The Federation of Catholic Bishops Conferences of Oceania will meet in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea (PNG) from 12-16 April this year for their four yearly Plenary Assembly. The Federation is made up of Bishops from Australia, PNG and Solomon Islands, New Zealand and other Pacific nations. The Assembly’s theme is ‘Care of our Common Home of Oceania: A sea of possibilities’.
Human rights and environmental care and protection will underlie the Assembly’s discussions, with particular focus on displacement, social unrest, climate change and looking at harmful environmental practices such as deep-sea bed mining and overfishing.
FCBCO Executive Member, Bishop Charles Drennan said, of the Assembly, “we discuss these matters from the perspective of faith, which sees all creation and human life as a gift from God to be respected and treasured. We are very mindful of ongoing unrest and questionable military presence in West Papua as well as the growing influence of unsavoury business and political interests buying influence in the Pacific. I am hopeful of a renewed resolve for integrity in governance and sustainable and participatory economic development to arise from our discussions together and with local leaders. We are delighted that Cardinal Parolin, the Secretary of State at the Vatican will be with us. His voice will echo Pope Francis’ voice and gestures for justice and care of our planet home”.
Keynote speakers at the Assembly include:
- Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State of His Holiness The Pope. The Cardinal has been in this role since 2013, and has worked in the diplomatic service of the Holy See for thirty years. The Cardinal will speak on Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si’ which underlies the theme of the Assembly.
- Governor Powes Parkop, a representative of the Government’s Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry, who will deliver a keynote on the ongoing conflict between the Indonesian government and portions of the indigenous populations in the Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua.
- Professor Ottmar Edenhofer, one of the world's leading experts on climate change policy and environmental and energy policy, speaking to the Assembly on Catholic Social Teachings.
Father Clement Taulam of PNG will discuss the current situation around Manus Refugees and his work in this area. Last year, Father Clement and retired army major Michael Kuweh, made headlines in defying the PNG and Australian governments in calling for assistance for the refugees and asylum seekers on Manus, and for a peaceable solution to the standoff inside the condemned Australian-run detention centre.
Other sessions during the Assembly include an update on progress around the region preparing for Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment. New Zealand will report back on its national youth festival in December last year, its survey of young people and its participation in the Pre-Synodal Meeting, to take place in Rome from 19 to 24 March 2018. The work from the preparatory meeting will inform Synodal participants, who will meet in October 2018.
New Zealand Priest, Monsignor Gerard Burns, President of Caritas Oceania will update the bishops on the important work the NZCBC agency is undertaking across the region and their work with communities, government and aid agencies on climate change, sustainability, education and advocacy.
Towards to end of the assembly, attendees will take part in a mass with local communities and a formal dinner with the PNG Prime Minister, Peter O’Neill.
On 8 March 2018, PNG suffered a 6.7 aftershock in the Highlands which had been hit with a 7.5 quake on 26 February 2018, leaving more than 100 dead and many more hundreds without basic necessities.
In August last year, the Executive Committee of the Federation of Catholic Bishops Conferences of Oceania, set the theme for this year’s Assembly, voicing its concerns particularly on peaceful integration among people of West Papua, care of the oceans and the end to exploitation of the region’s natural resources by international interests.