Synod: Oceania Assembly listened to cry of the poor, the earth, the ocean

The 6-day Synod Continental Assembly for Oceania wrapped up on Friday with the Bishops expressing their joy for the week of prayer and time spent to "consider our shared mission as the Chief Shepherds of our region."

By Sr Bernadette M. Reis, fsp – Suva, Fiji

Delegates representing the Episcopal Conferences of Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands and the islands of the Pacific participated in the Continental Assembly for Oceania, which opened in Suva on Sunday, 5 February.

Throughout the week, they were accompanied in prayerful reflection and discernment regarding their response as bishops of Oceania to the Working Document for the Continental Stage of the Synod. Various speakers and a group of theologians provided input on the three themes identified for deeper reflection: synodality, care for the oceans and formation for mission.

The delegates were also able to dive into their local surroundings experiencing two liturgies steeped in Fijian culture and tradition.

On-site visits to a local river and the sea line allowed those participating to observe the damage done to nature through extraction practices and climate change.

Delegates also enjoyed a live performance incorporating music, dance and story telling characteristic of all the countries of Oceania in which they heard both the cries of the island peoples and of the oceans and islands they inhabit.

Official photo of the delegates and organizers of the FCBCO Oceania Continental Assembly
Official photo of the delegates and organizers of the FCBCO Oceania Continental Assembly

Assembly filled with energy

In a closing interview, Suva Archbishop Peter Loy Chong, President of the Episcopal Conference of the Pacific (CEPAC) which hosted the Assembly, said he was happy and satisfied with the outcome of the Assembly.

“I could feel the energy in the Assembly,” he said. He also expressed his gratitude to the Secretariat, made up of mostly lay people, many of them women, he formed to organize the Assembly.

Speaking of the response to the Working Document for the Continental Stage, the Archbishop noted that “the bishops of Oceania gave our contribution, and filled in what we thought were gaps.”

One gap he noted regarded women and the issue of domestic violence, which “is a big concern here in Fiji and Papua New Guinea, and even in Australia.”

More highlights from the Oceania Continental Assembly, Suva, Fiji

The Spirit blowing over waters and in hearts

Sr Nathalie Becquart, Undersecretary of the General Secretariat of the Synod, characterized the Assembly as a beautiful and deep experience.

She said she was touched as she witnessed the Bishops give “voice” to the Church in this part of the world and their missionary spirit.

“Synodality is already embedded in many ways,” Sr Nathalie said. She felt the “Church of Oceania through the experience here has really listened deeply to the voice of the poor, the cry of the earth, the cry of the ocean, the cry of the people, and is trying to answer this call of God to continue to be a Church close to the people in this context, to emphasize formation for mission and to become more and more a synodal Church.”

“We can really contemplate the work of the Spirit blowing on the ocean and through the heart of the people gathered here in Suva.”

In a statement released on Friday at the conclusion of the Assembly, the Federation of Catholic Bishops Conferences of Oceania stated, "it has been a great joy for the Bishops of Oceania to gather in Fiji this week to pray for and consider our shared mission as the Chief Shepherds of our region. As we have prayed for our people, we have also been aware of the prayers they have been offering for our assembly and our ministry."

“Our assembly has provided the opportunity for us to pray together, to build fraternal relationships, learn from one another and consider common pastoral challenges.”

The week-long synodal Continental Assembly concluded on Friday evening with the celebration of the liturgy, in which these local pastors were sent back renewed for mission in their territories throughout Oceania. The bishops now look forward to the celebration of the first session of the Synod in October, knowing their voices have been heard.

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10 February 2023, 10:14