- Synod for Oceania
Most Rev. Barry James Hickey
Archbishop of Perth, Australia
General Relator of the Synod
Most Holy Father,
Your Eminences and Excellencies,
Reverend Fathers, Brothers and Sisters,
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
As the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for Oceania begins,
we recall that we are moving through the twilight of the second
Christian Millennium towards the dawn of the third. We are at a
privileged point in salvation history from which we can look back to see
how we have responded to the Good News of the Risen Saviour, and thereby
be better able to look ahead in carrying forward the Light of Christ in
our part of the world.
We do so as bishops, the successors of the apostles, who have
received the special mandate from Christ to proclaim the Gospel, to
spread the teachings of Jesus Christ and to care for and guide his
We do so also in the knowledge that our people have placed great hope
in us and are praying for us during this Synod.
Let us therefore invoke the name of the Most Holy Trinity. We recall
that the Holy Father in Tertio millennio adveniente (39) has
called us to undertake a Trinitarian preparation for the Great Jubilee
of the Year 2000. As we meet in synod, we are concluding the Year of the
Holy Spirit and are now directing our attention to God the Father, the
Creator from whom all life comes. Therefore we ask that the Holy Spirit
come to us with the power of Christ, that the breath of the Spirit be a
mighty wind blowing across the waters of Oceania, like the great trade
winds, giving life to the islands and their peoples, drawing them to
faith in Jesus Christ, filling them with love, zeal, hope and generosity
under the Fatherhood of God. May we celebrate the Great Jubilee of the
Year 2000 with thanksgiving and consecrate the New Millennium to God the
Creator, through Jesus Christ in the unity of the Holy Spirit.
The Region of Oceania
It is good to remind ourselves at the very beginning of the Synod
about some of the unique characteristics of our region.
Geographically, Oceania spans almost one third of the earth's
surface. Some of the nations of Oceania have well-defined and easily
recognisable outlines on world maps; others are a collection of small
islands, less easily identifiable. The Pre-Synod Council insisted that a
good map be available for the Synod so that the smaller nations making
up Oceania could be more readily distinguished both by the media and by
the Synod participants. After all, each of us shares an equal commitment
to this synodal endeavour.
What is the composition of this region of Oceania? It is made up of
islands and water, vast expanses of water. While geographically immense,
however, the population is relatively small and unevenly distributed.
The number and variety of languages-700 in Papua New Guinea
alone-together with the vast distances between nations makes
communication a special challenge. Ships, boats, canoes and planes have
been far more important for most of Oceania than cars and trains. The
advent of electronic communication has transformed the region in the
sense that information can now be transmitted instantly. Travel,
underscoring as it does the importance of personal contact in the
spreading of the Gospel, is and always will be a special feature and
challenge of the region.
Oceania has been very much a missionary region. Over the past two
hundred years Christianity has been brought to the nations of Oceania by
missionaries from other countries. Great saints and martyrs are already
listed in their ranks and also among the people who have carried on the
Remembered with deep gratitude and pride is the witness of many holy
men and women, among whom are St. Peter Chanel, a French Marist priest,
martyred on Futuna in the 18th Century; Blessed Diego Luis de
San Vitores, a Spanish Jesuit priest, martyred in Guam in the 17th
Century; Blessed Giovanni Mazzucconi of the P.I.M.E. Mission of Milan,
martyred in the 19th Century in Papua New Guinea; Blessed
Peter To Rot of New Guinea; and Blessed Mary McKillop of Australia,
Foundress of the Josephite Sisters of the Sacred Heart. These final two
Blesseds were beatified in recent years by His Holiness, Pope John Paul
In all the nations of Oceania the missionaries came to traditional
peoples who already possessed a deep religious sense and a variety of
religious practices fully integrated into their daily lives and
thoroughly permeating their cultures. They brought the faith but they
also introduced elements which were culturally conditioned. Therefore,
the effects of the missionary efforts on the local people need to be
carefully assessed, to see what is of the Gospel and what is not. This
is not an easy task because of the compounding effects of colonisation.
In New Zealand and even more so in Australia, the post-colonial policies
of immigration have made the indigenous peoples a minority in their own
country, and in many ways, a dispossessed minority.
Oceania is a mosaic of different cultures, each group with its own
experience of change. These nations range from societies with strong
traditional features to nations which in the past have displayed a
mainly Western character but are presently being subjected to influences
from Asian migration, a phenomenon which will undoubtedly produce
long-term effects and profound changes.
We welcome with gratitude the Holy Father's action of convening a
separate synodal assembly for Oceania. At an earlier stage it was
thought that our region might be included in the Special Assembly for
Asia, but as plans progressed it became obvious that the distinct
character of our region was such that it merited a special assembly of
It should be noted that the region has already sought to develop its
sense of identity by coming together in a Federation of four
- the Pacific Islands
- Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands
These four Conferences meet in Assembly every four years, while the
ongoing work of the Federation is handled by a Committee drawn from all
The formation of the Federation in 1994 has already resulted in
closer cooperation throughout the whole region and has increased our
sense of unity and identity.
What makes this assembly particularly noteworthy is that all the
active bishops of the region-ordinaries and auxiliaries-have been
invited to be synod fathers. With our relatively small numbers,
intermediate representation was not necessary. All have the opportunity
to participate and contribute to shaping the future.
The Instrumentum laboris of the Special Assembly points out
in its Introduction how timely and opportune is our synod theme:
"timely", because we are soon to celebrate the Great Jubilee
of the Year 2000 when we are to enter the Third Millennium of
Christianity, and "opportune", because we need to take into
account the rapid changes occurring in our region (cf. Inst. lab.,
Theme of the Synod
The theme selected for this synod has been a particularly happy
choice. Based on the words of Jesus in the Gospel of John, chapter 14,
verse 6 - "I am the way, the truth and the light", the theme
or topic of the synod directs our attention to the person of Jesus
Christ as the centre of synodal discussions, and the additional words in
"Walking His Way, Telling His Truth, Living His Life"
give us the perspective or framework. Each line implies action:
"walking," "telling" and "living." The
theme fits very aptly into the biblical context of people on a journey,
particularly this synodal one, and at the same time evokes elements
typical of many of the nations of Oceania, that is, great distances
required in travel, oral story-telling and the passing on of ancient
wisdom and traditions.
Walking His Way
"Walking his way" calls to mind Jesus' invitation to follow
him as his disciples did. This phrase reminds us of the great
missionaries who came to the whole region of Oceania to bring the name
and the Good News of Jesus. It also reminds us to recall with gratitude
the many men and women religious who faced great hardship and even
martyrdom because of the love of Jesus in whose name they journeyed
across the world.
"Walking his way" also directs our attention to the
acceptance of Jesus' call by all the peoples of Oceania to become
missionaries ourselves, to take to others the Good News that has led us
to follow Jesus.
How to be missionary today in the context of urbanisation, migration,
secularisation and cultural and ethnic variety is part of the work of
this synodal assembly.
Telling His Truth
The truth is Jesus himself. He is the one whose name, teaching and
work of salvation is to be proclaimed in a rapidly changing context. It
is the Risen Jesus whose presence among all peoples at all times and
places is to be made known, so that his truth will change hearts and
convert people to a life of love, forgiveness and justice.
The Good News of Jesus Christ must be constantly proclaimed and the
truths of the Faith sedulously taught. The challenges of evangelising
and catechising will vary enormously from place to place, dictated by
historical factors and the influence of rapid change arising from
migration and new means of communication. No country today is immune
from the intrusion of secular and individualistic values coming from the
outside as a result of television, the Internet, satellite, telephony
and so on.
Each country will need to examine the urgency of evangelising, or
better re-evangelising, its people in the light of modern
changes. Catechesis as part of the formation in the faith that should
occur after the proclamation of the Gospel is to be renewed and
revitalised. In this context the Catechism of the Catholic Church
is a most valuable source of Catholic truth to be drawn on by catechists
and teachers of religious education. The recent Catechetical
Directory, issued by the Congregation for the Clergy, asks that
catechesis be revitalised at every level of the Church, among youth and
adults, among families, among teachers and professional people and that
it include catechesis on the faith, on morality, on liturgy and on the
Church's role in the transformation of society.
One recalls that catechists still have a key role in passing on the
truths of the Faith. Their role can only be further enhanced in the
light of the Catechetical Directory, a role which is to be
exercised in close cooperation with the priests who have a special call
to proclaim that Jesus is Lord.
Living His Life
"Living his life" speaks of spiritual maturity, growing
into Christ through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. "Living his
life" implies a special way of life, being renewed in the Spirit
or, as St Paul says in Ephesians, putting on a new nature, "created
after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness" (Eph
Christians are called to live the life of Christ in the midst of
their daily activities, to show forth the fruits of the Spirit, i.e.,
"love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
humility and self-control," and to be witnesses to God's love and
truth in the world.
In this regard, the synod must examine the sources of holiness, among
which are the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Penance, the
liturgical life of the people, communal and private prayer, the use of
the Holy Scriptures and the sharing of the faith with one another.
The Church's witness to the gift of human life will be all-important
in this era when human life is being threatened by the increasing
acceptance of euthanasia, abortion and sterilisation, including
Furthermore, threats to human life, such as poverty, exploitation,
rejection, racism, exclusion and the pollution of the environment are
real and contemporary issues to be faced in our region.
"Living his life" can transform marriage and family life
which are also threatened today in many ways. The life of Christ
animates our young people and provides them with a vision that will help
them resist the lure of drugs, material goods and empty promises.
Living the life of Christ remains the ultimate witness to truth both
for the individual and for society which, one hopes, will be transformed
in its laws and practices to reflect the will of God.
The Church, instituted by Jesus Christ, is to be understood as both
visible and spiritual, both human and divine, both institutional and
pneumatic, hierarchical and sacramental, a structure and a communio.
In the mystery of the Church, Christ reveals his plan "to unite
all things in him" (Eph 1:10).
The Church exists in history, but at the same time she transcends it.
The Church is a reality which is also a sign, a Sacrament of the
salvation of the world.
Her mission, then, is both temporal-to extend the reign of Christ in
the world-and transcendent-to bring all people to union with God through
the saving grace of Jesus Christ.
In that understanding, then, we are to examine the mission of the
Church in our region as we look forward to the future. We do so by
taking up many of the themes and issues raised in the consultation that
followed the publication of the Lineamenta.
The Instrumentum laboris set out, under each of the three
elements of our theme, the major issues that have emerged. The purpose
of this Relatio ante disceptationem is to draw attention to the
key issues that our synod will need to deal with and to develop them to
Mission is a concept that needs to be closely examined. It is an
all-embracing concept, linking the Church to her Founder, Jesus Christ,
and demanding obedience to the promptings and guidance of the Holy
We are used to the concept of missionaries, referring mainly to
clergy, religious and lay people who come into a region in order to
spread and preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
We must now go beyond our traditional understanding of missionary to
bring it into line with the mission of the Church in the circumstances
The mission of the Church belongs to all the baptised, to both head
and members, to clergy and laity, each with different roles, but all
working together in the unity of the Body of Christ.
In this sense we are all missionaries.
If the mission of the Church comes from God, who sent his Son Jesus,
and from Jesus, who sent the Holy Spirit into the world, then all
followers of Jesus share in this sending or this mission.
We are all sent into the world to bring the Good News to
mankind, especially to the poor.
This understanding of being sent heralds a new era in the
Church. It is not sufficient simply to receive the Good News,
one must also offer it to others.
Much of our region was traditionally understood as missionary,
but now it is to develop a new consciousness of participating in the
continuous mission of the Church, of being sent.
This understanding also alters the perception that missionaries from
far away are somehow different from local missionaries. In Christ there
is no distinction "between Jew and Greek, slave and free,
barbarians and Scythians, circumcised and uncircumcised" (Col
3:11). So we need to understand that missionaries of different national
backgrounds are one in Christ with the indigenous people. They are not
to be seen as foreign, nor perceived to be linked with the past history
of colonisation. If the Church is one in Christ, then national
differences are secondary.
There has been an elaboration of the concept of the mission of the
Church this century.
Earlier writings of the Popes referred to people in non-Christian
countries who were living in the darkness of not knowing Christ. There
have been a number of developments in the latter half of this century
that have broadened the concept of mission. The Popes have stressed
- the need for indigenous Churches to take responsibility for
- the need for equality between indigenous clergy and foreign clergy;
- the need to incarnate a Church which transcends every race and
nation so as to be thoroughly incarnated within a particular society;
- the need for clergy around the world to make themselves available
to any place suffering from a lack of priests;
- the call to lay people to be involved not only in the life of the
local Church but to bring their values and faith into the temporal order
to change it for the better; and
- a commitment in the name of mission to the poor and to promote
justice in the world.
The Instrumentum laboris points out that "lay
missionaries give a valuable period of their active life to service in
other parts of the world. They offer their talents and skills to
community-building, education, health care, technical assistance,
women's programmes and people in need" (Inst. lab., 7).
This, it states, is a response to the need to listen to the
call for missionary outreach, to move away from a preoccupation with
one's own needs towards the needs of others.
Such a vision of mission must be ours as we look with confidence
towards the challenges ahead.
The word "evangelisation" has become part of Catholic
conversation only over the past thirty years or so. It represents a
particular Catholic perspective in spreading the Good News. It is
different from the Protestant concept of evangelism, which is directed
more towards personal conversion to Christ. The Catholic understanding
includes personal conversion but goes beyond it.
In Pope Paul VI's Evangelii nuntiandi issued in 1975, the
Holy Father defines it this way: " if evangelisation had to be
expressed in one sentence the best way of stating it would be to say
that the Church evangelises when she seeks to convert, solely through
the Divine Power of the Message she proclaims, both the personal and
collective consciences of people, the activities in which they engage,
and the lives and the concrete milieux which are theirs"(18).
For Paul VI, then, evangelisation includes:
- personal conversion
- the conversion of the consciences of people
- the transformation of one's daily activities, and
- the transformation of society as a whole.
All are to be converted by the divine power of Christ's message.
The means of evangelisation are:
- witness and proclamation
- Word and sacraments
- pastoral activity
- charitable works
- solidarity with the poor, and
It will be one of the tasks of this Synod to reflect on our call to
evangelise, and to ask ourselves to what extent we have taken up that
We will need to ask what the Good News is, to whom it is being
offered, and who is commissioned to proclaim it. We may also need to ask
what are the signs of an evangelised culture.
It is pointed out in the Instrumentum laboris that the
challenge of the Church is to proclaim the Good News so that it can be
heard anew (Inst. lab., 19). The challenge is therefore
twofold-to present the Gospel again to those who have drifted away from
their Christian faith and to present the Good News to those who have not
yet heard it. The Church therefore is to evangelise and re-evangelise.
Many dioceses have already commenced programmes of renewal among their
people as a preparation for the proclamation of the Gospel anew in their
It may be necessary for the synod to examine again the content of the
Good News and how it can best be presented in a rapidly changing world.
What is the Good News?
Critics of the Church, internal and external, have accused the Church
of having little Good News to offer and question its relevance to the
They ask what the Church's Good News is to people who suffer misery
and grinding poverty, what her Good News is to people whose marriages
have broken down, or to young people facing unemployment, or a loveless
life on the streets caught in the grip of the destructive drug culture.
They accuse the Church of opting for a comfortable and protected life
within parish ghettos or within ecclesiastical communities, insulated
from the reality of people's lives.
We will need to examine these accusations.
Is it true that we concentrate so much on the inner life of the
Church, the liturgy, the educational structures, the maintenance of
essential services in parishes, the struggle to defend the rights and
privileges of the Church, that we have become too inward-looking to be
able to see the needs of the world around us, to respond to its
spiritual hunger and its social injustices?
What is the Good News that the Church has to offer? We offer nothing
but the Good News of Jesus Christ. Therefore let us hear what he
promised to give to us. He says to us in the Gospels:
- You are loved by God;
- Your sins are forgiven;
- You are free, even if you are slaves;
- You are healed in soul and mind;
- Your burdens will not crush you;
- You will have peace in your heart, beyond the peace that the world
- You are called into God's kingdom of peace and love;
- You belong to me - no longer an outcast;
- You are called to eternal life; and
- You are redeemed, set free, part of me like the branches of a vine,
for all eternity.
When we translate these words of Jesus into the reality of daily
life, we see that the Good News is perceived differently by people
according to their own needs. Jesus comes to them in their own unique
Therefore, we cannot always know precisely the needs of others. We
are then to offer them Jesus. He is the Good News and he will touch the
lives of those who hear of him through us.
Have we a vision of an evangelised culture or society?
Whatever our vision of the structures of society or the attitude of
people towards one another, we need to keep in mind the vision Jesus
gave in response to the questions of John the Baptist's emissaries:
"Go back to John and report what you hear and see: the blind
recover their sight, cripples walk, lepers are cured, the deaf hear,
dead people are raised to life, and the poor have the Good News preached
to them"(Mt 11:4-5).
Our region will only be successfully evangelised when we are able to
repeat these words of Jesus.
The Challenge of Modernity and Secularism
The Instrumentum laboris raises the question of increasing
secularisation in our region, and notes that "the felt absence of a
religious sense in the culture permeates into people's moral lives and
consciences" (Inst. lab., 22).
The increase of plural value systems, even of atheism, it says, often
leads to ethical relativism which negatively affects evangelisation.
The document refers to the call for the Church to be the Sacrament
of Salvation, a Church fully located within the world, with its
believers united around Christ as God's People, where faith and life are
How the Church is to relate to modernity and secularism has provoked
different, even conflicting opinions from the responses to the Lineamenta.
While these opinions are not explicitly referred to in the Instrumentum
laboris they are nevertheless presented here in an attempt to
understand the reasons behind two very different approaches.
Our approach will depend to a great extent on an understanding of the
challenge before us. For a large part of Oceania-Australia and New
Zealand in particular-we are witnessing what is sometimes called
"the post-Christian era", that is, a society in which religion
is kept to the margins, made personal, private and individual, with
little impact on public life, public policy and legislation. Even in
moral issues like divorce, abortion and euthanasia, laws are determined
not on objective moral criteria in which religion might play a part, but
on consensus, majority popular opinion and, in some cases, the advice of
ethics committees which have no formal association with any religious
body nor any religious frame of reference.
This situation may not exist in other parts of Oceania where
traditional religious beliefs and practices are still strong and
exercise a major influence on national consciousness and policy.
Nevertheless, with the advent of modern means of communication such as
the Internet and television, these countries are being increasingly
subjected to secular influences which will eventually take their toll.
How does one approach this modern phenomenon?
A satisfying answer to this challenge will surely be one of the
hoped-for outcomes of our synod, enabling us to lead the Church
effectively into the next century.
Commentators have suggested various approaches which broadly fall
into two almost incompatible directions.
One group suggests that we make friends with modernity, that the
Church seeks the positive values that the modern era contains, such as
the insistence on human rights, the rejection of undemocratic forms of
government, the desire to overcome poverty, the campaign against
terrorism and torture, the push towards universal education, the demand
for high standards of health care, the protection of the environment and
a security net of basic payments to enable everyone to live a life of
This group goes further. It would like the Church to modify the way
she determines her moral judgements on modern development, such as the
many bio-ethical issues that continue to emerge, and take greater notice
of the views of scientists and those involved on a day-to-day basis in
dealing with the intricate and perplexing moral dilemmas that people
face, and ultimately, to allow the people to work through the issues,
trusting in their innate sense of what is right and what is wrong.
Perhaps the classic example of this approach is the controversy over
contraception. After considerable delay and after consultation with
experts, the Holy Father issued his Encyclical Letter Humanae vitae
in which the traditional teaching of the Church on marriage, sexuality
and procreation was affirmed. Many Catholics had hoped for a change, and
felt that the declaration by the Pope was both unrealistic and
unnecessary-"unrealistic" because it went against a rising
consciousness among people that contraception was a desirable means of
birth regulation, and "unnecessary" because they wanted the
moral judgements to be left to the people.
There are many such issues today, not all of them as far reaching,
where voices are calling for a decentralisation of power and
decision-making and for moral judgements to be left to the individual.
This same group says that unless the Church can come to terms with the
modern age, people will walk away, especially the young.
There is another group in the Church insisting that she must exercise
her moral authority lest her people be deceived by the false promises of
modernity and be led astray. They too point to the controversy on
contraception, saying the perceived benefits for marriage and family
life claimed for contraception have not come about. Instead
contraception has exercised a destabilising influence on marriages, has
undermined family life and has opened the way to abortion when
They claim that without a return to the traditional moral teachings
of the Church, combined with strong moral leadership from the bishops
and the Holy Father, people will walk away from the Church, especially
This divide is present in our Church today. It affects theology,
liturgy, catechetics, seminary formation, religious life, lay leadership
and, inevitably, vocations.
Gathering in a special synodal assembly, we bishops of Oceania cannot
avoid this issue. We need to search for a way to remain united in our
common mission to the world, secure in our beliefs and clear in our
We must therefore place the deliberations firmly under the guidance
of the Holy Spirit.
A common concern everywhere is youth. To a greater or lesser
extent-depending on the local culture-young people are under pressure to
be independent of their parents and independent from authorities who
tell them how they are to behave. This very independence is encouraged
at a very formative and impressionable age when values are being
internalised and faith is made personal. Excess independence creates a
teen culture that is not always compatible with family cohesion and that
has a tendency to be socially anarchic. Anarchy is surely a risk, if
values are only imperfectly transmitted from generation to generation,
even more so if the choice of values is subjective, unrelated to any
objective standards or sources of truth, natural or revealed.
Each generation is to love its children, and guide them as they grow
to maturity. The Church too, as a spiritual mother, must show that those
who grow to maturity in faith are loved, included and accepted.
In many of the countries of Oceania, the drift of young people from
the practice of the Faith is a genuine concern. A careful analysis of
the situation is required as well as a strategy for the future,
involving the nurturing of family life, the transmission of the Faith,
insulation from the false values of the world and the full welcome and
inclusion of young people into the life of the Church.
How tragic it is to see the wastage of young lives to drugs,
depression and even suicide. These "signs of the time" cannot
This synod offers an opportunity for us to examine the personnel
available in carrying out the mission of the Church in the complexities
of today's world and to face the challenges of the future. In this
regard, the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles laici
has proven of great assistance.
In light of this document and subsequent Church teaching, we have the
opportunity to draw again on the resources of people, who are in
abundance in our ranks, to proclaim the Gospel.
The emergence of lay leaders is a characteristic of the modern
Church, no less in our region than elsewhere in the world. While the
role of priests and religious is not to be underestimated, the role of
lay people today is emerging more clearly. In fact, in clarifying the
role of lay people, the role of priests and religious will also be
Since the Second Vatican Council, we have seen a proliferation of lay
ministries and offices in the Church. However, in our region we have
already had a long and proud history of lay leadership, like catechists,
working alongside priests and religious. Catechists and local leaders
have encouraged prayer, study of the Scriptures, knowledge and practice
of the Faith, and, despite the relative scarcity of priests, have
developed a strong Eucharistic outlook among the people.
Lay people are now taking even more leadership in administration,
finance, planning, teaching and charitable outreach, as well as in a
variety of liturgical roles such as readers, extraordinary ministers of
the Eucharist, acolytes, cantors and musicians.
The comment is made in the Instrumentum laboris (49) that in
some areas of Oceania lay people have taken on a particular
responsibility in parishes, given the shortage of priestly vocations,
and under special circumstances, are asked to lead services in parishes
not having ordained ministers. Moreover, they have often acted as
intermediaries between the missionaries and the local people.
Many lay people are now studying theology and have a very clear sense
that they are integral to the mission of the Church. Hence the need for
good formation programmes to prepare them for involvement in the local
This type of lay leadership is aimed at building up a praying
cohesive Church community, both at parish level and at the level of
small Christian communities.
In the Church's understanding, however, lay leadership goes well
beyond a question of roles to be exercised in the Church community. The
Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People Apostolicam actuositatem
outlines the call of lay people by the Second Vatican Council to renew
the temporal order and all that goes to make up the temporal
order-"personal and family values, culture, economic interests, the
trades and professions, political institutions, international relations,
and so on" (Apost. actuos., 7).
The Church is "to make men and women capable of establishing the
proper scale of values in the temporal order and to direct it towards
God through Christ" (Apost. actuos.,7).
When we consider those parts of our region that are said to be
"post-Christian," then the call of the Second Vatican Council
becomes a matter of urgency. It is the role of the Church as a whole to
form and prepare lay people to shape the values of society. Likewise,
the role of the laity is to be thoroughly part of the debates and
dialogues that are taking place in the world. It is not sufficient,
then, to consider the role of the laity purely in terms of the inner
life of the Church. Lay people are called to change the world like yeast
This consideration must make us mindful of how much lay people need
the encouragement and support of the Church coming from her leaders and
Many professionals feel isolated in their work. They feel they are a
lone voice when they call for the highest ethical standards, respect for
human rights and dignity, for the sanctity of life, for the right to
employment, fair wages, decent living conditions, good and affordable
housing, education and health care. Without the backing and support of
the Church, they may waver in their resolution against sometimes fierce
opposition. There is a place for guilds or associations of professionals
and others in positions of influence. These groups provide encouragement
from peers and a thorough formation in faith and Christian ethics.
Justice and Peace
The mission of the Church in the world includes as part of her
self-understanding, a commitment to justice and peace. This commitment
flows from the salvific mission of Christ to the world and a recognition
of the dignity of each individual.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that when the
Church fulfils her mission of proclaiming the Gospel, she bears witness,
in the name of Christ, to the dignity of each individual and each's
vocation to the communion of persons. She teaches "the demands of
justice and peace in conformity with divine wisdom" (C.C.C.
2419). And likewise insists that "those who are oppressed by
poverty are the object of a preferential love on the part of the
Church" (C.C.C. 2448). Christ our Saviour identified
himself with the least of his brethren.
There are burning social justice issues in every country represented
in this Synod. They are associated with poverty, unemployment, the
breakdown of families, the physical and sexual abuse of children, the
unjust taking of life, the low status of women, the neglect of youth,
the problem of drugs, the exploitation of workers, the policies of
transnational companies, the destruction of the environment and so on.
One of the issues that has still to be satisfactorily addressed is
the rights of indigenous people, especially in Australia and New
Zealand. Among the issues which call for Church solidarity and action in
this area are dispossession and land rights, access to education and
good health care, the separation of children from their families, their
culture and even their original names. To date, the rightful place of
indigenous people within the Church community has only been partially
This Synod may well be a forum in which these matters can be aired
and recommendations made for the future.
The Church is called to examine her own internal structures to make
sure that she is a model herself of what she promotes in the world. For
Christians a commitment to justice and peace goes beyond social
structures. The commitment must be personal so that those living in
poverty, persons with disabilities and social outcasts can come to know
that they are not only served and provided for, but are included as
brothers and sisters within Church communities.
In this way the Church can call on society not only to provide those
conditions that respect the human dignity of every person, but to
encourage people, in the name of Christ, to include them as brothers and
sisters in the human family. Without this vision of solidarity and
inclusion, there is a risk that established structures will neglect the
most basic need of all persons-to belong and to be loved.
Through the witness of her life, the Church draws on a wondrous
vision-that all her members are united in the Body of Christ.
As a result of this unity the Church's members will work for a society
that is not only just, but loving as well.
The Church looks to the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 as a unique
opportunity to call for justice throughout the world, especially in our
own region. Jubilee is a time when the earth rests, when it returns to
God to become whole again, when injustices are righted, when debts are
forgiven and burdens lifted. It is founded upon a firm belief that we
are all brothers and sisters under the fatherhood of God, and need to
relate to one another as members of one loving family, restoring rights
and dignity and offering mutual forgiveness and being reconciled (Inst.
There is no doubt that the Church must raise her voice against
injustice and encourage a study of the complex social justice issues
that abound. She must bring the light of the Gospel and the principles
that underlie a just social order to the relationships between people
and to world of employment, economics, trade and tourism.
Marriage and Family Life
The Instrumentum laboris (45) echoes the plea of many that
the Church teach clearly the vocation and sacramentality of marriage and
provide support for marriage and family life at every stage including
marriage preparation and marriage enrichment programmes, help for
families with children, celebration of anniversaries, recognition of the
values of fatherhood and motherhood and effective counselling agencies.
In many areas of our region the breakdown of marriage and family life
is growing steadily, with tragic results for the children and their
parents and an almost inevitable drift away from the practice of the
Faith as people feel alienated and alone and as new relationships are
formed that cannot be recognised by the Church.
What is happening to the family unit is one of the most crucial
issues facing society and the Church today, because of the personal and
social costs of the breakdown of family life and divorce, and the harm
caused to the Faith by the dissolution of the domestic Church.
The rising divorce figures and the associated problems affecting the
children of broken marriages must concern us deeply. The reasons for the
destabilisation of families are many and complex. Nevertheless, the
Church has a significant role to play in strengthening and healing
families. Through marriage preparation programmes and marriage
enrichment experiences, she has an opportunity not given to secular
bodies to articulate a sound basis for the permanent commitment and
spiritual vision of marriage, one that brings together the unitive and
procreative aspects of marriage.
The Church has a unique opportunity, amid the tragic collapse of
marriage almost everywhere, to present anew the call of Christ for a
renewed understanding of the marital covenant based on generous
self-giving and unconditional love. If modern society is at risk of
losing its traditional Christian heritage of marriage, there is no other
force in the world except the Church with the power to restore it and
give it new meaning.
After all, Christ brought his teaching on marriage to a world where
divorce was rife, wives were little better than chattels and sexual
infidelity was commonplace.
In 1980, the 5th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of
Bishops treated the subject of the Christian Family, after which the
Holy Father issued the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio.
Since then the Church has benefitted from its teaching and has served as
a guide on the subject of marriage and family life.
The Local Church
If communio describes well the unity we experience with one
another in Christ, then community is its practical expression. It is
through communities that the faith is shared and lived.
Though the Church is universal, her "catholicism" is
transmitted at the local level through dioceses, parishes and small
Christian communities. Religious have a long tradition of community
life. To a lesser but real extent, lay people join together in
communities to worship God and support one another in their desire to
live as faithful followers of Jesus Christ.
In our region we see these two expressions of local groupings as the
small Christian community and the parish.
In small Christian communities lay leaders work with priests and
religious and make the Church present in a particular region. These
groups are both sacramental and scriptural, centred around the Blessed
Eucharist and the Word of God. They offer the light of truth and mutual
upbuilding in order to carry out the mission of the Church in a
Many countries of our region have developed the canonical entity of
the parish as the main expression of the local community of believers.
In many places the parish provides men and women with what is
fundamentally needed for Christian growth, i.e., the worship of God in
the Eucharistic Liturgy, prayer groups, adult education, knowledge of
the Scriptures, charitable outreach, lay formation, the education of
children, the care of the sick and of people with disabilities and the
desire for social justice.
Within parishes there are many groups, working harmoniously for the
most part within the context of the parish, that lead to a realisation
that the parish is indeed the "community of communities."At
the same time, however, one is also aware of the growing number of
communities and groups that do not relate to parish life but rather to a
particular form of spirituality or apostolate. Tensions often arise at
the level of parish life and claims are made that these independent
groups divide the parish.
Given that new charisms continue to arise in the Church in response
to needs, a way needs to be found so that these groups can be located
within the local community life of the Church. The essential work of
parishes must continue without suppressing new initiatives in response
to the Holy Spirit breathing where he wills (Inst. lab., 31).
"Catholic schools are the spearhead of the Church's mission to
the world," claims the Instrumentum laboris (26).
"The Catholic Church's history in Oceania could not be written
without acknowledging the prime part Catholic schools played in
planting, communicating and preserving the faith".
Catholic schools continue to have a significant place in the local
Church. In some regions they see themselves as missionary, where they
draw the majority of their students from non-Christian families with a
view to promoting Christian values, if not directly to proselytise. In
other areas the schools, particularly at the parish level, provide
catechesis for the young within the framework of a religious culture.
Ideally, the religious education that schools provide should be part
of an overall diocesan catechetical programme which includes family
catechesis and adult catechesis.
Primary schools have generally been the way by which parishes, with
the support of parents, provide religious education and catechesis for
children. A relatively new phenomenon has arisen in many places, due to
the decline in the number of practicing Catholics, whereby the parish
and the school tend to become separate Church communities, almost
separate Churches. For many children, the school rather than the parish
represents their Church. This is even more marked at secondary level.
Oftentimes, young people find a form of sacramental and prayer life and
learn about their faith and the Church in school-sponsored religious
education programmes and the catechetics instead of through their
If this is a growing trend, the situation needs to be addressed in
this forum with a view to resolving what might have unfortunate
consequences for the unity of Church and her efforts to nurture the
faith of the young.
To be noted also is the need for teachers to be adequately formed in
the understanding of their profession as a vocation from God, and that
their own faith and example should be a faithful witness to the truths
they are teaching.
As schools prepare children for life, they are therefore in a
position to influence the culture immediately around them. Their
teachers need training colleges and universities that will nourish them
intellectually and deepen their sense of mission as part of the Church.
The Church in Oceania has been profoundly affected by the Second
Vatican Council. The Instrumentum laboris refers to the ready
acceptance of the image of the Church as the People of God. This image
draws together the hierarchy, the religious and the laity into a common
bond or communion based on the missionary call of Baptism and the union
with Christ as Saviour and the Light of the Nations (Inst. lab.,
Recent years have witnessed a renewal of the Liturgy, particularly
the Eucharistic Liturgy. It is celebrated in the many languages of the
region with the full and active participation of the people as called
for by the Council. Opportunities for inculturation have been pursued in
an endeavour to deepen the links between liturgy and the people so that
the worship of God comes truly from their hearts.
In the renewal of sacramental life much attention is given to the
preparation of children for the Sacraments of Penance, Confirmation and
Eucharist involving as far as possible the whole family in the
preparation. It is an opportunity for catechesis and, in many cases,
At the same time, there are indications that the sense of the sacred
is being lost under the influence of secularity. The special nature of
Sunday as the Lord's Day is being eroded in many areas with a consequent
loss of understanding of the Sunday obligation. For many people the
Eucharist is no longer central to their lives as Christians. Even the
Sacrament of Penance seems to have diminished in importance for many,
together with a loss of the sense of sin. The Post-Synodal Apostolic
Exhortation Reconcilatio et Paenitentia clearly sets forth in a
timely manner the Church's teaching concerning sin and conversion and
describes the pastoral aspects of penance and reconciliation.
The renewal of sacramental life requires special efforts to restore
the sense of the sacred and an awareness of the abiding presence of God
as well as constant and clear catechesis on the significance of the
sacraments for Christian living, particularly Penance and the Eucharist.
Ecumenism and Dialogue
The Church is irrevocably committed to seeking the unity of
Christians according to the mind of Christ. For this reason it has
achieved a friendly liaison with other Christians at all levels, from
the theological to the practical. It is important to recognise in one
another the shared belief in Jesus Christ as Saviour and the desire to
live his life. This can be done without abandoning one's central truths
or one's self-understanding. Where respect is accorded to one another,
forms of association in Christian endeavours flourish, theological
discussions probe for common ground and mistaken perceptions of one
another's positions dissipate. Progress towards unity can be made under
the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Where respect is not accorded-as with some sects-dialogue is
difficult and unity impossible. The inroads made into Catholic
communities by aggressive sects that grossly misrepresent Catholic
beliefs are most regrettable and need to be countered effectively, not
by reciprocating the aggression but by being more vigorous in
proclaiming our truth and by living more deeply and fully our community
life as the Body of Christ.
To the accusation that the Catholic Church is unbiblical and that her
people are scripturally ignorant, we must make sure that the Bible has a
central place in the lives of our people so that they themselves will
know, when confronted by our detractors, that such charges are untrue.
Inter-religious dialogue seeks to affirm our common belief in the
Supreme Being and the legitimacy of the universal quest for God within
the human heart. A society that is becoming increasingly secular needs
the witness and the dialogue of all those people within that society who
believe in the universality of the religious spirit, in the existence of
the Supreme Being, who are convinced that humanity will never have peace
and justice unless our laws and practices are ultimately subject to the
law of God.
At the same time, within the context of inter-religious dialogue, it
must be our resolve to maintain clearly and proudly that we believe
there is only one Saviour of humankind, one Redeemer, Jesus Christ our
Lord. Without this clear position, our dialogue will be false and
ineffective. Maintaining our position may cause difficulties, even
resentment, but ultimately it is the only way, because no dialogue is
possible without clearly stating ones central beliefs (Inst. lab.,
All of the above themes have been raised in the responses to the Lineamenta
distributed for discussion in 1997. Most of them have been incorporated
into the Instrumentum laboris which presents them in a more
complete fashion within the context of the synod theme - Walking
His Way, Telling His Truth, Living His Life.
This Relatio ante disceptationem is not meant to be an
exhaustive treatment of all the points made in the Instrumentum
laboris but rather an attempt to highlight the major topics and
issues which need to be examined by the synod fathers. In the
discussion, synod fathers are asked in their interventions to make
explicit references by paragraph to the text of the Instrumentum
In the special assemblies that have been held in recent years,
particularly the Special Assemblies for Africa, America and Asia, many
of the problems and challenges before the Church in Oceania are also
shared by the Pastors in those Churches. It would be good to draw on the
apostolic exhortations following earlier special assemblies to guide us
in our deliberations.
It is our task, then, to examine the issues before us that are of
concern to our people, in order to make recommendations to the Holy
Father on a course that will guide us into the next Millennium.
We commit ourselves to the work of this synod and accept the joy and
burden of leadership given to us by Jesus Christ through his Holy
Church. We profess our loyalty to his Holy Church and our obedience to
the Holy Father as we invoke the prayers of Mary, Help of Christians and
Queen of Peace.