Oceania’s Catholic bishops have been invited to imagine a “theology of the Pacific”, that would allow the Church in the region to speak with a voice and a faith that is “distinctive”.
The fourth day of the Federation of Catholic Bishops Conferences of Oceania gathering saw the bishops continue their shared discernment on the assembly’s three key themes.
That discernment was supported by theological input from Oceania-based theologians on the themes: Care for the Oceans; Formation for Mission; and Becoming a More Synodal Church.
Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, Australia, said what has been slowly emerging is a “distinctively Pacific voice or symphony of voices”.
“You don’t get one voice in the Pacific; you get many voices,” he said.
“But we are looking for and waiting for a distinctively Pacific symphony of theological voices, because the theology in this part of the world is based upon a different set of facts than in other parts of the world. It’s not just Western theology that has been exported.”
Archbishop Coleridge said finding that symphony of voices is one part of what this year’s assembly is about – “listening to each other so that together we can speak with a distinctive voice and speak to the whole Church right around the world”.
“But at the heart of that, there is the theological enterprise, applying reason to faith in a way that does justice to the experience of the peoples of the Pacific,” he said.
Sandie Cornish, part of an expert theological group that drew members from Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Papua New Guinea, said hearing insights from local theologians was important and fitting.
“We were able to offer the bishops something of the flavour of the theology that comes from this region itself to help them in their reflection together,” said Dr Cornish, who is also chair of the Suva assembly secretariat.
“One of the important things that the bishops are doing in this assembly is taking the time to reflect together theologically. These opportunities for communal theological reflection in the Oceania region are rare. So it’s been really beautiful to be part of that.”
One of the questions the theologians posed was: “How might we become more truly Oceanic churches that foster authentic Christian spiritualities connected with the cultures of our region?”
Cardinal Soane Mafi, whose diocese covers Tonga and Niue, said the formation of a larger number of people – and not just those training for the priesthood – is critical to building local theological capacity.
“You see the hunger in our people,” he said, while adding there is a need for more work to be done encouraging laypeople study theology.
“[We are] beginning to see some fruits, some signs coming up here. Local theologians need to come and do theology from our perspective here from the Pacific.
“We pray that we continue that spirit and hopefully more theologians come up, as well as good faith-based people and witnesses of God’s kingdom in our midst.”
The assembly runs until the evening of Friday, February 10. Stories and content will be shared during the week at www.fcbco.org, on the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference’s Media Blog and through CathNews.