The new evangelization in Oceania
By John Atcherley Dew
Archbishop of Wellington, New Zeland
Report exposed during the Synod on the New Evangelization (Rome, 7-28 October, 2012):
1. Here in this Aula, at the Synod for Oceania 1998, Father Timothy Radcliffe, then Prior General of the Dominicans coined the beautiful phrase "Islands of humanity" when speaking of Oceania. These "islands of humanity" are reflected in the post-Synodal Exhortation "Ecclesia in Oceania" which Pope John Paul II was to have proclaimed during a pastoral visit to New Caledonia. However his declining health meant that this was not possible, so "Ecclesia in Oceania" was the first major Vatican document launched electronically. Oceania, far from the technological hub of the universe, covering one-third of the earth's surface, was a beneficiary of electronic communications! The exhortation was a call to the peoples of Oceania to focus anew their lives on Jesus Christ: to walk his way, to tell his truth and to live his life.
The exhortation was also for many, an introduction to the term, a "New Evangelization." "Evangelization is the mission of the Church to tell the world the truth of God revealed in Jesus Christ ..... A new evangelization is needed today so that everyone may hear, understand and believe in God’s mercy destined for all people in Jesus Christ. JJ (EO 18).
That today is the biblical today:"if today you hear his voice ..." Today the Church in Oceania is invited to hear anew the invitation of Jesus Christ to walk his way, to tell his truth and to live his life under the constellation of the Southern Cross that lights up the night sky all over Oceania.
What are the islands of humanity that we recognize in the dioceses and countries of the four Episcopal conferences that make up the Federation of Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of Oceania?
CEPAC (Episcopal Conference of the Pacific). More than 30% of the population of this vast area was born since the Synod for Oceania. We see everywhere the vibrancy of youth, e.g. large numbers who attended World Youth Day in Sydney in 2008; annual Téné celebrations in New Caledonia, the youth festival in Samoa earlier this year; vocations to priesthood and religious life with a missionary outreach beyond the CEPAC area. In these young people we see a sincere and sometimes painful search for meaning and spirituality as they bridge traditional cultural values and the excitement of the technological age with the swipe of an I-pad or smart-phone. It is sometimes difficult for them to resist the false attractions of an aggressive media and entertainment industry. The CEPAC publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and YouCat in both French and English is a valuable tool in the formation of youth.
In NEW ZEALAND we have witnessed a new vitality of Catholic life through growing ethnic diversity, as a result of the migration of peoples. The largest populations are from the Pacific Islands and the Philippines, with smaller, yet very significant numbers of Catholics and catechumens - from the Middle East, India, Korea, China and the Sudan. People who bring their Catholic faith and their spirituality ... as well as their experiences of war, poverty and displacement that have forged their faith. New Zealand has a strong bicultural partnership founded in the Treaty of Waitangi signed by the British Crown and the Maori people in 1840. This Treaty provides "the moral basis for the presence of all other peoples in Aotearoa-New Zealand". (NZCBC Statement, Advent, 1989)
In AUSTRALIA there is a strong engagement with society through adult education and new forms of lay leadership in the Church. Australia is the most advanced of all the countries of the Federation with regard to media and technology. They have shared this generously, e.g. in their support of the Catholic Radio network in the Solomon Islands; and their ready sharing of electronic resources for evangelization, educational and pastoral formation. Over the past two years, the diocese of Broken Bay has offered e-conferences that are streamed live throughout the world. At the first of these e-conferences, which I attended in Wellington, New Zealand, I was fascinated to see the Australian hosts, via satellite link, welcoming and speaking with participants from many Pacific countries, the Solomon Islands, Philippines, India, and even as far away as Canada and the United Kingdom. This new technology is a vital agent of the New Evangelization.
PAPUA NEW GUINEA and the SOLOMON ISLANDS are the leaders in research and practical inculturation of the Gospel, as encouraged in the post-synodal exhortation, Ecclesia in Oceania (#16-17). Their cultures mirror Gospel values of the sacredness of human life and hospitality. Several international religious congregations - both clerical and lay - have set up their formation programmes in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands because of the strength of tertiary studies and inculturated formation available. There are also significant populations in these countries, who are hearing the Gospel message for the first time, e.g., over 60 people baptised in one part of the Solomon Islands last Easter.
In each of the four Conferences our Catholic Schools perform well and are integral to parish life. Our schools are fertile ground for the "new evangelization" offering the opportunity to re-engage families in the life of the Church.
St Peter Chanel is recognized as the Proto martyr of Oceania and his intercession was sought for many years. Two years ago the canonization of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop gained enormous interest in Australia and throughout the Pacific. The media interest was intense and the canonization did wonders for the Church. Such models of holiness continue to inspire, Blessed Peter To Rot of Papua New Guinea, the soon to be canonized (during this Synod) Blessed Pedro Calungsod of Guam - the "teen saint". In New Zealand we await word of the cause of Suzanne Aubert. These examples will do more for the New Evangelization than we can imagine as the media is interested and captures peoples' imagination.
2. These "islands of humanity", however, are built on a volcanic chain of unstable tectonic plates that occasionally burst to the surface as "islands of inhumanity."
CEPAC: All of the countries in the CEPAC region have been independent of colonial rule for up to 50 years, or have achieved some form of internal self-government. However, some are still struggling to choose a form of government that reflects both their cultural uniqueness, and the demands of a modern democracy, e.g. Fiji and Tonga. This continuing political instability occasionally erupts into violence, sometimes even with loss of life.
Several of these countries/dioceses are the most seriously affected by climate change, e.g. the low-lying islands of Kiribati, Tuvalu, Tokelau, Rotuma, Northern Cook Islands, and Eastern Polynesia. The "great splendor and beauty ... of sea and land, water and earth" (EO 6) is under serious threat, and even more so those who live dependent on the gifts of this land and sea. The concern of the Church for the poor and most vulnerable will need to include the particular needs of potential environmental refugees."
In NEW ZEALAND we recognise that the saeculum is where "believers and non-believers interact and share in a common humanity" (IL54). The "Courtyard of the gentiles" is a privileged place of evangelisation. This is the positive side of secularisation. However, an aggressive secularism, and the failure to acknowledge the transcendent dignity of the human person, often blocks the dialogue with society on key bioethical and social issues, e.g. euthanasia, abortion, and the definition of marriage. This secularism also presents a challenge for the growing numbers of believers of other faiths who have made New Zealand their home, e.g. Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Sikhs. They have often come from a much more positive encounter with Christians in their country of origin, and are scandalized by what they experience in what they thought was "a Christian country".
PAPUA NEW GUINEA and the SOLOMON ISLANDS: In a region of such vast ethnic and social diversity, there are serious social justice questions: the breakdown of traditional cultural values and social fragmentation, a high incidence of HIV-AIDS, oppressive poverty and corruption, tension regarding access to natural resources, rapid urbanization, a ready resort to violence, border disputes with Indonesia over West Papua. The strength of the inculturation mentioned earlier will be tested in the response to these areas of social justice.
AUSTRALIA: The vast "southern land of the Holy Spirit" also has major challenges in the task of the new evangelization, in the dialogue with a growing secularized society, in narrowing the gap between rich and poor, in the promotion of the dignity of indigenous people and asylum seekers, and in the same bioethical and social issues which New Zealand faces. Australia often suffers from the devastation of bush fires with great loss of life and property; these fires are one of the effects of climate change. While natural disasters in Oceania are often small on the global scale, they have an enormous impact on smaller nations and fragile economies.
3. THE NEW EVANGELIZATION IN THIS CONTEXT
The Instrumentum Laboris (78) reminds us of the three basic requirements for the New Evangelization:
- The ability to discern ... within the present circumstances, unwavering in the conviction that the Gospel can still be proclaimed ...
- The ability to live the Christian faith;
- A clear and visible bond with the Church ....
These requirements are a call to conversion in the context of The New Evangelization in Oceania. "... A new evangelization is needed today so that everyone may hear, understand and believe in God's mercy destined for all people in Jesus Christ." (EO 18)
a. "Evangelization means that we must talk about Evangelizers". The formation and ongoing formation of all involved in the evangelizing mission of the Church must be our first priority. This means a rediscovery of the gift and vocation of Baptism, meeting the Risen Jesus in the scriptures and church community gathered around the Eucharist, a renewed commitment to prayer and contemplation, biblical study and lectio divina, a generous and courageous service of the community of church and society, upholding and promoting family life and values;
b. We need to reclaim the Catholic Kerygmatic tradition, " to speak the word of God boldly - in season and out of season", to reclaim the prophetic voice of the Church, to discern the signs of the times that call for the new evangelization, and to engage in proclaiming and living a Christian response to these signs of the times;
We pray in the words of Ecclesia in Oceania that the Church in Oceania "may have the strength to follow faithfully the way of Jesus Christ, to tell courageously the truth of Jesus Christ, to live joyfully the life of Jesus Christ".