2000+ youth and young adults gathered in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, last week to celebrate Asian Youth Day. This year’s theme is “Joyful Asian Youth! Living the Gospel in Multicultural Asia.” Noteworthy is the fact that there were more than 100 young Muslims volunteering at the event. One day of the week’s celebrations was also dedicated to interfaith exchange and participants got to learn about Islam in Indonesia from their peers, reported AsiaNews.it.
In accord with this year’s theme was also a presentation of array of garments from different Asian traditions throughout the week. This image of six young people bringing up the gifts is a screenshot taken from footage of one of the event’s daily Masses.
I’ve been to other multicultural Masses such as those celebrated at World Youth Day or other large Catholic gatherings, but have never been to one where a variety of traditional garments were worn (though I’m sure it’s been done). In my experience, it is typically language that forms the main marker of cultural difference at multicultural Masses (or at Pentecost). However, what struck me about the attire these young men and women were wearing was not simply the fact that they were traditional Chinese clothing, but clothing from different historical periods and ethnicities. These added a historical perspective to multiculturalism. The young man and woman in the last row picture above, for instance, were wearing clothing typically associated with the Yuan dynasty (13th-14th c.) These are quite different from the ones worn the women leading the intercessions who wore clothing inspired by fashion from the more recent Qing dynasty period (17th-early 20th c.).
The only other times I have encountered people wearing period garments from Chinese culture were at museums or tourist attractions meant to recreate the experience of a time in history. Like at a renaissance festival, period clothing and accessories are novel stage props at these sites. But these costumes did not feel like a novelty to me as I watched the Mass unfold. Rather, I was surprised by how the costumes led me to reflect upon the path of my ancestry and the convergences with the path of my Christian life. There was an unexpected anamnetic power in the clothing worn at this Mass.
For me, the costumes spoke loudly as symbols of the Logos spermatikos or “seed of the Logos” existing throughout time, in different cultures and lands, through the rise and fall of rulers and governments, and in the migration of peoples. Indeed, God is at the core of this multicultural and multi-religious land of Asia where I was born and baptized.
This reflection made me wonder if there may be other appropriate times in the liturgical year (maybe Pentecost?) where period clothing could be worn in the liturgy to express a cultural-historical view of the Church’s universality. Perhaps an anamnesis through historical clothing would help us see more clearly the cultural diversity and fluidity of the Church throughout time, and in so doing, open our minds and hearts to new immigrants and other religions in society. Thoughts?