Dozens of bishops will descend on Fiji this weekend for the quadrennial gathering of the Federation of Catholic Bishops Conferences of Oceania to reflect on and pray about their shared mission in the region.
The assembly will bring together members of the bishops conferences of Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea/Solomon Islands and the Pacific Islands.
One of the key themes of the FCBCO assembly is the oceans, and particularly the intersection between the People of God and the seas.
Archbishop Peter Loy Chong of Suva, the current president of the Federation, said the bishops of Oceania must tackle the reality of rising sea levels in their part of the world “because if we don’t, no one else will”.
“As theologians say, context matters,” he said. “And as Jon Sobrino, the Latin American theologian says, ‘we have to carry the weight of the reality of our experience’ and, for us, that experience is of the oceans.
“We will speak about the small island nations and the Pacific Ocean in a way that we who live in the islands and live on the ocean know the importance of the ocean and its significance in terms of the Earth’s whole ecosystem.”
The bishops will participate in site visits while in Fiji to assess the impact of rising sea levels and extractive mining processes on low-lying island nations.
Formation for mission is another central theme of the assembly, along with the increasing emphasis on synodality, or “walking together”, in the Church.
While the FCBCO assembly has been planned for several years, albeit delayed by one year because of COVID-19 travel restrictions, it has also been earmarked for Oceania’s preparations for the Synod of Bishops for a Synodal Church – often called the Synod on Synodality.
The four bishops conferences of Oceania and the Eastern Catholic Churches have participated in a continental process of preparing a submission to the Synod of Bishops – one of seven being developed across the world.
The draft submission, drawing on the voices of Oceania and prepared by a group of clergy and laity at a gathering in Melbourne in mid-January, will be reviewed and finalised in response to ongoing prayer and discernment during the assembly.
Archbishop Chong asked people across Oceania to pray for the bishops gathering in Fiji and their collaborators, including some of those who participating in the synod writing process, and the success of the assembly.
“Because of the importance of this assembly from the 5th to the 10th of February, I humbly request your prayers for those who are there – mostly bishops, but also lay people that are working to make the assembly happen,” he said.
A special Synod of Bishops prayer has been written for this purpose.
Archbishop Chong said one of the primary goals of his time as president has been to establish better processes for the ongoing work of the Federation.
Follow the 2023 assembly at www.fcbco.org
During next week’s assembly, a new FCBCO executive will be appointed, along with a new president for the Federation.
Australia will host the next assembly in 2027, with an Australian bishop to be named president of the Federation to guide preparations for that assembly.