Synod: Deepening key themes for the Church in Oceania

At the Synod Continental Assembly of Oceania on Wednesday, a group of theologians presents via video the results of their “communal theological reflection” on the three themes chosen for further deepening: Care for the oceans, synodality, and formation for mission.

By Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp – Suva, Fiji

Sandie Cornish, Senior Lecturer in the School of Theology at the Australian Catholic University, and a member of the FCBCO Secretariat for the Suva Assembly, explained the composition of a group of theologians from the region who presented their reflections on the three key themes identified for further deepening: Care for Oceans, Synodality and Formation for Mission.

"Our group was composed of women and men of clergy, religious and laity. People from Fiji, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand and Australia. Our theological disciplines included Scripture, practical theology, systematic theology, and Catholic social teaching. We were able to offer the bishops something of the flavor of the theology that comes from this region itself to help them in their reflection together. These opportunities for communal theological reflection in the Oceania region are rare,” Dr Cornish continued. “So it's been really beautiful to be part of that.”

On Day Four of the Continental Assembly in Suva, Assembly participants watched videos produced by this theological group.

Dr Sandi Cornish presents to the Suva Continental Assembly
Dr Sandi Cornish presents to the Suva Continental Assembly

Care for the oceans

The people living in the nations situated in the Pacific Ocean have developed relationships with all life forms surrounding them. Even the way the islanders understand God is affected by where they live.

The theological group reminded the Assembly that creation itself was defined by St Bonaventure as the “Book of Creation” in which the “relationship between the Father and Son/Word, united in the Spirit,” is revealed. Ancient peoples of Oceania were familiar with “the fundamental elements of the sun, the moon, the stars, the wind, the ocean currents and clouds as guides to allow them to embrace the ocean as pathways rather than obstacles…. They could read the natural world like a book who reveals itself to them, allowing them to forge a kinship with creation.”

Paradoxically, the vulnerability these island nations are facing is due to illiteracy regarding the Book of Creation. However, the group states, the same Word through whom the universe was created is also the same Word who became vulnerable to the point of death.

Becoming a more synodal Church

“The Church is undergoing a transformation of self-understanding from an ecclesiology of an unequal society that is juridical and defensive, to being a humble, pilgrim people, journeying together as missionary disciples”, the theological commission notes.

They explained to Assembly participates that synodality is calling us back to our roots, that it “embraces what was foundational to the early Church: walking together in discipleship, community, unity in diversity, and Spirit-led transformation…. Synodality understands the Catholic Church as a community on a journey on the way to truth.”

Therefore, “a synodal ecclesiology understands the Church as baptismal in identity,” and “conversion [as] the process by which the Church continually strives to achieve common meaning in Christ.”

Formation for Mission

In the third area of reflection, the theological group presented formation as what “encourages, supports and equips the entire People of God – lay, religious or clergy – to respond to their baptismal invitation to participate in the mission of God.”

All baptized Catholics, in order to participate in the Church’s mission are in need of formation to help them “read the signs of our times, interpret them in the light of the Gospel, and respond to the needs of the people, places and creatures of Oceania.” In addition, that formation needs to equip the individual in the specific way they are called to participate in “God’s mission.” Thus, the theological group emphasizes, formation needs to be tailored to each situation.

They then raised some questions regarding current models of formation which also offer insight for future models.

A specific example offered by the theological group is that “Oceania needs discerning people who can read the ‘book of Creation,’ understand the geopolitical, cultural and economic forces at play in the region, have intercultural competence, and are committed to encounter, dialogue and accompaniment. It needs people who are grounded in Scripture and its interpretation in the theological tradition, including Catholic Social Teaching. It needs people who joyfully accept the invitation to participate in God’s mission. Formation helps us to be these people.”

Informal visit of Prima Minister

After the presentation of each theme, participants spent some time in quiet reflection, and then were able to voice feedback.

In the afternoon, the Assembly was led in spiritual conversation regarding the draft of Oceania’s response to the Working Document for the Continental Stage. Then the Assembly welcomed Fijian Prime Minister, Sitiveni Rabuka which gave participants the opportunity to ask questions pertinent to their own mission as pastors.

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08 February 2023, 10:58