Caritas Internationalis focuses on commitment to Oceania
By Andrea De Angelis
Tuesday's online seminar entitled "Promoting integral human development - Caritas Oceania in the spirit of Laudato si'", focused on the region looking at the impact of climate change on local communities, the work of safeguarding our common home, and promoting integral human development.
After the opening greetings of Marta Petrosillo, director of communication of Caritas Internationalis, Aloysius John, secretary general of the Confederation gave his welcome.
Caritas Internationalis was founded on 12 December 1951 at the request of Pope Pius XII and this year is marking its 70th anniversary. The secretary general underscored how important it is to speak to the world from a regional perspective, thus showing the importance of how local territories are promoting integral human development.
He said Oceania is a region where people have been in symbiosis with nature, which today is being challenged by human folly. He noted that Caritas is working create harmony in society by integrating the ecological dimension into development.
Faith and charity
Cardinal Soane Patita Paini Mafi, Bishop of Tonga and Niue and President of Caritas Oceania, underscored the beauty of these places on this continent, but also his concern for their preservation.
From this awareness comes the question of what Caritas Oceania can do, he noted, with the goal being to see and appreciate what we have as part of God's Creation. He pointed out how Pope Francis is working to promote the importance of appreciating the uniqueness of these gifts in order to share them and create opportunities. For this we must trully be open and have "have eyes to see and ears to hear."
Cardinal Mafi also spoke about COP26 and speeches given in Glasgow and how faith is fundamental, even with frustration over the difficult issues. He noted how faith allows us to move forward, even when there are disasters and conflicts.
He paid tribute to how Pope Francis, with his encyclicals Fratelli tutti and Laudato si', is offering the world a strong message emphasizing what is missing today, namely faith. Caritas calls us in a special way to be in the front lines offering hope to people, he added, to be a lighthouse and a point of reference to those people who need the Church's help.
Elders and listening
Tini Tuala and Sophie Jenkins, Regional Coordinator and Regional Accompaniment Coordinator of Caritas Oceania, respectively, emphasized how respect for elders and indigenous peoples is of utmost importance.
Sophie Jenkins noted how they are the ones who have cared of the land over the millennia, recognizing the sacredness of Creation. This reminds us of the importance of dialogue among family members, as even children have something to say about the future and should be heard, she added.
With red and gold hearts placed on a continental map of Oceania show where Caritas works in Oceania, Tini Tuala noted that the Caritas presence is less than 60 years old except for the main office.
"It's a family that proceeds in small steps, following the footsteps of those who started a journey," she noted, underlining how in the mission of charity work together with Caritas Asia in various campaigns against poverty has been important.
A series of video contributions were then presented in which the importance of ancient traditions emerged on the importance of observing nature and seeing and hearing what is happening.
Caritas internationalis: 70 years working to alleviate poverty
Karen Anaya, Program Coordinator for Caritas Samoa, said in her remarks that all countries should work for environmental justice, ensuring clean air and water. The reality is that communities are often not protected here or even excluded from discussions on these issues, she noted. And while Samoa contributes little to global warming, it suffers the consequences of it, she added, explaining how social justice and environmental justice depend on each other.
She stressed that to protect the earth, it is important to foster dialogue and espcially give a voice to those preparing for an inevitable loss of land due to rising waters. The voices of local community leaders are needed together with those of the earth's powerful, she said. "We are asking the leaders at COP26 to listen to our voice, to reduce emissions to limit sea level rise. We ask this urgently because we are losing our coastlines, we are seeing it with our own eyes. For us it is vital."
Kositatino Tikomaibolatagane, Ecological Justice Coordinator of Caritas Fiji, pointed out in his presentation that Oceania is paying the price of other people's emissions and funding help is needed to help face this crisis. Among Caritas' tasks is to disseminate the knowledge and skills needed to provide responses to natural disasters.
Julianne Hickey, Director of Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand, spoke about the importance of the participation of women and girls in Caritas Oceania, also aimed at supporting women's rights and gender equality. She noted how the Church and organizations play a key role because they can positively influence people, challenging dangerous cultural practices, and changing mindsets. She also pointed out that the Church reaches places here where others do not, so it plays a critical role helping the people.
Malia Suliana Falemaka, Director of Caritas Tonga, explained how Caritas Oceania members work for gender equality with programs that aim to end violence against women, ensuring specific support measures during humanitarian responses to disasters and increasing access to education. Violence against women and girls is widespread, unfortunately.
She added that in some countries in the Pacific more than one in two women have experienced violence, so "it's important to train community members who will give a first response to the needs of these people." She also noted how the pandemic situation has led to an increase in this violence, but said responses should continue with increasing access to education, essential for the future of girls since it will in many ways determine their income and role in society.
Guardians of Creation
Kirsty Robertson, Director of Caritas Australia, concluded the webinar by reiterating the importance of joining forces regionally in the name of a common approach to getting things done, all in light of a faith-based perspective.
She noted how "right relationships, resilience, listening are the basis of our family." She added that, like Caritas Oceania, these lands have much to offer a wounded world, regions characterized by incredible beauty and a rainbow of cultures, but needing even more courage and inspiration to be witnesses and guardians of what God has created.
She said the entire region needs to unite in a common commitment to be heard, since the damage caused by climate change is so serious and must be faced by all in solidarity.