The rich diversity of the Catholic Church across Oceania, as well as its unity, was evident during a meeting in Melbourne last week of representatives of the region’s four bishops conferences and Eastern Catholic churches.
More than 20 people from across the Pacific gathered to reflect on and respond to the Working Document for the Continental Stage released by the Synod of Bishops Secretariat, titled Enlarge the Space of Your Tent.
The discernment and writing group was convened to prepare a draft report from Oceania to be considered at next month’s assembly of the Federation of Catholic Bishops Conferences of Oceania (FCBCO) in Fiji.
Each bishops conference produced a synthesis of local reflections on the Document for the Continental Stage in the lead-up to the Melbourne gathering to inform the group’s work.
Susan Pascoe, the chair of the FCBCO Synod of Bishops taskforce and a member of the Synod’s global methodology commission, said 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.
“And I think Oceania reflects the broader debate within the Church about whether we are more 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.”
Archbishop Peter Loy Chong of Suva, the current president of the FCBCO and the host of next month’s assembly, said those in Melbourne last week were attempting to read the Document for the Continental Stage “through the eyes of” the people of Oceania.
The group sought to do that while employing the spiritual conversation method of prayerful discernment.
“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, which takes five days, is very important to the FCBCO.”
Theresa Kiely, who attending the Melbourne meeting as one of New Zealand’s three representatives, noted the importance of trying to present the live experience of Catholics in the Pacific.
Dr Kiely said 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 would like the report on behalf of the people of Oceania to be “an honest and authentic representation of their voice, that we can honestly look at ourselves as a Church and decide how we want to move forward into the future”.
Grace Wrakia, representating the Bishops Conference of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, said the Church’s increasing emphasis on synodality feels very comfortable.
“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.
She said synodality is “a beautiful concept, a Spirit-filled movement which I hope and pray that it continues to dwell in the Church”.
“The spirit of synodality – it’s a beautiful spirit that must live long after this,” Ms Wrakia said.
Feedback from next month’s Fiji assembly, again drawn out through a process of prayerful discernment, will inform the refinement of the document, which will be finalised by the FCBCO executive and members of the discernment and writing group.
The final report will be sent to the Holy See to help prepare the working document (instrumentum laboris) for the first assembly of the Synod of Bishops for a Synodal Church, which will be held in October this year.
Similar reports are being prepared in all seven continents in coming weeks.