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Tuesday, 28 February 2023 09:50

Oceania bishops meeting a joyful, hopeful experience for SVDs

FCBCO SVD attendees 550Divine Word Missionaries who attended the recent Oceania Bishops’ Assembly in Fiji have described it as a hopeful, joyful experience of collegiality and synodality, where bishops listened to the cry of the earth and oceans along with the hopes and desires of Catholics across the region for the future of the Church.

Six SVD members attended the meeting – five bishops from Australia and Papua New Guinea and one priest, the AUS Province Provincial, Fr Asaeli Rass SVD, who helped facilitate the gathering.

Fr Rass, who had been engaged in the planning process for 18 months before the meeting, said the meeting of the Federation of Catholic Bishops Conferences of Oceania was demanding but in many ways, inspiring.

“It was a real joy and a privilege to be part of the FCBCO Assembly,” he said.

“It was a massive undertaking, but I was working with a team, the members of the secretariat in Suva and there were three of us facilitators, working with the FCBCO executive and president to achieve their outcomes.

FCBCO Tim and Rass“This was done by way of the ‘pastoral cycle’ method, which was used to help bishops respond to what they were seeing and listening to, leading to theological reflection and analysis and then looking at the pastoral challenges facing them as fellow bishops in Oceania.”

Fr Rass, who has both Tongan and Fijian heritage, said a highlight for him was the emphasis the bishops placed on the plight of the oceans, a topic of deep concern for Pacific islanders.

“There was a deep appreciation throughout the meeting of the ocean and is importance in the lives of people, anchored in the overall Creation story,” he said.

“The bishops were given first-hand insights into the importance of the ocean in the world view of Oceanic peoples and how this environment has been affected by the carelessness of commercial companies as well as the lack of effective action by local governments to find alternatives to some of these practices.

“Another interesting point for me was watching the bishops interact, listen to each other and deliberate on important issues. It was wonderful to see the leaders of the Church deepen their collegial spirit.”

Fr Rass said it was encouraging for him to watch the bishops acknowledge the cultural wisdom of the various different parts of the Pacific.

FCBCO Group Photo 550“It was great to see them seeking the wisdom of Scripture and Tradition but also acknowledging the lived traditions of the people,” he said.

“And to see their genuine appreciation for a Fiji enculturated Mass, that was a major highlight for me.”

The FCBCO Assembly drew dozens of bishops from Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and many Pacific nations.

The concluding statement from the meeting included reflections from the bishops on their three key themes for the week: Care for the oceans; Becoming a more synodal Church; and Formation for mission.

A key task of the assembly was to review and approve Oceania’s response to the Working Document for the Continental Stage of the Synod for a Synodal Church.

The bishops were pleased that, “guided by the voices of the People of God in Oceania, we progressed the work already undertaken to ensure a distinctively Oceanic voice will continue to resonate through the Synod documents”.

Rass at FCBCO 2023 500 croppedThe bishops also released a separate statement on the oceans.

“The synodal path to which Pope Francis has called the whole Church means a Church of hospitality, encounter and dialogue with the realities of people’s lives in Oceania today,” said FCBCO President, Bishop Anthony Randazzo.

“We came together to learn and this has been a time of grace and deep conversion. We see our purpose of working together to care for oceans through synodality and mission as an essential dimension of preaching the Gospel.

“This week has been a Kairos moment and the bishops have been strengthened by the synodal process to lift up their voices for our region and affirm their deepening commitment to our ocean home,” the statement concluded.

Auxiliary Bishop of Brisbane, Tim Norton SVD, said it was wonderful to see such a large presence of Divine Word Missionaries at the assembly, sharing their lived experience of interculturality and missionary outlook.

“It was a good meeting,” he said. “There was some good sharing from bishops across the Pacific who outlined some of the particular situations they are facing, which are quite different to the situations we might face in say Australia or New Zealand. And that created an empathy for others who are ministering in more challenging situations.”

Bishop Tim said he too appreciated the enculturated Mass celebrated in a Fijian parish, as well as the opportunities to see the impact of rising ocean levels and commercial activities on island communities.

default“It was interesting to see that despite the wide cultural diversity of those present, a commonality did emerge,” he said.

“And we could also see a commonality in the Synod responses across the Pacific countries. People were united in seeking a more inclusive Church, with welcoming communities and liturgies which are more enculturated. There was very much an emphasis on being a more listening Church, bringing people into the tent.

“So, I came away from the meeting quite hopeful and happy.”

Archbishop Douglas Young SVD, of the Mt Hagen Archdiocese in Papua New Guinea, said that for him, the highlight of the meeting was the interaction, storytelling, sharing and networking with other bishops of the region.

“We always note how diverse we are, but also, so many commonalities, this time especially in sharing the one ocean which we learned controls the weather and other things for all of us,” he said.

“As with all commonalities, there are exceptions, since the WA dioceses are more part of the Indian Ocean, with Adelaide and Melbourne looking south.

FCBCO Fiji enculturated Mass 500“The next important thing was the business, which was shared between our continental synod preparation for the final phase in Rome and the issue of climate change, especially as it impacts the island nations.

“It was a genuine experience of synodality at a level between our Bishops Conferences and the Universal Church. It was also a genuine experience of climate activism within our limits as pastors, not scientists.

“I remind people here in Mt Hagen that the rubbish they dump into our mighty Waghi River not only demeans it but contributes to the problems in many ways including the fact that we probably have plastic in our bodies from the plastic we dumped!”

The next assembly of the Federation will be held in Australia in 2027.


TOP RIGHT: The Divine Word Missionaries were represented by six attendees at the Oceania Bishops meeting in Fiji. From left to right: Bishop Joseph Tarife Dureror SVD of Daru-Kiunga Diocese, PNG; Bishop Tim Norton SVD, Auxiliary Bishop of Brisbane, Bishop Walenty Gryk SVD of Goroka, PNG, Fr Asaeli Rass SVD, Provincial of the Australia Province, Archbishop Douglas Young SVD of Mt Hagen, PNG; and Bishop Joe Roszynski SVD of Wewak, PNG.

MIDDLE LEFT: Bishop Tim Norton SVD leads morning prayer, with facilitator Fr Asaeli Rass SVD.

MIDDLE RIGHT: Bishops from across the Pacific came together for the FCBCO Assembly.

LOWER MIDDLE LEFT: Fr Rass facilitating the Assembly.

BOTTOM RIGHT: The bishops visited a mining site in Fiji as they considered the impacts of climate change and commercial practices on Creation.

BOTTOM LEFT: A Fijian enculturated Mass was a highlight for the SVD members attending the FCBCO Assembly.

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