ASPAC-ORIENS REGIONAL REPORT
I. THE JAPANESE REGION AND THE ORIENS REGION
1.1. The Japanese Region
In 1896, thirteen
years after the foundation of Our Lady of Consolation, which was the first foundation
of our Order in the Far East, Dom Bernard Favre, the superior of Consolation,
having received some financial assistance and personnel began the foundation
of the first Trappist monastery of monks in
At present, more than one hundred years after the establishment of these first Cistercian foundations, Japan now has two monasteries of monks (Phare and Oita) and five monasteries of nuns : Tenshien, Nishinomiya (founded by Tenshien in 1935), Imari (founded by Tenshien in 1953), Nasu (founded by Nishinomiya in 1954) and Miyako (founded by Nishinomiya in 1981 and transferred to Ajimu in 2002). With the exception of the first two foundations, that is Phare and Tenshien, all the other monasteries are foundations made by Japanese houses. The Japanese Region as such was born in 1967 with the first assembly of the superiors of nuns. At the time the Japanese Region referred only to the nuns’ branch of the Order while the monasteries of monks became affiliated with the ASPAC Region.
By taking a look at the statistics we can see that the Japanese monasteries
of nuns had very large communities. Considering the number of Catholics, the
Japanese had the highest ratio of nuns in the world. That remains a testimony
to a remarkable period of history. Presently every community faces the problems
of aging and lack of vocations. However that does not mean that some communities
continue to be in a dangerous situation as far as vocations are concerned. For
several years now one community has been receiving candidates from
Recently within this region there is a community of nuns that has an abbess who came from another community and this has enlivened that community considerably. Another community of nuns had a long period under an apostolic administration. It is happily regained its normalization and the nuns are now governed by their own abbess. Four years ago another community moved the location of their monastery in order to find a place more geographically suitable. Regarding the above mentioned situations, the superiors and communities of both monks and nuns have shown generous cooperation with each according to their means and abilities. Presently there has emerged among the Japanese superiors and communities a spirit of unity and cooperation. Regardless whether it be monks or nuns, when any community is in pain all the superiors share this and try to assist practically according to their possibilities. We have happily emerged from a darker period of time when we were not so fraternal. Due to this very open attitude and spirit of solidarity among us, our yearly meeting of superiors is a great source of strength. Of course there are also other areas of cooperation, e.g. translations, various exchanges of information and materials, study sessions, and help in problematic pastoral situations, etc.
It can be said that the Order in
1. 2. The Oriens Region
The nuns of our Order were in
From what had been the Japanese Region until 1988, with the addition of Gedono and Sujong, there came about the birth of the Oriens Region into which later foundations were incorporated. Before joining the ASPAC Region as a Mixed Region of monks and nuns in 1995, the Oriens Region was composed of ten monasteries of nuns. In this region, besides the fact that it is spread out over 6 different countries quite distant from each other, each country has its own language, culture and mentality which are quite different. In the midst of this diversity by living together the Gospel, the holy Rule, and our Cistercian charism, we are united as one.
2.1. Its Long Prehistory
At the beginning of the 20th century there were two monasteries of monks of our Order in the
eastern part of Asia, namely O.L.of Consolation , founded in 1883 at
Yang Kia Ping (
Regarding the monks of O.L.
some of them managed to leave
Thus in 1967 when our Order began to have regional conferences, there
were six monasteries of monks in Asia and
Later on, O.L.
in 1972 by monks from several
2.2. Its Conception, Birth and Short History
Actually at the General Chapter of 1980, even
forming an official Region, the monasteries of Asia and
In 1991 a foundation for monks was made in
The ASPAC Region used to hold its meetings in one of the houses of the Region, inviting one or several abbesses of the Japanese Region, and to have additional days for a special program on one monastic topic or another. The meetings were held in 1985 (in Tarrawarra + formation by Br Eugene Dwyer, FMS), 1986 (Phare + Primitive Cistercian Documents by Fr Michael Casey OCSO), 1989 (Kopua + Psychological Aspects of Formation by Dom Jean Doutre OCSO), 1992 (Rawaseneng + inculturation by Fr. I. Kuntara SJ) and 1995 (joint meeting with the Region of Oriens at Phare + Japanese Culture by Mrs Ayako Sono).
III. THE ASPAC-ORIENS REGION
3.1. General View of the Region
In 1995 the Region of ASPAC and the Region of Oriens held a joint meeting at Phare. In the presence of the Abbot General the two regions arrived at an agreement of forming one mixed Region
under the name of the ASPAC-Oriens Region. This fusion was approved by the General Chapter of 1996.
In the meantime, at the end of 1995 several Indonesian monks from Rawaseneng
were sent to prepare the foundation of Lamanabi in
At present ( in 2005) the Region of ASPAC-Oriens consists of 20 monasteries
( 10 of nuns and
10 of monks) dispersed among nine
different countries. Two houses are over 100 years old: Phare and Tenshien. Seven houses have
celebrated their golden jubilee: Lantao,
At least once between General Chapters a plenary meeting is held in one of the monasteries of the Region, namely in 1998 (Guimaras), 2001 (Sujong) and 2004 (Matutum). Each community is invited to send a delegate who takes part in all sessions and enjoys the right to vote, except for any vote restricted to the Superiors and announced as such by the Presidents. The languages of the Region are English and Japanese. Interpreters are provided when they are needed. A Regional Delegate for the General Chapter is designated by each of the branches of the Region. Each community, in order of seniority, selects this delegate in the manner decided by the local Superior
Members of the Region present at the General Chapter gather together with the Regional Delegates to elect the two Presidents who will also be Regional Nominees to the Central Commissions, voting separately in the feminine and masculine branches, the term being for three years.
The English speaking members of the Region feel the need to have sub-regional meetings for superiors and for formators. While the Japanese members meet every year, the far-flung English speaking sub-region needs to take a different approach to time and finance so that everything does not happen in one year.
Because of the great differences in language and culture, collaboration at the regional level in the area of formation is rather limited. Because about a half of the houses are recent foundations with a lot of young members in initial formation, monastic formation is of utmost importance in the Region. Several houses have incidental collaboration with other religious institutes in their respective countries or invite monks or nuns from other houses of the Order to give series of lectures or to preach community retreats. It also happened that some particular houses invited juniors (Lantao in 1995) or formators (Gedono in 2004) from some other houses to meet for several days. From time to time the Regional Secretary for Formation organized regional meetings for formators, using the two official languages of the Region, namely in 1997 (Phare), 2000 (Guimaras), 2003 (Sujong). Sub-regional meetings for formators are also on the program (Gedono in 2005). As regards intellectual formation for the priesthood, each house makes its own arrangement with the possibility of collaboration with local Theological Faculties. At present (in 2005) the Region has two Regional Secretaries for Formation, one for the English language and one for the Japanese language, one monk and one nun.
Each house is responsible for its own liturgy. There is no collaboration at the regional level. English speaking houses have a greater possibility of using liturgical books and liturgical songs published in Europe or in the United States. In this context it is worth noting that Kurisumala celebrates its liturgy in the Syro-Malankara Rite.
Regarding work (industries), the houses of the Region are located in different countries with very different standards of living. Great differences are also noticed in the evolution and the scale of their enterprises. Besides great scale industries in a few of the senior houses, there are also small scale house-industries in recent foundations which are still looking for satisfying forms of making a living.
Mutual collaboration in work can only take place among houses that are relatively close geographically. On particular occasions some houses, which are blessed with more economic wealth, give a helping hand to concrete projects of less fortunate houses.
3. 2. Some Challenges of the Region
The ASPAC-Oriens Region consists of 20 houses which are dispersed in such a vast area, that if the other regions were of the same size, there would be only three regions in the Order: ASPAC-Oriens, Europe-Africa (including Madagascar), and (North-South) America. The countries, where the houses of the Aspac-Oriens Region are located, are very different in their latitude, the number of their population, their languages, histories and cultures, the level of their economical development, their religious traditions, the structures of their governments and the percentage of the Catholic population.
Most houses, especially the young ones, still have strong affective relationships with their founding houses, so that the relationship with them is much more intense than the other houses of the Region. It is also important to note that the founding houses in question also have different traditions, languages and cultures: French, Irish, Dutch, Italian, American, Belgian. There are also Asian founding houses: Chinese, Japanese and Indonesian. Two houses, Rosary and Kurisumala, were founded in very special and non-conventional ways. In other words the Region of ASPAC-Oriens is providentially challenged by enormous diversities in almost all areas. The only unifying factor is the fact that all houses in question do belong to the same Order.
3.2.2. Relationship with the local Church
Nowadays and in the future the relationship of our monasteries in general with the local Churches is becoming more and more important. This applies even more to the houses of the ASPAC-Oriens Region. Communication and interaction with other religious institutes at the national level play ever a greater role. At this time, the relationships with co-religious and ecclesiastical personalities are not less relevant than the relationships within the Order. In this context it might not be out of place to mention some forms of collaborations existing at the regional and continental level in Asia, for instance FABC (Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences), AMOR (Asia-Pacific Meeting of Religious), the Secretariat of SEAMS (South East Asian Major Superiors). Up to this moment the ASPAC-Oriens Region of the Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance does not have any contact with these organizations. In fact, the topics of the regional meetings of ASPAC-Oriens houses are for the most part internal issues relative to the Order or to particular communities. Great Asian concerns such as dialogue with local religious traditions are practically never touched upon, except in additional programs given by local speakers without any follow-up.
3.2.3. A Common Task of the Region
For the ASPAC-Oriens Region a common task to face is indigenization or inculturation understood in its deeper meaning. If you want to transplant something that was grown in the West and bring it to the East you will naturally have to take into consideration the soil, climate and environment of the new location. This is the condition for indigenization. To inculturate a Christian monasticism which developed in the Western world into Asian soil is not a matter of simple outward adaptation to culture and lifestyle, but it involves the transformation of the deepest strata of the heart of an Asian as an Asian in order to authentically live a life converted to God. Taken in this sense it is a difficult task.
This region is the birthplace for two of the four great ancient world civilizations (Egypt, Mesopotamia, India and China). They are older than Christianity and they continue to exist. The region is not only characterized by great cultures but also by great religions. It is a world that is home to the powerful influence of Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism and many forms of pantheism as well as atheism.
Given this context, if the Order is going to expand, it will have to accept challenges and also trials in this process of assimilation. Although there are communities in this region transplanted from Europe more than one hundred years ago, there are also communities that have come only ten years ago. It can be said that we sense a difference in the degree of inculturation among the monasteries in the region depending on how old the foundation is as well as the particular circumstances of the place in which each monastery finds itself. There is certainly no easy way to know how to insert a strong non-Christian spirituality into the Order without altering the essentials of Cistercian spirituality, or on the other hand, how do we introduce our spirituality into another already existing non-Christian spirituality. To a more or less degree this is something that will be faced by every monastery in the region. Furthermore, it is not going too far to say that the development of this region will depend on the appropriate response to this task. Although this involves investing a lot of energy, can’t we also say that it promises to open up new possibilities for the Order?
Agnes Akano and Frans Harjawiyata