OCEANIA/NEW ZEALAND - The Church in Oceania and the “Reverse Mission”

Monday, 4 January 2010

Auckland (Agenzia Fides) - “The faith of Catholics in Oceania is being attacked by consumerism, materialism, and hedonism: that is why today we are seeing a 'reverse mission'. We are the land evangelized by the faithful who have received missionary service from us." This is what Fr. Paul Shannahan, missionary and Director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in New Zealand said in an interview with Fides, in providing an overview of the challenges for the mission in Oceania. "In Oceania, the picture varies: there are nations of the 'first world', such as Australia and New Zealand, and nations of the 'Third World' such as the islands of Polynesia and Papua New Guinea, with their different problems and challenges."
Fr. Paul tells Fides: "In Australia and New Zealand the Christian faith is weak and attacked by a lifestyle consumerism and secularism, as is the case in Western countries. We need a 'new evangelization'. In my experience at the 'Catholic Inquiry Center' of Wellington, begun in the 60s, at first conducted surveys on non-Christians. Today, the focus has moved to the Catholic population, given that baptisms are decreasing, the baptized do not attend church, practitioners are few, young people tend towards a spirituality that is divorced from responsibility and commitment."
What we urgently need is a new "mission at home" because "we need to awaken [people to] a faith lived authentically, more public testimony, learning from the example of other Christian denominations. The central issue is bringing the faith into people's lives and to the community," notes the Director of the PMS.
"Today - continues Fr. Paul - we benefit from the so-called 'reverse mission': we learn and are evangelized by immigrants, the faithful of those lands (such as India, Philippines, Korea) that we once ministered to as missionaries. It is a kind of 'virtuous circle' of the mission which is now being seen in Oceania. The immigrant faithful bring the power of their faith that awakens our communities from our indifference."
For example, Fr. Shannahan says, "in the Diocese of Auckland, 10% of the clergy come from the Pacific Islands, 10% from the Philippines, 10% Indian, and 70% is from New Zealand, but made up of retired priests." The decline in vocations is requiring a replacement of priests, who increasingly come from abroad.
In Oceania, the churches of the 'first world' will ensure their future thanks to missionary contact with the economically poorest churches: "We maintain relationships and help the poorer churches with financial assistance and training of the local church. The Bishops are especially asking for support for the work of education and human development that the Church carries forward. We also take care of training and specialization of priests and laity. We know that this also means ensuring the future of our own community."
"The biggest challenge for us - he concludes - is re-evangelizing adults and families. When this occurs, young people and teenagers are set on fire for the Gospel." (PA) (Agenzia Fides 4/01/2010)