. On one occasion, I remember him telling me how he read an entire book…just to write a footnote! As I go forward with my own project, I will no doubt experience a similar feeling of tedium. However, as with virtually all my writing, the thought of the final product is what will keep me going. And regardless of how many difficulties I encounter along the way, I know I’ll have the support of a mentor with quite a bit of writing experience.

Revised: What is the future of [Asian] Catholicism?

My peers knew it. My mentor knew it. My instructor knew it. Deep down, even I knew it.

My originally-proposed project topic on the future of Catholicism was way too broad. Trying to project the future of a religion “with 1.2 billion members in every corner of the world” (as I stated in my previous blog post) is way too difficult, especially in just 10-20 pages. If I did take a crack at it, I’d need at least a book.

I knew I needed to narrow my topic, but how? One possibility I considered was to examine the practice of Catholicism in an area where it is thriving, such as in Asia and Africa, and compare it to an area where it is declining, such as in the West. However, this topic requires analyzing a host of other factors far beyond merely Catholicism, and the Statistician in me just couldn’t bring himself to risk comparing apples to oranges.

Another option was to focus specifically on the future of the Catholic Church in the United States. As I mentioned previously, the Church here in America is struggling to pass on its faith to the next generation of Catholics. Perhaps my project could focus on what many see as the root of the problem–the crisis in the liturgy. That would have been a very good idea…if I hadn’t already written something very similar back in English 225.

Finally, the answer hit me. And how obvious it was! Examine the future of Catholicism in an area I don’t know much about. After all, this is a research paper. And which area? Asia sticks out to me because of a class I took my sophomore year about Christian missionaries in Asia. Since any projection of the future must be strongly rooted in the past and present, the knowledge I learned from this class is an ideal starting point for my research.

So, I will be examining the future of Catholicism in Asia. Funny how the addition of a mere two words can turn an impossibly broad topic into something that is actually doable.

St. Francis Xavier, Missionary to Asia
St. Francis Xavier, Missionary to Asia

What is the Future of Catholicism?

Combining my interest in history and the Catholic Church, I’ve decided to center my capstone project upon the following question: What is the future of Catholicism? With 1.2 billion members in every corner of the world, the Catholic Church transcends culture, race, social status, and–some would even say–time. Throughout its 2,000-year history, it has played an important role in building Western civilization and shaping the world at large.

But what does the future hold for the world’s largest and arguably most influential religion? The goal of my project is to find out, with a specific focus on how the Church’s future demographics, ideology, and liturgy will look in a generation or two. Demographically, for example, Catholicism is booming in Africa and Asia as much as it is declining in the West. In fact, this video I found makes some pretty dire predictions regarding the latter. According to the commentator, the Church in America “will not be recognizable in the next 10-15 years” owing to the widespread failure of the previous generation to pass on the Faith to their children.

If this is true, and it looks like it is, then I may have just found the audience for my paper: The Catholic bishops in America, who should be motivated to do something before their part of the global Church falls off the demographic cliff. In the meantime, I’ll keep researching and hoping for some better news…

My Writer’s Vice

Back in Writing 220, I described my writing style as follows:

To shed some light on why I do write, it is essential to first understand a few things regarding how I write: First, as you may have noticed, I had to bend over backwards to avoid using the second person in that last sentence. Second, I’m cringing so hard that it’s actually becoming painful at the thought of how many contractions I’ve used thus far. And finally, notwithstanding these grave violations of my writing morals, you will never see me stoop so low as to start a sentence with a conjunction or, God-forbid, use a pair of those hideous parentheses (except as a citation).

Ok, while this description was meant to be a bit tongue-in-cheek at the time, what I find almost as funny is how much my writer’s mind has changed since I wrote it a year and a half ago. What I then regarded–almost with pride–as my defining style, I now acknowledge–almost with regret–as my greatest writer’s vice.

What is this vice, you ask? Kind souls call it “a tendency to be overly formal.” Others, less inclined to euphamisms, call such a style what it is: “stuffy”, “impersonal”, “distant.”

To be sure, formal writing has its place. In fact, much of what I would consider my finest writing is of this style–a term paper on Michelangelo’s famed Last Judgment Sistine Chapel fresco, a literary analysis of “Special Duties” a hilarious short story by Graham Greene, and a lengthly research paper on the Catholic Latin Mass.

Yes, formal writing has its place. I just need to know when to use it. Or better yet, when not to.

Oddly enough, one of the classes that really helped me in this regard was none other than a class on professional writing. Coming into the class last semester, I thought professional writing would fit right within my writer’s comfort zone. As you might imagine, I soon became uncomfortable. More than merely resumes and cover letters, where the writer can hid behind fancy words and job titles, I found that professional writing extended to all the way to personal statements and social media, genres which expose the writer and from which there is no escape. It was then that I learned that “professional” does not mean “formal” as much as it means “appropriate”–appropriate for the given audience and rhetorical situation.

Fast forward to today, and this struggle has by no means disappeared. But one thing has changed with regard to my writer’s vice–I’m at least aware of it.

Interview with an aspiring poet

Since I wasn’t able to make the two “How I Write” sessions during the semester, I’ve been instructed to instead profile writers of my own choosing. The first interview I selected featured a 20th-century literary giant. But as even G.K. Chesterton started out relatively unknown, I turn my attention now to a much lesser-known, but certainly upcoming, figure who is an aspiring poet. It just so happens that this person is also my friend, Tony Zick. Last semester, Tony was interviewed by another friend of mine for the English 230: Modern Catholic Writers course blog.

You can read the whole interview here. I especially enjoyed the part about his “aha!” moment in elementary school and how he likes to incorporate “outlandish scenarios” into his prose. I should also note that Tony was recently featured by AnnArbor.com for his work, which is impressive to say the least. Might this be the next G.K. Chesterton? Perhaps I’d better get his autograph now just in case…