Reflections: Communication and bridge-building

Annie Lam

Communication is an exchange of ideas and information; and culture is an organizer of shared ideas, beliefs, behaviors and values. This was well suitably chosen as the theme of our Council’s Plenary Assembly, which involves cultural exchanges in a global context, in November 2010. I was amazed to see the new format of the session, which involved experts and experienced practitioners to speak on the subject was amazing and enlightening. Not only was it great to see new faces and meet old pals from different parts of the world, it was good to hear the transformation of the Council in its structure and direction in archaeology, youth, art and emergent cultures. All these experiences have brought in freshness and vitality into the work of Culture.

As a Hongkong-born Chinese Catholic from Asia, I see the need of communication imminent as important means to bridge the cultures of the East and West, and between believers and non-believers, and the Church in China and universal Church. Catholics in Asia is a little flock (Ecclesia in Asia, ), living in this Asian continent of multi-cultures, multi-languages and multi-religions. The proclamation of Gospel is a challenging task, thus inculturation and understanding of cultures becomes essential in the process of dialogue and evangelization. This practice, experience and need has been reiterated by Asian Catholics – clerical and lay. Chinese and other Asians are eager to communicate with the world, especially in this era of Internet connection and social networking. Nonetheless, language is a barrier. English, as most commonly used working language in Asia, is not mother tongue to many peoples and countries in Asia, needless to say Italian, French, German and Spanish.

While appreciating the wonders of creativity in architecture, movies, Church music and evangelization talks on YouTube and Facebook, I was wondering how these positive experiences in the Church cultures could be conveyed to the Asian Catholics, particularly the Chinese people to whom I belong. Language should be a helpful means of communication, and not a barrier. The images of construction of bridges by our guest-speaker architect were astonishing, shedding light on the building bridges and premises with a heart. Moreover, similar symposia and activities at regional level would be helpful to spread and share the ideas of promotion of dialogues of cultures.

Communication needs a heart, as Jesus does His work with compassion. To bridge the different cultures, translation of materials can be a means and a first step. Local people can then access materials and participate in the discussions. Translation is a cross-cultural communication agent. Translation involves both language and culture, since the two are inseparable. The translator has to link the source text in its cultural context to the target communicative-cultural condition. Except news reports, few (or none) documents issued by the Council have been translated into Chinese. Limited ideas and shared values of the Council could be got across to Chinese Catholics. If the texts in native languages are available, the awareness of the need for communication and dialogue would be raised. As emphasized in the Plenary Assembly, Internet could be an effective means of communicating messages. I was wondering if the Council could start its own website and include different cultures, including Asian ones, in various languages.

The celebrations of Jesuit Father Matteo Ricci’s 400th centenary of his death in 2010 have called upon attention on communication in light of cultural exchanges and dialogues. The communication between East and West is not easy. It is hoped that the Chinese people and those of Europe and other continents can communicate and dialogue more, and understand each other better. In Asia, including China, Catholics is of such a small community, not even one percent of the 1.3 billion population, and evangelization needs support and resources from the universal Church. With the modern technology and human contacts, it is optimistic that cultures can be built upon good communications. Perhaps, someday, the Council-led Court of Gentiles, or similar efforts,.can be broadened to cover various continents including Asia. Although Asian Catholics may be a little flock, the faithful is dedicated to be "the peoples of Asia need Jesus Christ and his Gospel" and that this continent "thirsts for the living water that only He can give" (Ecclesia in Asia, 50).