The bishops of Oceania encountered the scriptural and practical realities of God’s creation on Monday, hearing the Creation story at morning Mass and later seeing the effects of climate change in Fiji.
On the second day of the Federation of Catholic Bishops Conferences of Oceania assembly, Australian Catholic Bishops Conference president Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB celebrated Mass, at which the first reading included the first four days of the Creation story in Genesis.
Part of Archbishop Costelloe’s homily reflected on what that story says to those gathered for the assembly – bishops, religious and laity.
“We gather here today as members of God’s living Church, ready and anxious to embrace our vocation to be stewards, carers and protectors of God’s wonderful creation,” he said.
But, Archbishop Costelloe continued, those gathered must do so “by embracing our vocation to be members of the Lord’s priestly people, his chosen race, a community called together to sing the praises of God and to be, together, the sacrament of his ongoing presence in the world”.
In the afternoon, assembly delegates visited Togoru and Nakavu Village, where locals explained how changes in the climate and commercial enterprises are damaging the planet.
At the first site, the effects of extractive mining of a local river bed for gravel were described, with the river level having dropped several metres over the past two decades of local mining, and the entire ecosystem of the river being changed drastically.
At the second site, the impact of rising sea levels on the coastal region was explained, with a local landowner explaining that what was a 10-acre property a few years ago is now half that size as erosion intensifies and the sea level rises.
Assembly delegates, including those whose home environments aren’t so obviously affected, said seeing the impacts of business and climate change was powerful.
Bishop Michael Dooley of Dunedin, on New Zealand’s South Island, said while that observation has been important, resulting action from the Church and its leaders on climate issues is necessary.
“I think, as a Church, we need to speak on behalf of those people, the vulnerable people who often don’t have an opportunity to have their voices heard,” he said.
“So it’s a really important thing for us as a Church to be the voice for those people.”
Jacqui Remond, a member of the Suva assembly secretariat and former director of Catholic Earthcare in Australia, said Catholics are called to believe that “God’s handiwork is the gift that we’re given to look after”.
“And, in some ways, I would say it’s stronger than stewardship,” she explained.
“We can be the stewards of something and not necessarily love it. We’re being invited to really love God’s creation, take a stand for it and care for the people and the planet.”
Cardinal Michael Czerny SJ, from the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, said “one cannot help but be struck by the immediacy of the environmental threats”.
“That certainly is explicit in what they say and implicit in what they don’t say,” he said.
“But it hits you hard after hearing about the dangers in the Pacific, to get closer and to hear it from the people facing the threats.”
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.