PRESENTATION OF THE
APOSTOLIC EXHORTATION Cardinal
Thomas Stafford Williams
Evangelization, Hope for Society
On Thursday, 22 November, in the presence of the Holy Father,
Cardinal Jan P. Schotte, General Secretary of the Synod of Bishops, and
Cardinal Williams introduced the Post-Synodal Exhortation "Ecclesia
in Oceania". Cardinal Schotte spoke of the Synod process that led
to the writing of the text. The Synod on Oceania was the last in the
series of special continental assemblies of the Synod of Bishops,
pointing out the "dual opportunity" for the Church in Oceania
gathered cum Petro et sub Petro: "first of all, to relive
the synod and its climate of brotherhood and also to receive from your
hands, Holy Father, the expression of your solicitude for the Church's
sons and daughters who people an immense area, distant because of
geography yet close because of a commonly shared faith in the Lord
Jesus". The sign of solicitude is the exhortation presented by
Cardinal Williams. Card. Schotte also thanked the three President
Delegates: Card. Thomas Stafford Williams, Archbishop of Wellington, New
Zealand; Card. Pio Toafinu'u, S.M., Archbishop of Samoa; Card. Edward
Cassidy, then President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting
Christian Unity, together with the General Relator, Archbishop Barry
Hickey of Perth, Australia and the Special Secretary, Archbishop Michel
Calvet of Nouméa, New Caldonia. After this, Cardinal Williams presented
the Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Oceania.
Most Holy Father,
Members of the Post-Synodal Council,
Executive members of the Federation of Catholic Bishops Conferences of
Participants in the Oceania Synod: members, experts, auditors,
Staff members of the General Secretariate,
It is exactly three years ago today that all the active bishops of
Oceania met in a Special Assembly to share pastoral concerns and
Holy Father, we are deeply grateful to you for calling us together
and enabling us to meet with you and with one another and to celebrate
the manifold gifts of divine grace through the Oceania Synod. We share
the very real disappointment you must feel in not being able to
promulgate the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on Oceania soil.
The members of the four Episcopal Conferences and especially the
faithful of New Caledonia, their religious and clergy, were preparing to
welcome and honour you. They will want me to greet you on their behalf,
and assure you of their affectionate loyalty and their steadfast
fidelity to the See of Peter.
It was fitting that the Synod began with an opening liturgy
incorporating signs and symbols drawn from our Pacific Island cultures.
That liturgy expressed the unity of faith in diversity, and gave witness
to the very real communio that exists between the Church of Rome
and the local Churches of Oceania (n. 9).
The area of Oceania constitutes one third of the earth's surface but
most of it is water, and its population is relatively small and unevenly
distributed. Yet we brought to Rome our rich array of experiences and
cultural treasures from the colourful mosaic of many different peoples:
Aboriginal, Melanesian, Polynesian, Micronesian, and the descendants of
migrants from the West and East (n. 6,7).
It is with heartfelt gratitude that today we receive back from you,
Holy Father, the gift of the Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in
Oceania. The document will strengthen further the communio so
clearly expressed in the Synod, and will help us to meet the
challenges which the Synod identified and discussed (n. 9).
Synod theme and 'communio'
The focus of the Synod was the person of Jesus Christ and how we walk
his way, tell his truth and live his life. Christ has called the Church
in Oceania to himself, but the purpose of being with Jesus is to go
forth from Jesus. His way cannot be walked unless we are
possessed by an ardent and resolute desire to proclaim Jesus Christ as
the living truth, the truth which is always greater than ourselves and
demands that we respond with new energy and creativity (n. 3,8).
Communio is the fruit of God's loving initiative. That the Church
is essentially a mystery of communion was the spiritual and doctrinal
background of all the Synod's deliberations. The Church as communion
recognizes the basic equality of all Christ's faithful and our
self-understanding as the People of God and the community of disciples
The challenge for the Church in Oceania is to come to a deeper
understanding of local and universal communio and a more
effective implementation of its practical implications. A custom
characteristic of many parts of Oceania is the exchange of gifts. It can
serve as a model in understanding communio. This model encourages
an exchange of spiritual gifts which fosters relations of mutual love,
respect and trust. These are the basis for open dialogue, participation
and consultation as practical expressions of the communio within
the Church (n. 11,12).
The first communion is that of faith, and the Synod paid tribute to
the many missionaries in the past—clergy,
women and men religious as well as lay people—who
have spent themselves in carrying the Gospel to Oceania (n. 13). Yet
even today, a full century and more after initial evangelization, it
still remains our central concern to find appropriate ways of presenting
to the peoples of Oceania Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour (n. 4,14).
In this respect the importance of inculturation for an authentic
Christian life in Oceania was emphasized. Authentic inculturation of the
Christian faith is grounded in the mystery of the Incarnation; it is
born out of respect for both the Gospel and the culture in which it is
proclaimed and welcomed. While remaining wholly faithful to the spirit
of communio, local Churches seek to express the faith and
life of the Church in legitimate forms appropriate to indigenous
cultures. Oceania offers many examples of unique cultural expressions in
the areas of theology, liturgy and the use of religious symbols. The
Synod Fathers saw further inculturation of the Christian faith as the
way leading to the fullness of ecclesial communio (n. 16, 17).
Re-presentation of the Gospel
Communio is also to be the theme and aim of all
evangelization in Oceania, and the basis for our pastoral planning. All
the baptized have the responsibility of proclaiming the Gospel in word
and action. The Bishops are aware that the time is ripe for a
re-presentation of the Gospel to the peoples of the Pacific through new
ways and methods of evangelization and a further building on the
directives of the Second Vatican Council (n. 18). We recognized that we
are ourselves the first called to a renewed Christian life and witness.
More prayerful study of the Scriptures and tradition will lead us to a
deeper knowledge and love of the faith.
Local communities are invited to contribute to the new evangelization
by a spirit of fellowship at their liturgies, in their social and
apostolic activities; by reaching out to non-practising and alienated
Catholics; by strengthening the identity of catholic schools, by
providing opportunities for adults to grow in their faith through
programmes of study and formation; by teaching and explaining Catholic
doctrine effectively to those outside the Christian community, and by
bringing the social teachings of the Church to bear on civic life in
Oceania. As a result of these and allied initiatives, the Gospel will be
presented to society more convincingly and influence culture more deeply
The Synod Fathers called for a greater awareness of the power of the
media, and the potential we have through the media for more effective
evangelization. Where possible, the Church should devise a pastoral plan
for communications, possibly even through establishing a Catholic media
centre for the whole of Oceania (n. 21). The media's impact on people's
life and way of thinking illustrates the need for fresh ways of
presenting the faith (n. 22). The Church in Oceania has given ecumenism
a high priority, aware that the disunity among Christians is a great
obstacle to the credibility of the Church's witness. The strong desire
for unity in faith and worship is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit to
Oceania, where there is a freshness and openness to ecumenical
activities (n. 23).
Hope for society
The Church regards the social apostolate as an integral part of her
evangelizing mission. The Bishops of Oceania have taught the social
doctrine effectively and are one with the people in expressing
determination to act against injustices, corruption, threats to life,
especially of the most vulnerable, and new forms of poverty which are
the results of so-called economic rationalism (n. 26, 27).
Unjust economic policies are especially damaging to indigenous
peoples, young nations and their traditional cultures. It is the
Church's task to help indigenous cultures preserve their identity and
maintain their traditions. The Synod strongly encouraged the Holy See to
continue its advocacy of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of
Indigenous Peoples and supported the establishment of "Truth
Commissions" to help resolve historical injustices and bring about
reconciliation within the wider community or the nation. It asked that
the Church in the more wealthy parts of Oceania share her resources more
generously with the other local churches in the Pacific (n. 28,29).
The Bishops are aware of their special responsibility as stewards of
the Pacific ocean which contains over one half of the earth's total
supply of water. The continued health of this and other oceans is
crucial for the welfare of peoples not only in Oceania but in every part
of the world (n. 31).
The social apostolate extends to the remarkable contributions of the
Church in Oceania in the fields of education, health care and social
welfare. A distinguishing feature to Catholic education in Oceania is
that it is open to all, especially to the poor and the weakest in
society. The contribution of religious men and women and lay people who
have established and staffed Catholic schools and hospitals, often in
the face of great difficulty and with personal sacrifice has been and
still is inestimable. Though still in its early stages, the commitment
to education is being extended today to tertiary education (n. 32,33).
Catholic hospitals and health care institutions are at the forefront of
the Church's promotion of human life from the moment of conception until
natural death (n. 30,34).
Sadly, the problems confronted by the local Churches in Oceania have
intensified. In the three years since the Synod, social, political and
economic stability have been threatened by a political coup in Fiji, the
after-effects of ten years' warfare in Bougainville, armed insurrection
in the Solomon Islands, displaced East Papuans from Irian Jaya crossing
into the Papua New Guinea border provinces, Asian boat-people
desperately seeking sanctuary, economic recession causing a quarter of
Cook Islanders to migrate from their home islands, and Oceania's nearest
neighbours, the East Timorese, suffering terrible bloodshed and
devastation in revenge for their referendum vote in favour of
These are but some instances which exemplify our need for the
encouragement and guidance you have given us, Holy Father, in that
section of the document devoted to the application of the Church's
Evangelization cannot take place without prayer and the interior life
in union with Christ. The Synod Fathers recognized the need to give
fresh impetus and encouragement to the spiritual life of all the
faithful, which is nourished by a renewed appreciation of Scripture (n.
The Catholics of Oceania understand well the central place of the
Eucharist in their lives. Concern was expressed that many communities
throughout Oceania go without the celebration of the Eucharist for long
periods because of the growing scarcity of priests and the vast
distances. There is a need for great wisdom and courage in addressing
this most regrettable situation (n. 40). There are also serious pastoral
challenges with regard to the Sacrament of Penance. A renewed catechesis
and practice of this great Sacrament of mercy is urgent (n. 41).
Community of disciples
The Synod Fathers rejoiced in the work and witness of religious, both
men and women, and also lay people who have been an integral part of the
growth of the Church in Oceania and will continue to do so, especially
as catechists, instructors in sacramental preparation, youth work, and
as leaders of small groups and communities (n. 43,51).
In many countries of Oceania, young people form the majority of the
population. We wished them to know that they are a vital part of the
Church today, not just in the future as adults, but now as maturing
disciples of Jesus. Youth live in a culture which is uniquely their own.
It is therefore essential that Church leaders incorporate the positive
aspects of that culture into the Church's life and mission. Young people
are to be applauded for their acute sense of justice, personal integrity
and respect for human dignity, for their care for the needy and their
concern for the environment. These are signs of a great generosity of
spirit which will not fail to bear fruit in the life of the Church (n.
Equally, not only the Church but society also in Oceania depends
heavily on the quality of family life. This implies great responsibility
for Christians who enter the marriage covenant. It calls for suitable
pastoral preparation, which must include a careful and convincing
explanation of the Church's teaching on marriage and the family (n. 45).
Because of the serious shortage of priests, the promotion of
vocations to the priesthood is an urgent responsibility of every
Catholic community. As each Bishop is responsible for the formation of
local clergy in the context of the local culture and tradition, serious
consideration must be given to more flexible and creative models of
formation and learning (n. 48). All clergy are urged to renew their
efforts to model their prayer life on that of Christ and to adopt a
life-style that reflects Christ's life of simplicity and identification
with the powerless (n. 49).
Communio, inculturation and a renewed proclamation of the
Gospel in ways appropriate for the peoples of Oceania today—these
were the key themes and insights which emerged from the Synod three
We are filled with deep gratitude, Holy Father, that you called us
together, that you have listened to us, that you have accepted the gifts
we brought to the universal Church and that, in return, you have given
us this document today, Ecclesia in Oceania. It offers many
directions and suggestions for the guidance of the local Churches in
Oceania (n. 52).
Holy Father, I was privileged to speak on behalf of participants at
the close of the final session of the Special Assembly for Oceania three
years ago, and concluded with these words:
"We promise you that, when you have promulgated the Post-Synodal
Apostolic Exhortation among us, we will strive our utmost to build its
guidance into our own lives as pastors and into the lives of the
faithful in our local Churches. "
I emphatically reaffirm that promise!
The Oceania Bishops will disseminate widely the content of "Ecclesia
in Oceania". We will work together to prepare discussion
material in the different languages of our region so that our peoples
may understand and apply the directions indicated by their
We are fortunate in having an effective structure for collaboration
and joint action in the Federation of Catholic Bishops Conferences of
Oceania. We have already agreed to meet in Rabaul in the East New
Britain Province of Papua New Guinea next May to plan extensive
implementation of "Ecclesia in Oceania", and to
continue our pastoral planning in the light of "Novo Millennio
Please be sure, Holy Father, that through our Federation and
Episcopal Conferences, and in our local Churches, we will do all
possible to follow faithfully the way of Jesus Christ, tell courageously
the truth of Jesus Christ, and live joyously the life of Jesus Christ.
May we never cease to praise God who in his love will bring new and
ever more wonderful graces to the lands within the Great Ocean.
And may the Holy Spirit guide us, and the Mother of Jesus, Our Lady
of Peace, intercede for us, as the local Churches of Oceania enter the