Asian and Pacific Presence: Harmony in Faith
A statement by the Committee on Migration. ©2001 USCCB

I. Introduction

Dear brothers and sisters: In a spirit of heartfelt pastoral concern for the Asian and Pacific people in our midst, we Catholic bishops of the United States write this statement to all Catholics and especially to our Asian and Pacific brothers and sisters to recognize and affirm with loving assurance their presence and prominence in the Lord's house. We pray that this pastoral statement will facilitate a fuller appreciation of their communities in our local churches and will encourage Asian and Pacific Catholics to take on active leadership roles in every level of church life.

In our solicitude as pastors, we hope that, by their vital participation, our Asian and Pacific sisters and brothers will help the Church in the United States shine as a sacrament of unity and universality. The post-synodal document The Church in Asia (Ecclesia in Asia) promulgated in 1999 by Pope John Paul II in New Delhi, India, echoes the Second Vatican Council as it describes the Church:

In accordance with the Father's eternal design, the Church, foreshadowed from the world's beginning, prepared for in the old Covenant, instituted by Christ Jesus and made present to the world by the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, "progresses on her pilgrimage amid this world's persecutions and God's consolations," as she strives towards her perfection in the glory of heaven. Since God desires "that the whole human race may become one People of God, form one Body of Christ, and be built up into one temple of the Holy Spirit," the Church is in the world "the visible plan of God's love for humanity, the sacrament of salvation."1
In November 2000, in the pastoral statement Welcoming the Stranger Among Us: Unity in Diversity, we bishops outlined ways that the Church in the United States—a church of many races and cultures—might become more fully a sacrament of unity and universality. As a direct application of that statement, we welcome our Asian and Pacific sisters and brothers and encourage all members of the Church in the United States to do the same.

We will briefly present a portrait of the members of the Asian and Pacific communities—Catholics and non-Catholics—celebrate their gifts and contributions, reflect on the pastoral needs and concerns of the Catholics among them, acknowledge the efforts that have begun, and suggest helpful pastoral approaches to build our common future. It is our hope as bishops that Asian and Pacific Catholics will experience a warm welcome and sense of belonging in our local churches, building on the many gifts with which they have enriched our church communities over many decades.

Christ Was Born in Asia

Pope John Paul II begins his apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in Asia by saying, "The Church in Asia sings the praises of the ‘God of salvation' (Ps 68:20) for choosing to initiate his saving plan on Asian soil. . . . In ‘the fullness of time' (Gal 4:4), he sent his only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ the Savior, who took flesh as an Asian!" He points out that "because Jesus was born, lived, died and rose from the dead in the Holy Land, that small portion of Western Asia became a land of promise and hope for all mankind."2

Many may be surprised to realize that Jesus was born in Asia. The Asian Synod of Bishops, the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, and the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service commonly describe the continent of Asia as comprising Western Asia (or the Middle East), Central Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and East Asia.3 (See Appendix A.) This description is broader than the commonly held understanding of Asia as comprising South, Southeast, and East Asia.

The history of the Church in Asia is as old as the Church herself. "From this land, through the preaching of the Gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit, the Church went forth to make ‘disciples of all nations' (Mt 28:19)."4 Christianity spread from Jerusalem to Antioch to Rome, and beyond. Ancient tradition relates how in the first century, St. Thomas the Apostle preached and was martyred in India; thus the subcontinent traces its Christian roots to apostolic times. The Church of Armenia traces its origins to Sts. Thaddeus (Jude) and Bartholomew—two of the twelve apostles.5 Because of this apostolic evangelization, Christianity began to take root in Armenia, and three centuries later the country became the first to embrace Christianity as a nation. Also in the third century, ascetic communities of Syria were a major force of evangelization in Asia. By the fifth century, the Christian message had reached the Arab kingdoms, and Persian merchants took the Good News to China where it flourished for nearly two centuries. In the thirteenth century, the Good News was announced to the Mongols and the Turks, and was reinforced to the Chinese. The apostolic labors of St. Francis Xavier and thousands of heroic missionaries continued to bring the faith to Southeast Asia, East Asia, and the Pacific from the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries, and this mission continues today.

Christianity first made contact with the peoples of the Pacific in 1595 during the Spanish expeditions from Latin America to the Philippines and in 1668 during expeditions to the Marianas. Full-scale missionary outreach began in the early nineteenth century through the great works of religious orders and congregations.6

This profound history of mission and journey of faith is the inspiration and joy of the Asian and Pacific Catholic communities who have migrated to the United States. The precious gift of the Catholic faith is manifest in a splendid variety by reasons of origin, historical and cultural development, and diverse spiritual and liturgical traditions. Yet all are united in proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ through Christian witness and solidarity.

A Teaching Moment

Today the Asian and Pacific communities in the United States—both native-born, that is, born in the United States, and immigrants who came to the United States—span several generations. Many among the Chamorro,7 Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Japanese, and Samoan Americans trace their heritage to more than a century of migration; yet Asian and Pacific peoples have remained, until very recently, nearly invisible in the Church in the United States. A further increase in the number of Asian and Pacific Islanders in the episcopal leadership will be a positive development. Some among us bishops have endeavored to become informed through a genuine pastoral love and concern, and some have responded to the generous invitation extended by Asian and Pacific episcopal conferences and individual bishops to be present at gatherings in their homelands. The many pastoral visits of our brother bishops from Asia and the Pacific have made us more aware of the urgency for the Church in the United States to recognize the gifts of our Asian and Pacific brothers and sisters.

The tremendous increase in Asian and Pacific Catholics across the United States at the beginning of the third millennium is a teaching moment. It is also a teaching moment because of the welcoming spirit to which we are called in The Church in America (Ecclesia in America) and in the recent pastoral statement Welcoming the Stranger Among Us: Unity in Diversity: the Church in the United States is enjoined "to offer a genuine and suitable welcome [to newcomers], to share together as brothers and sisters at the same table, and to work side by side to improve the quality of life for society's marginalized members."8 To underline the spirit of conversion, communion, and solidarity with newcomers called for in Welcoming the Stranger Among Us, this pastoral statement focuses attention on the little-known Asian and Pacific communities rooted in the United States, as well as new immigrants about whom we should learn more, and whom we should acknowledge as integral parts of the Church in the United States.

Though this pastoral letter is a teaching instrument about all of our Asian and Pacific sisters and brothers, most sections will focus on Asians from the South, Southeast, and East Asian regions (see Appendix B) since more than two-thirds of Americans of Asian heritage and a majority of recent immigrants are from these regions. In addition, this pastoral statement will refer to Pacific Americans from countries in the Pacific Basin including Micronesia (see Appendix C).