George Phe Mang OP
In Dominican theology the mission is to defend the belief in the incarnation of God in Jesus, and in the integrity of creation, and also to cooperate with sacramental grace through preaching and teaching. Since preaching is the sharing of the fruits of one’s ascetic contemplation, it calls for the disciplined study of theology and its dissemination within the cultural context of society. To be effective, a preacher must be competent in answering the questions of the time and to respond to the needs and desires of people for the teachings of the Gospel. Therefore the friar should be first and foremost a man of faith, prayer and learning; and then, in response to call of Pope Francis at his first Chrism mass in Rome in 2013, “to be a shepherd living with the smell of the sheep.”
Since the goal of preaching is the belief in God as a truth arrived at through intellectual enquiry, this does not therefore conflict with reason. The practice of intellectual enquiry in the life of prayer and contemplation leads the preacher to the truth that God is the origin and fulfillment of all things, and Christ as the way, the truth and the life (cf. John 14:6). For theology to be credible, it is necessary and important to understand and address the cries of the poor, the oppressed, the dejected, and the crucified, because God is always speaking through them. The Constitutions of the Order of Preachers encourage friars “to learn and recognize the Spirit working in the midst of the people of God, and to identify the hidden treasures in the various forms of human culture, by which human nature is fully manifested and new paths are opened to the Truth” (LCO 99.II).
The Dominican General Chapter of Quezon City (1977) proposed the teaching of the catechism in diverse cultures, preaching within their own political-cultural polity, engaging and establishing social justice and peace wherever possible, and engaging in the apostolate of the mass media.
Since 1962, Myanmar has been a totalitarian state ruled by military generals and has been an isolated and impoverished nation. The reform process has undergone significant interruptions, human rights limitations, and increased arrests of peaceful land protestors. Students and journalists have also been arrested. The political transition of the country is also complicated by entrenched political and economic interests, ethnic divisions, and communal (Buddhist/Muslim) violence, intensified by special interest prejudices and fanaticism.
The Catholic Church in Myanmar is a “small flock” and experiences enormous challenges in attempting to promote and establish peaceful co-existence among the inter-cultural, inter-ethnic and inter-religious mix that is Myanmar. This requires well informed, competent and experienced missionaries who are experts in dialogue, in conflict mediation and resolution, as well as possessing linguistic competence, given that Myanmar is also a multilingual nation.
“Woe to us if we do not preach the Gospel” (1 Cor. 9:16). The mission of the Order to Myanmar was inaugurated in 2011, during a critical transition period when the people experienced difficulties such as arms-conflict, and social issues arising from human trafficking, illegal migration, child labor and prostitution. Our mission becomes a call to side with the poor and the powerless, while discerning and denouncing the social evils of sin and injustice. Siding with the least empowered social groups means translating the Gospel into a particular form of life, to scrutinize the signs of the times with the eyes of faith, and to establish life, hope, justice and peace, according to the needs of the Church (cf. Mark 16:15). As prophets of our time, we are sent out to practice and share the virtue of hope, that is the fruit of our faith in the Lord, who constantly tells us: “Be not afraid, for I am with you” (Jer. 1:8).
The preaching and teaching ministry in Myanmar is becoming more dynamic, and requires the attitudes of compassion and humility in order to have a meaningful impact. According to the Dominican historian, Marie-Humbert Vicaire, St. Dominic’s most striking gift was ‘compassion’ towards the suffering and to the vulnerable. Chrys McVey OP added that: “Dominic wept, and the Order was born”, which encourages us to be “brothers” to the dislocated poor.1 St. Dominic’s love for learning and charity to the poor is expressed in his dictum, “I could not bear to prize dead skins [i.e. parchments], when living skins were starving and in need.”2
Pope Francis proclaimed the Jubilee Year of Mercy to inspire us “to open the holy door of mercy”, which means to bridge the separations between inside and outside, sin and grace (cf. Mark 7:18-19); to let us enter a new place by showing mercy and not condemnation (cf. Matt. 9:13); to provide protection and salvation (cf. John 10:7). The 800th anniversary of the confirmation of the Order invites us to open a holy door of mercy to the world, particularly in Myanmar. It is a challenge to question our traditional concepts, models, and attitudes; and to develop a healthy relationship in dialogue with people of different faiths and cultures.
As Dominicans, the challenge is to live authentically the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty, and obedience in faith and charity, and as expressed in our community life. Today, the different cultures are facing difficulties in living together, especially when the powerless encounter different forms of oppression and inequality. By acknowledging the dignity of each person and sharing our respective gifts, we may then be able to live as brothers and sisters. Therefore, a Dominican theology is a call to love – that is to be human, loving and friendly.
1 Chrys McVey, “Dominican Values: Alive to the Real and the Possible,” in: G. Kelly and K. Saunders, eds, Towards the Intelligent Use of Liberty: Dominican Approaches in Education, Adelaide, 2007, 123-134, here 124.
2 Acta canonizationis sancti Dominici, ed. by A. Walz, in: Monumenta historica sancti patris Dominici [=Monumenta Ordinis Fratrum Praedicatorum Historiae 16, Fasz. 2] Rome, 1935, nos 35, 154.