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Diocese of Parramatta welcomes Oceania bishops

Mass for the Oceania Bishops at St Patrick's Cathedral
The crozier carried by Bishop Anthony is a chief’s talking stick presented to him by the Tokelauan youth during World Youth Day. Deacon Leon Decena carries an oar used to paddle the Gospel book to the sanctuary at the Opening Mass. Both are inlaid with shells, an ancient symbol of the Christian pilgrim. Mass photography: David Tang

Catholic Outlook, June 2010

The 5th Assembly of the Federation of Bishops Conferences of Oceania took place in Sydney in May 2010. The gathering included bishops from Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and the Pacific.

This event, held once every four years in different countries, gives the bishops of the Oceania ‘continent’ of the Catholic Church important personal contact as they gain professional development.

As part of the program, several parishes hosted some of the bishops for Mass and community gatherings. Bishop Anthony Fisher OP presided at a Mass in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta on 12 May. In his homily, Bishop Anthony said:

“My thanks to Janice Kennedy, Jenny Ebsworth, and Margaret Farrell who welcomed us to country tonight on behalf of the first inhabitants of this island. They do great work in our Aboriginal Catholic Social Services ministry and we are blessed by their gracious presence.

“It is a great pleasure to welcome to St Patrick’s Cathedral several archbishops and bishops visiting this country for the 5th assembly of the Church in Oceania.

“They include the President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, which is hosting this meeting, Archbishop Philip Wilson of Adelaide; the host of the last gathering of Pacific bishops, Archbishop Petero Mataco of Suva; Bishop Austen Crapp, Emeritus of Aitape, and Bishop Ambrose Kaipseni of Kavieng, both in PNG; Bishop Chris Cardone from Auki and Bishop Bernard O’Grady, Emeritus of Gizo, both in the Solomon Islands; Bishop Denis Browne from Hamilton, New Zealand; and to the delight of many of you here tonight, Bishop Paini Mafi of Tonga. You all honour us by your presence in our Diocese and its Cathedral Church.

“In July 2008, more than 100,000 young people from around Oceania, together with their bishops, priests, religious and lay leaders of more mature years, gathered to receive the power of the Holy Spirit of truth whom Christ promises in our Gospel passage (Jn 16:12-15) and in that same power give witness to their faith (Acts 1:8).

“It was the most tangible demonstration of the unity, diversity, youth and energy of the Pacific Church in our history so far. It was the most public display of Indigenous Australian and Oceania youth ever.

“Who could forget those moments when Islanders rowed the Gospel through the sea of young people to the sanctuary at the Opening Mass, when they greeted the Pope on arrival and brought him through Sydney Harbour, when they starred in so many of the festival events, and again featured as bearers of the Gospel at the Closing Mass?

“The Church of Oceania was present en masse and for Mass as never before and it was privileged to welcome the rest of the Church to share its faith through song and dance, testimony and prayer.

“My crozier tonight is a chief’s talking stick presented to me by the Tokelauan youth and the shell cross that crowns it proclaims its Pacific origin. One of our deacons is carrying one of the oars by which the Gospel book was paddled to the sanctuary, also inlaid with Pacific shells.

“How these things made it past the eagle eye of Australian Customs is one of the many mysteries of World Youth Day! But shells are, of course, an ancient symbol of the Christian pilgrim and the presence in our liturgy of these signs of Oceania proclaims not only that the Catholic faith is deeply rooted in our region, but also that our region is now deeply rooted in the Catholic Church.

“Though this Diocese has rivers, mountains, hills and plains, it lacks a coast. This dry land is, however, in the words of our national anthem, ‘girt by sea’ – 60,000km of coastline in fact, where more than 90% of our people live. Most Pacific communities live even closer to the sea.

“Ours is the only region of the world named after a mass not of land but of water. The late Bishop Eusebius Crawford of Gizo in the Solomon Islands, who ordained me a priest, Bishop Bernard O’Grady a bishop and co-consecrated Bishop Chris Cardone, used boast that his diocese was hundreds of thousands of acres in area, nearly all of them underwater!

“Water is, of course, a rich symbol for Christians, who enter into Christ, His identity and destiny, through Baptism. In Eastertide we are especially reminded of the fearsome yet life-giving power of water – of those waters over which the Holy Spirit hovered at the genesis of creation, breathing upon them until they teemed with life for our benefit (Gen 1:1-2:2).

“That same Spirit hovered over Jordan when Jesus was baptised (Lk 3:21-22): a sign that the new creation begins in the Beloved Son, teeming with new life for us all.

“The Easter Liturgy also recalls Noah’s deliverance from the flood (Gen ch 7) and Israel’s escape through the Red Sea (Ex 14:15-15:1). Both stories prefigure Baptism by calling for an end to sin and a new beginning of goodness, an end to slavery and a new-found freedom in Christ.

“No region knows the power and need of water better than ours; yet without the Christian story we could never have recognised water’s real significance. Had the Gospel not been rowed across the seas to our several islands, the seas themselves and so much else about our world and our people would not have been appreciated for all they are and can be.

“In our First Reading tonight (Acts 17:15, 22; 18:1) we witness the continuing progress of the Gospel across the ancient world at the hands of Paul and his companions. Much of the time Paul was at sea and at least once he was ship-wrecked.

“Tonight he’s in the Areopagus, the public square for raising and debating the great issues of the day. Paul is preaching to pagans and philosophers, praising and critiquing their cultures by the measure of Jesus Christ; insisting that prior to any cultures is the one God whose children we all are and whose Church we were destined to be; yet respecting their particularity by addressing them according to customs of the Athenians and in an idiom that provoked their attention and in some, conversion.

“Paul is wrestling here with the age-old challenge of evangelisation and enculturation, which has been the subject of much of this conference of 80 bishops from around Oceania.

“How are we to allow the Spirit of Truth to inspire all our thoughts, words and actions, to convert all to the mind of Christ, while demonstrating deep respect for individuals, cultures and histories?

“Pope John Paul II once challenged the Pacific bishops with the simple question: ‘how can the Church be an even more effective instrument of Christ’ in this region?

“After hearing the bishops in Synod he recalled us to the primacy of proclamation, for only faith, he said, ‘has the force to shape culture itself by penetrating it to its very core’ (Ecclesia in Oceania 20).

“The way of Jesus is always the path of mission; and He is now inviting His followers to proclaim the Gospel anew to the peoples of Oceania, so that culture and Gospel proclamation will meet in a mutually enriching way and the Good News will be heard, believed and lived more deeply.” (10)

“In Ecclesia in Oceania there is much for us still to ponder and to do.

“Three areas that deserve our particular attention concern formation – the water of life we offer thirsty souls. The Pope exhorted us to ensure that our seminarians and priests are well-formed – humanly, intellectually and spiritually – so that their identity is ‘constituted by a life of simplicity, chastity and humble service’ (4).

“As the Year for Priests draws to a close, and the international controversy over our failings continues, this matter merits our continued reflection and renewed commitment. It is also an area in which mutual collaboration is a real possibility.

“A second challenge is formation of the young. They are subject to many influences today, good and bad. One time when I visited American Samoa I saw houses, some with a thatched roof but barely any walls, yet each with a satellite dish to keep them connected to CNN! So no corner of the Pacific is quarantined from the forces of globalised secularism and consumerism.

“For our children this has serious implications, as this global culture can inoculate children to religion, leaving them disconnected from the best sources of formation: family, school and parish. We must recommit to strengthening the Catholic identity and catechetical fruitfulness of these three essential Areopaguses for the formation of children.

“The third need is for adult catechesis and faith development, so that knowledge of the Faith may keep pace with improving educational standards in our region (6). All three examples of formation are, of course, kinds of mystagogy and catechesis – that life-long process of entering more deeply into the Easter mystery after emerging from the waters of Baptism.

“Yesterday, the Bishops of Oceania went on pilgrimage to the final resting place of a woman who is soon to sit beside St Peter Chanel, a woman to share in Pacific sanctity with the martyred missionary man. Mother Mary MacKillop will, in fact, be the first recognised saint who was born and buried in Oceania.

“Mary was a teacher, above all concerned for the formation of poor children, including Indigenous kids. Her Areopagus was the bush school and orphanage. She challenges us bishops, the first teachers in each local diocese, as she does all the Pacific Church to recommit in this age to the formation of all our people, so that they might rise from the waters not just of Baptism but of our cultures, like those islands of coral, sand and volcano that rise from our ocean, rise up as God’s Holy People in the Pacific.”

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