PROMULGATION OF THE POST-SYNODAL APOSTOLIC EXHORTATION "ECCLESIA IN OCEANIA"
PRESENTATION BY CARDINAL THOMAS STAFFORD WILLIAMS
Thursday, 22 November 2001
Most Holy Father,
It is exactly three years ago today that all the active bishops of Oceania met in a Special Assembly to share pastoral concerns and insights.
Holy Father, we are deeply grateful to you for calling us together and enabling us to meet with you and with one another and to celebrate the manifold gifts of divine grace through the Oceania Synod. We share the very real disappointment you must feel in not being able to promulgate the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on Oceania soil.
The members of the four Episcopal Conferences and especially the faithful of New Caledonia, their religious and clergy, were preparing to welcome and honour you. They will want me to greet you on their behalf, and assure you of their affectionate loyalty and their steadfast fidelity to the See of Peter.
It was fitting that the Synod began with an opening liturgy incorporating signs and symbols drawn from our Pacific Island cultures. That liturgy expressed the unity of faith in diversity, and gave witness to the very real communio that exists between the Church of Rome and the local Churches of Oceania (n. 9).
The area of Oceania constitutes one-third of the earth's surface but most of it is water, and its population is relatively small and unevenly distributed. Yet we brought to Rome our rich array of experiences and cultural treasures from the colourful mosaic of many different peoples: Aboriginal, Melanesian, Polynesian, Micronesian, and the descendants of migrants from the West and East (n. 6,7).
It is with heartfelt gratitude that today we receive back from you, Holy Father, the gift of the Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Oceania. The document will strengthen further the communio so clearly expressed in the Synod, and will help us to meet the challenges which the Synod identified and discussed (n. 9).
Synod theme and "communio'
The focus of the Synod was the person of Jesus Christ and how we walk his way, tell his truth and live his life. Christ has called the Church in Oceania to himself, but the purpose of being with Jesus is to go forth from Jesus. His way cannot be walked unless we are possessed by an ardent and resolute desire to proclaim Jesus Christ as the living truth, the truth which is always greater than ourselves and demands that we respond with new energy and creativity (n. 3,8).
Communio is the fruit of God's loving initiative. That the Church is essentially a mystery of communion was the spiritual and doctrinal background of all the Synod's deliberations. The Church as communion recognizes the basic equality of all Christ's faithful and our self-understanding as the People of God and the community of disciples (n. 10).
The challenge for the Church in Oceania is to come to a deeper understanding of local and universal communio and a more effective implementation of its practical implications. A custom characteristic of many parts of Oceania is the exchange of gifts. It can serve as a model in understanding communio. This model encourages an exchange of spiritual gifts which fosters relations of mutual love, respect and trust. These are the basis for open dialogue, participation and consultation as practical expressions of the communio within the Church (n. 11,12).
The first communion is that of faith, and the Synod paid tribute to the many missionaries in the past - clergy, women and men religious as well as lay people - who have spent themselves in carrying the Gospel to Oceania (n. 13). Yet even today, a full century and more after initial evangelization, it still remains our central concern to find appropriate ways of presenting to the peoples of Oceania Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour (n. 4,14).
In this respect the importance of inculturation for an authentic Christian life in Oceania was emphasized. Authentic inculturation of the Christian faith is grounded in the mystery of the Incarnation; it is born out of respect for both the Gospel and the culture in which it is proclaimed and welcomed. While remaining wholly faithful to the spirit of communio, local Churches seek to express the faith and life of the Church in legitimate forms appropriate to indigenous cultures. Oceania offers many examples of unique cultural expressions in the areas of theology, liturgy and the use of religious symbols. The Synod Fathers saw further inculturation of the Christian faith as the way leading to the fulness of ecclesial communio (n. 16, 17).
Re-presentation of the Gospel
Communio is also to be the theme and aim of all evangelization in Oceania, and the basis for our pastoral planning. All the baptized have the responsibility of proclaiming the Gospel in word and action. The Bishops are aware that the time is ripe for a re-presentation of the Gospel to the peoples of the Pacific through new ways and methods of evangelization and a further building on the directives of the Second Vatican Council (n. 18). We recognized that we are ourselves the first called to a renewed Christian life and witness. More prayerful study of the Scriptures and tradition will lead us to a deeper knowledge and love of the faith.
Local communities are invited to contribute to the new evangelization by a spirit of fellowship at their liturgies, in their social and apostolic activities; by reaching out to non-practising and alienated Catholics; by strengthening the identity of catholic schools, by providing opportunities for adults to grow in their faith through programmes of study and formation; by teaching and explaining Catholic doctrine effectively to those outside the Christian community, and by bringing the social teachings of the Church to bear on civic life in Oceania. As a result of these and allied initiatives, the Gospel will be presented to society more convincingly and influence culture more deeply (n. 19).
The Synod Fathers called for a greater awareness of the power of the media, and the potential we have through the media for more effective evangelization. Where possible, the Church should devise a pastoral plan for communications, possibly even through establishing a Catholic media centre for the whole of Oceania (n. 21). The media's impact on people's life and way of thinking illustrates the need for fresh ways of presenting the faith (n. 22). The Church in Oceania has given ecumenism a high priority, aware that the disunity among Christians is a great obstacle to the credibility of the Church's witness. The strong desire for unity in faith and worship is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit to Oceania, where there is a freshness and openness to ecumenical activities (n. 23).
Hope for society
The Church regards the social apostolate as an integral part of her evangelizing mission. The Bishops of Oceania have taught the social doctrine effectively and are one with the people in expressing determination to act against injustices, corruption, threats to life, especially of the most vulnerable, and new forms of poverty which are the results of so-called economic rationalism (n. 26, 27).
Unjust economic policies are especially damaging to indigenous peoples, young nations and their traditional cultures. It is the Church's task to help indigenous cultures preserve their identity and maintain their traditions. The Synod strongly encouraged the Holy See to continue its advocacy of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and supported the establishment of "Truth Commissions" to help resolve historical injustices and bring about reconciliation within the wider community or the nation. It asked that the Church in the more wealthy parts of Oceania share her resources more generously with the other local churches in the Pacific (n. 28,29).
The Bishops are aware of their special responsibility as stewards of the Pacific ocean which contains over one half of the earth's total supply of water. The continued health of this and other oceans is crucial for the welfare of peoples not only in Oceania but in every part of the world (n. 31).
The social apostolate extends to the remarkable contributions of the Church in Oceania in the fields of education, health care and social welfare. A distinguishing feature to Catholic education in Oceania is that it is open to all, especially to the poor and the weakest in society. The contribution of religious men and women and lay people who have established and staffed Catholic schools and hospitals, often in the face of great difficulty and with personal sacrifice has been and still is inestimable. Though still in its early stages, the commitment to education is being extended today to tertiary education (n. 32,33). Catholic hospitals and health care institutions are at the forefront of the Church's promotion of human life from the moment of conception until natural death (n. 30,34).
These are but some instances which exemplify our need for the encouragement and guidance you have given us, Holy Father, in that section of the document devoted to the application of the Church's social teaching.
Evangelization cannot take place without prayer and the interior life in union with Christ. The Synod Fathers recognized the need to give fresh impetus and encouragement to the spiritual life of all the faithful, which is nourished by a renewed appreciation of Scripture (n. 37,38).
The Catholics of Oceania understand well the central place of the Eucharist in their lives. Concern was expressed that many communities throughout Oceania go without the celebration of the Eucharist for long periods because of the growing scarcity of priests and the vast distances. There is a need for great wisdom and courage in addressing this most regrettable situation (n. 40). There are also serious pastoral challenges with regard to the Sacrament of Penance. A renewed catechesis and practice of this great Sacrament of mercy is urgent (n. 41).
Community of disciples
The Synod Fathers rejoiced in the work and witness of religious, both men and women, and also lay people who have been an integral part of the growth of the Church in Oceania and will continue to do so, especially as catechists, instructors in sacramental preparation, youth work, and as leaders of small groups and communities (n. 43,51).
In many countries of Oceania, young people form the majority of the population. We wished them to know that they are a vital part of the Church today, not just in the future as adults, but now as maturing disciples of Jesus. Youth live in a culture which is uniquely their own. It is therefore essential that Church leaders incorporate the positive aspects of that culture into the Church's life and mission. Young people are to be applauded for their acute sense of justice, personal integrity and respect for human dignity, for their care for the needy and their concern for the environment. These are signs of a great generosity of spirit which will not fail to bear fruit in the life of the Church (n. 44,45).
Equally, not only the Church but society also in Oceania depends heavily on the quality of family life. This implies great responsibility for Christians who enter the marriage covenant. It calls for suitable pastoral preparation, which must include a careful and convincing explanation of the Church's teaching on marriage and the family (n. 45).
Because of the serious shortage of priests, the promotion of vocations to the priesthood is an urgent responsibility of every Catholic community. As each Bishop is responsible for the formation of local clergy in the context of the local culture and tradition, serious consideration must be given to more flexible and creative models of formation and learning (n. 48). All clergy are urged to renew their efforts to model their prayer life on that of Christ and to adopt a life-style that reflects Christ's life of simplicity and identification with the powerless (n. 49).
Communio, inculturation and a renewed proclamation of the Gospel in ways appropriate for the peoples of Oceania today - these were the key themes and insights which emerged from the Synod three years ago.
We are filled with deep gratitude, Holy Father, that you called us together, that you have listened to us, that you have accepted the gifts we brought to the universal Church and that, in return, you have given us this document today, Ecclesia in Oceania. It offers many directions and suggestions for the guidance of the local Churches in Oceania (n. 52).
Holy Father, I was privileged to speak on behalf of participants at the close of the final session of the Special Assembly for Oceania three years ago, and concluded with these words:
"We promise you that, when you have promulgated the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation among us, we will strive our utmost to build its guidance into our own lives as pastors and into the lives of the faithful in our local Churches."
I emphatically reaffirm that promise!
The Oceania Bishops will disseminate widely the content of "Ecclesia in Oceania". We will work together to prepare discussion material in the different languages of our region so that our peoples may understand and apply the directions indicated by their Universal Pastor.
Please be sure, Holy Father, that through our Federation and Episcopal Conferences, and in our local Churches, we will do all possible to follow faithfully the way of Jesus Christ, tell courageously the truth of Jesus Christ, and live joyously the life of Jesus Christ.
May we never cease to praise God who in his love will bring new and ever more wonderful graces to the lands within the Great Ocean.
And may the Holy Spirit guide us, and the Mother of Jesus, Our Lady of Peace, intercede for us, as the local Churches of Oceania enter the new millennium.