Church in Oceania kicks off reflections on Continental stage of Synod
By Joseph Tulloch
A group of around twenty Synod organisers from across the Pacific gathered in Melbourne last week, as part of the ongoing Synod on Synodality.
They attempted to bring Oceania’s unique perspective to bear on the global synodal process, saying their goal was to look at the global event “through the eyes” of the people of the continent.
The group came together to respond to the Working Document for the Continental Stage of the Synod, released by the Vatican's Secretariat of the Synod in October 2022.
Representatives from the four Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of Oceania were present, as were delegates from the Eastern Catholic Churches.
The attendees prepared a draft report, containing Oceania’s response to the Vatican’s Working Document.
The report emerged from discernment and discussions which took place not only during last week’s meeting in Melbourne, but also beforehand. In the run-up to the gathering (27 November to 9 December 2022) there had been two weeks of discernment within national Bishops’ Conferences, the Eastern Churches, and other groups, such as religious and lay movements.
The global Synod
The draft report on the Working Document will go through several stages of review and refinement, before being sent off to Rome. There, reports from all seven continents will be used as a basis for discussion at the first assembly of the Synod in October 2023.
Susan Pascoe, the chair of the Oceania Bishops’ Synod taskforce, and a member of the Synod’s global methodology commission, said that last week’s gathering was reflective of what she has seen in other meetings around the world.
“One of the interesting responses to the Document for the Continental stage is people in Oceania recognising this enormous commonality across the universal Church,” she said.
“There’s a high level of commonality across the responses that have come from the four episcopal conferences and the Eastern churches. I think Oceania reflects the broader debate within the Church about whether we are a Church of say, the teachings of Christ in relation to love, and the sense of being a wounded people and a people in need of healing.”
Oceania’s unique contribution
Archbishop Peter Loy Chong of Suva, the current president of the Federation of Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of Oceania, said that those in Melbourne last week were attempting to read the Document for the Continental Stage “through the eyes” of the people of Oceania.
“We wanted to affirm what’s in the document and also, from the submissions from the four conferences of Oceania, to identify the gaps, the tensions and even identify the missing voices,” Archbishop Chong said. “This work is very important to the FCBCO.”
Dr Theresa Kiely, who was attending the Melbourne meeting as one of New Zealand’s three representatives, stressed the importance of presenting the lived experience of Catholics in the Pacific.
She said that her hope is that the document that emerges will “really represent the people of Oceania – that we don’t forget the people in the villages who do not have access to technology and the people who felt left out in the Church as well.”
She wants the report on behalf of the people of Oceania to be “an honest and authentic representation of their voice, so that we can honestly look at ourselves as a Church and decide how we want to move forward into the future”.
Grace Wrakia, meanwhile, who represents the Bishops' Conference of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, said that the Church’s increasing emphasis on synodality feels very natural to her.
“I think this whole concept of synodality, of discerning and listening, it’s very much Melanesian, it’s very much Papua New Guinean, because that’s what we always do,” she said.
Synodality is “a beautiful concept," she continued, "a Spirit-filled movement which I hope and pray continues to dwell in the Church. The spirit of synodality – it’s a beautiful spirit that must live long after this.”
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