JOHN PAUL II AND OCEANIA Bishop Cesare Bonivento of Vanimo Papua New Guinea

Tuesday, 14 October 2003

Vanimo(Fides Service) - Oceania will never forget the love which Pope John Paul II has shown her during these 25 years of his pontificate. The reasons are many and I will try to recall the most important.

One event emerges, the continental Synod for Oceania held in 1998 in Rome in preparation for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 and the opening of the third millennium. To the islands of Oceania it seemed impossible that they should be given the same consideration as the other continents: neither the number of Catholics nor their recent history could ever have claimed such consideration. Nevertheless it was so, thanks to Pope John Paul II’s great love for the least important of the world’s continents. Oceania came to realise the important contribution it can offer the universal Church when in St Peter’s it saw all its bishops gathered around the Pope for a liturgy enriched by cultural-liturgical elements typical of this continent, the furthest from Rome in distance. For many it was somewhat of a shock, but it was wonderful for us, thought to be the least in the great Catholic family and instead our Common Father gave us a place of honour equal to the ancient Churches of east and west. From that moment on Oceania was filled with new awareness, new dynamism which continues to grow.

Among the other reasons for which Oceania is in debt to Pope John Paul II I would mention first of all the Holy Father’s attention for the serious problem of vocations in Oceania. Oceania lives a contradictory situation. One the one hand we have Australia and New Zealand considered in general European zones, with problems typical of Europe, therefore a rapid diminishing of vocations. On the other we have countries such as Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, New Caledonia etc., where, with God’s grace, there are great hopes for vocations. For everyone the Pope has always had words of encouragement, particularly in the Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Oceania. To face the present-day scarcity of vocations he urged all of us not only to have trust, to pray, to be faithful to the Church but also to collaborate with one another so that seminaries in Papua New Guinea and other minor Islands in Oceania might receive the help necessary to enlarge and increase in number as vocations require. He also made a strong appeal to individual bishops to courageously promote priestly vocations at every level: diocese, parish, school, family in the certainty that the Lord calls abundantly and that youth are rich in spiritual resources when they are adequately helped in their seminary formation (Ecclesia in Oceania 48). The Holy Father’s encouragement is bearing fruit especially in Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands: vocations are so abundant that the seminaries are insufficient. We need to open more seminaries first of all minor diocesan seminaries. Naturally the difficulties to reach this objective are many. But the urgency and the possibility of having many priestly vocations obliges us to dare anything, following the example and the teaching of John Paul II.

Another motive for gratitude to John Paul II is his ministry in defence of life. Until a short while ago Oceania lived by reflection and with a certain delay the problems of the Western world: especially questions such as abortion, contraception, AIDS, sexual education, prostitution, homosexuality etc. Today, not only Australia and New Zealand but also the other Islands of Oceania, Papua New Guinea in particular, are aware of these problems mainly because manipulation by large multinational companies of local governments. Today in Papua New Guinea we find ourselves faced with pressing medical directives in favour of sterilisation, the use of the condom as the only means to fight AIDS, proposals to legalise prostitution, abortion, and we foresee that it will not be long before we hear other proposals regarding sexuality and homosexual unions ‘matrimony’, naturally camouflaged under the name of human rights. Schools are also seriously threatened by attempted sexual education which instead of protecting children pushes them to behaviour which seriously damages their dignity and health.
This is for all of us a great shock because in no way does it correspond to this under populated country or to its cultural character: on the contrary all this is totally in contrast to the local culture.
Fortunately we are not unprepared in the face of these attacks on human dignity. We are protected by the teachings of John Paul II which have reach all the local Churches mainly through his Encyclical Evangelium Vitae and his constant teaching on the dignity of the human person, the defence of the Family and the Catholic school, on the authentic way to fight AIDS, which necessarily includes keeping God’s commandments. These teachings are a formidable barrier of help for the Conferences of Bishops who feel strengthened as they proclaim clearly the Gospel of Christ, even when international pressure is strong and apparently victorious.

Last of all I would emphasise the great help John Paul II has given to Oceania with his journeys on this continent (1984 and 1995) which helped us to experience clearly and concretely the significance of the Church’s universality and catholicity. I speak above all for Papua New Guinea which represents fairly well the minor islands dotted over Oceania. The Church in Papua New Guinea is living a special moment, a time of localisation. She is moving on from a Church rich in missionaries from overseas to a Church rich in local personnel. This process has already come about to a great extent in non catholic communities, but with a speed which in many cases gave the local people the impression of being abandoned rather than recognised, provoking considerable reproof towards the founding ecclesial Communities in Europe or Australia. The local Protestant communities feel they are no longer assisted by their founding communities and so they feel they are separated from them. This fact has facilitated the spread of sects among the members of these communities leading to their progressive weakness.
With his journeys to Oceania the Holy Father demonstrated that the Churches of Oceania are very dear to the Universal Church and that the universal Church continues to take care of the Churches of Oceania and will continue to do so while favouring to a maximum their localisation. The Pope has made it clear that all the sons and daughters of the Catholic Church are united with a strong bond, expressed at both the spiritual and the charitable level. This is vitally important for Papua New Guinea where the sense of belonging is an absolute value: Papua has no orphans because children who lose their parents are immediately adopted by members of the extended village family. To be abandoned is the most saddest experience a Papuan can live. The Holy Father helped us and everyone, including our Protestant brothers and sisters, to understand that no one in the Catholic Church is ever abandoned because the Church is the Mother of all. Thanks to the pastoral ministry of John Paul II many Protestant communities in Oceania now understand the significance of the Church’s catholicity and they are looking at the Church with renewed interest. (Fides Service 14/10/2003)