The New Evangelization - Oceania



The peoples of Oceania are experiencing significant changes at this moment in history. Until the Second World War, the Pacific region, largely unknown and unnoticed by the wider world, lived a relatively peaceful existence. However, World War II made the Pacific Ocean and the islands a strategic area where many battles were fought, forever impacting the peaceful existence of many peoples. In the aftermath of the war the situation changed rapidly. Democracy was already a reality in Australia and New Zealand, but the idea gradually became attractive and possible for many island nations as well. The colonies were moving towards independence or greater autonomy. Many peoples felt the imperative to forge closer ties with others, sometimes expressed in terms of interdependence. Industrial companies from inside and outside the region were further exploring the natural resources. They were primarily interested in the economic potential for mining, logging and fishing. In time, this development created new realities and challenges for the peoples and their leaders. At present, Oceania is attempting to find its own identity in relation to Europe, Asia and America. It wants an identity that will be respected and honoured by the great economical, political and financial powers of the world. In addition to closer mutual co-operation, the whole region is looking at ways to achieve greater self-sufficiency. Above all, the peoples of Oceania want positive and free relations with other parts of the globe, peaceful relations built upon justice for all and solidarity with the less fortunate.

Present among the peoples of Oceania, the Catholic Church faces not only historical but also geographical challenges. Oceania is comprised of vast areas of water, some great land masses and many smaller islands. It is still a relatively thinly populated area marked by great distances between its peoples. Given its physical distance from many powerful nations, it experiences a sense of isolation. While transport and communication problems affect its relationship to people outside the region, they remain particularly acute for those living within its boundaries. These problems also affect the way the Church can communicate with and care for her many communities and members.

A Young Church in Oceania

The Catholic Church in Oceania is still a young Church. Initial contact with Christianity took place in the 16th century and the first organized missionary effort a century later. Systematic missionary activity, both Protestant and Catholic, covering the whole region began in the l9th century. This was also the time of the colonization and consequent settling of Australia, New Zealand and many Pacific islands. Though some Dioceses were established earlier, it was only in the second half of the 20th century that the Catholic Church erected Dioceses covering the whole region and local Bishops were appointed. In many Pacific countries the Church has not yet reached her full maturity and is still dependent on outside help. Missionaries, whether from outside the country or from the region, are still needed. They are working side by side with local clergy and religious. Material support is still required.

As a young Church much hope, energy, enthusiasm and creativity is to be found among many Catholics and within Catholic communities, This is especially true for the Church in Papua New Guinea and the Pacific islands. While the same is true in Australia and New Zealand, there are also signs of resignation, fatigue and division as a result of the difficult struggle the Church is facing against prevailing non-Christian ideas. The Catholic community in Oceania shares these conditions with the Church in Western Europe and North America.

Being young also has its problems, since the Catholic Church in most parts of the Pacific is relatively small. Dependence on outside support, limited local resources, and sensitivity to many outside influences, create concerns that are mentioned in many responses. On the other hand, there is a strong desire to confront the many vital issues in a way that respects the culture of a given country or island. The sense of dependence and external pressure, together with the desire for rightful autonomy, call for greater co-operation, interdependence and practical communion between the many local churches in Oceania.

The Catholic Bishops in Oceania have expressed their collegial and Co-operative communion by establishing four Conferences: the Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference, the New Zealand Catholic Bishops' Conference, the Conferentia Episcopalis Pacifici (C.E.PAC.), and the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. Recently, their communion has been further strengthened by co-ordinating these conferences in the Federation of Catholic Bishops' Conferences of Oceania (F.C.B.C.O.). The Federation allows the Bishops to respond in a more effective and united way to the present challenges facing the Church in Oceania.


A Variety of Cultures

Oceania is characterized by many peoples with distinctive cultures. In Melanesia alone one finds hundreds of languages and equally numerous cultures. Sometimes, they have common values that are expressed differently; sometimes a common language has developed to communicate and bridge the differences. The range of cultures in Oceania is extremely wide, extending from the simple mountain village with its subsistence economy, to the highly industrial and technological urban society. Often, people of very different cultures live together in the same local community. In Polynesia and Micronesia, most societies are small and mono-cultural. In Australia and New Zealand, the dominant culture is Western besides being considerably diverse because of immigration. Most national societies are multicultural, with more than one national language. Notwithstanding this variety, there is a strong tendency in many countries to develop a national cultural identity. At the same time, there are indications that awareness and respect for the original indigenous peoples and cultures are growing.

In some countries the indigenous people have become a minority group in the national society, like the Aborigines in Australia and the Maoris in New Zealand. Sometimes, the dominant cultural group finds it difficult to value and support the cultural minority. While these cultural and social tensions can sometimes be reflected in the Church, she is making every effort to extend her pastoral care and outreach to all. Efforts are now being made to have greater respect for minority groups and their culture. Respect goes hand in hand with partnership for the human development of all, and in a special way for the underprivileged. Indigenous clergy and religious, even if limited in number, are important in providing a rightful place to these people in a multicultural society. Often the cultural minoritywhether indigenous or a result of immigrationlives in poorer conditions than others in society. The Church is collaborating with others to defend the rights of the poor and assist them in their needs, e.g. through the services of Caritas and similar programmes. She is also offering them education and encouraging employers to provide them with opportunities for work.

Culture and Gospel

The relationship, between culture and the Gospel has two sides. On the one hand, a local culture offers positive values and expressions which can enrich the way the Gospel is preached and the Christian faith is lived in a local community. On the other hand, the Gospel challenges the local culture. Change must come in whatever is opposed to the truth as proclaimed by the Gospel and treasured by the Catholic Church, or in whatever is in opposition to the religious and human values.

The cultural setting of the peoples of Oceania is changing. There is an increasing interdependence and mix between the various cultures. At the same time, the Church has less influence on newly developing and emerging values and ideas. The following are indicated among the many positive values in the indigenous cultures of Oceania: an unquestioned sense of the sacred, a respect for tradition and authority, strong family and community bonds, and a feeling of joy and gratitude for life and the gifts of nature. These values have enriched Christian life and society. Many of these values, however, are threatened by an uncritical acceptance of a more Western lifestyle. In other situations, the indigenous cultures offer strong resistance to a fuller acceptance of Christian faith and morality. In this instance, the responses refer to marriage customs favouring polygamy or the tradition of the "bride price", sorcery and superstitious beliefs in evil spirits, tribal enmity and warfare as well as the felt obligation to take revenge when evil has been done to the person or to his tribe or family. The Christian community needs to exercise patience and an ongoing perseverance in order to bring about conversion and change in these negative cultural realities. More difficult and more challenging is the reception of Christian faith in indigenous thought-patterns. Attempts have already been made by indigenous theologians and religious thinkers who have reflected and worked on a specific cultural (e.g. Melanesian, Pacific) theology and philosophy. Seeds of authentic God-awareness in traditional religion offer possibilities for a creative interpretation of Christian ideas. Critical dialogue and the collaboration of theologians and thinkers, with respect for and adherence to the Magisterium, will enrich Catholic theology without losing any essential element of the Church's Tradition.

The Challenge of Modern Western Culture

Even where the main culture is indigenous, the growing influence of modern Western culture in Oceania can be observed. The Church accepts and promotes the positive values of this culture but struggles with its negative aspects. There are important positive values such as the promotion of the dignity of the person, the right to freedom and happiness, the contribution that all should make to decision-making, and the progress and prosperity of human society. At the same time, many responses point out the negative side of Western culture: individualism, materialism, liberalism and destructive competition. In countries with a dominantly Western culture, these tendencies are seen as obstacles to the missionary outreach of the Christian community.

A strong feature of modem Western culture is the pluralism of opinions and value systems. Diverse opinions on important life-questions and diverse value systems exist side-by-side in the same society. They seem to be equally valid and acceptable. In this climate, the authority and the tradition of the Church are considered only relatively important and are often openly challenged. Absolute pluralism tends to reject reason as the critical element in decision-making and allows emotional aspects to prevail. Limited pluralism is built on the values of tolerance and respect, values appreciated by the Church. Such a pluralism offers important and difficult challenges to Christian missionary activity.

Materialism also provides a strong temptation for the peoples of Oceania. Economic prosperity, technological development and scientific discoveries are to be accepted and promoted. Greed for material goods, however, the rejection of God's providence and grace, and the denial of Christian faith and charity are unacceptable to the Church. The dangers that come with the mass media are also apparent.

In Oceania, the influence of the mass media is quite considerable and still growing. Oftentimes, the programmes offered uncritically serve the desire for immediate pleasure or simply for exciting entertainment. Yet a wise and judicious use of the media can contribute to a well-balanced education.


On the question of inculturation, there are various ways and forms in which the indigenous cultures have enriched the liturgy and devotional practices of the Church in Oceania. Faithful to Vatican II, many dioceses have heeded the call to liturgical renewal that allowed for a more active participation of all the Church's members. Under the pastoral authority of the Bishops, the liturgy has been enriched through the introduction of local languages in prayers and readings. Rituals have become more meaningful through adopting common gestures, dances, music and songs, traditional and newly-composed. Church buildings are often designed and constructed by local persons and often decorated with paintings or carvings by local artists. Catechesis has been made more lively by a sound use of traditional stories, modern drama and poetry. The processions, pilgrimages and devotions to Mary and the saints, often introduced by missionaries, have been developed and enriched with many local symbols and customs, and are very popular in some places. In marriage and burial rites, a positive use of indigenous symbols has been made. Traditional gestures have been introduced in reconciliation ceremonies. Spontaneous and enthusiastic expressions of faith and communion in Christ have been fostered by contributions from many local and indigenous peoples.

The positive effect of a well-guided inculturation is that members of a given cultural society feel more at home in the Catholic faith and worship. Of course, the communion with the universal Church and her traditions demands the respect and adherence to the essential elements and rules that she has developed over the centuries. Diversity in accordance with the local culture is to be encouraged as much as possible, without destroying Catholic unity. The Bishops' Conference has the responsibility to approve appropriate liturgical forms and formulas as long as these are in accordance with the teaching and the guidelines of the universal Church. The local Bishops know the cultural values underlying the required changes and such knowledge is indispensable for judging how liturgy can be meaningful to the local cultural community. The possibility and need for more liturgical inculturation will also depend on the particular Catholic rite to which the community belongs. The Eastern Catholic Churches in Australia continue to treasure their liturgy, so deeply bound to the national culture and society, and so rich in Christian values.

An important area of inculturation is the translation of the Bible into local languages. Many successful efforts have been made by Bishops and scholars, often in ecumenical collaboration and with the generous help of the national and international Bible societies. This help from the Protestant communities is mentioned with gratitude in many responses. Thanks to these translations, the written word of God is now available to readers of the indigenous languages. The inculturation of the biblical message is not completed by having a printed text. It has to be followed by regular reading and meditation, especially of the New Testament. The appropriation of God's Word is supported by creative biblical drama and spontaneous prayer inspired by biblical passages.

Youth Culture

In modern society youth seems to have its own culture. Youth culture is different from the general culture in that it expresses the particular interests, needs and desires of the young, often seen as a protest against the older generation. In the more urbanized areas of Oceania, the youth culture is strongly influenced by that of North America and Europe. It is often difficult for the Church to reach out to the younger generation or to involve them in Church activities, There is a need to inculturate essential elements of the Christian truth and faith in forms understandable to young people. Catholic youth groups and movements are making genuine efforts in this direction. At the same time, young people, who are touched by the Gospel and listen to the call of Jesus Christ, are invited to live a life in opposition to the commonly-accepted life-style of those who do not share their Christian faith and convictions.



Australia and New Zealand are the more urbanized countries in Oceania. Most other countries have growing capital cities and smaller towns. The urban areas increasingly attract people from the rural areas. People expect to find more individual freedom, a greater variety of goods and the hope of prosperity. When they do not succeed, however, they have to cope with unemployment, poverty and sickness. Tough competition and inadequate education sometimes induce them to join gangs, to be exploited or to engage in immoral or criminal activities like prostitution. Despite these problems, people tend to move to the cities. To counter the problems of urban drift, some advocate a strong support of the Church in rural areas, where basic services and commodities of life should be maintained, so that people are less tempted to leave their home place. The Church must not so easily abandon the rural population, but challenge those economical ideologies that lead policymakers to promote urbanization.

After moving to the city, some Catholics seem to lose interest in regular religious practice. Religion becomes marginal once they are cut off from their rural home or their cultural society. Many perceive the Church community as not interested in them. When they live on the margins of society, in urban settlements or as squatters, people can sometimes feel that they are not important to the Church. In such situations, the Church needs to express concern, offer help and speak out on their socio-economic problems. The urban life-style can lead to individualism, hard competition and materialism, while human solidarity is limited. At the same time, the urban drift and the urbanization of culture offer new challenges and opportunities to the Catholic community. The creation of associations for families or women, youth groups, social services and movements to support the needy are responding to such challenges. They can bring about a new Christian solidarity. The city parishes are challenged to develop an appropriate pastoral plan in which the lay people have an important role to play. The pastoral care for the parish community will try to reach out to the unchurched members as well as to seek contact with non-Catholics.

Colonization, Migration and Tourism

The present social structure of large parts of Oceania is the result of previous colonization, especially in Australia and New Zealand, but also in New Caledonia and Fiji. In these countries the original indigenous population has to cope with the effects of large-scale immigration from colonial times. In some places the indigenous population has become an ethnic minority, leading them sometimes to feel disenfranchised because of a lack of respect for their identity and development. They look upon other ethnic groups of European and Asian descent as more wealthy, privileged and powerful. The political and economical problems of these indigenous communities reflect the tensions between the ethnic groups. They reveal the historical injustice that was perpetrated and whose wounds remain to this day. Greater efforts are being made to rectify the injustices and to heal the wounds inflicted in the past by colonization policies. In some countries, there is need of national reconciliation between the descendants of people on opposite sides of the conflict. The Church has the right and the will to contribute to this process. National reconciliation is an indispensable condition for internal peace and real progress. There is a place for repentance and forgiveness without undermining the sense of justice. Above all, the Church believes in the power of God's Spirit, the Bearer of Peace, reaching farther and deeper than all human efforts.

There are large problems like the question of land ownership. Land issues are particularly problematic in Australia with regard to the Aborigines and in New Zealand with regard to the Maori people. In Fiji and other countries of Oceania, it is a difficult problem for all parties involved. For the indigenous people land is an important, deeply symbolic reality. The land represents the source and stability of life. The issue of land is very sensitive for them, as it is also for those who gained possession and developed it, thereby contributing to the prosperity of the country. Any satisfactory solution can only be found with patience and great wisdom, in a dialogue involving all groups concerned. In many ways, all members of the Church can help those who are less fortunate and who suffer from unemployment, poverty, violence and immorality in the societies of Oceania. Minority groups often lack the economical or political power to change their life sufficiently or even to stand up for their rights. Only when they are supported by the solidarity of other groups is their voice heard.

Recent immigration has brought more people from Eastern Europe and Asia to Oceania, especially to Australia. People of the Pacific islands migrate in greater numbers to Australia or New Zealand. The important challenge faced by these groups is that of integration into an already established population. The Church has a special concern for these ethnic groups. The responses mention that the pastoral care of these people is being done by appointed chaplains, who help them by celebrating liturgies in their native language, The greater the cultural difference between the incoming groups and the established population, the more difficult and slow the integration will be. Promotion of social justice and tolerance are very important in this process. In the peaceful process of integration the communication media can play a supporting role.

In a culturally mixed society the danger of social prejudice and racism exists, sometimes expressed in hidden and subtle forms. People whose human rights are threatened or the poor are those who are most likely to migrate. Recently the Bishops of Australia have spoken out against government attempts to curb the possibility for people from other continents to enter the country, to find a better life there and to contribute to its prosperity and richness. In many parts of Oceania refugees have been welcomed by the Christian community. The Church has spoken on their behalf and assisted them socially and pastorally. The defence of their human rights is an important consequence of the Christian call to justice and solidarity.

Tourism is only a limited problem in Oceania, though in some countries it is a growing industry, promoted by the government. For the local population, tourism provides valuable income. However, it can also have negative effects, especially when the indigenous culture is still traditional. The materialistic thrust of the industry and of many tourists has a negative influence. At times, the behaviour of foreign visitors leads to problems. In some countries, the Church has strongly and effectively protested against gambling and the establishment of casinos.


Spreading the Good News

The particular Churches in Oceania were founded by missionaries from Europe and America. While their faith and culture are part of the heritage of those continents, they are not particular "European" or "American" Churches. This consciousness of their identity has increased and they are becoming more confident about what they can add to the treasures of the universal Church out of God's wonderful gifts to the newfound particular Churches born under the Southern Cross. These Churches cannot simply transmit a Christianity foreign to the region. They have their own vitality and creative capacities in dealing with secularized society, and also have established missionary outreach in the Pacific, Papua New Guinea and South East Asia. With the passing of time, these particular Churches are forging their identity in terms of the cultures of the nations where they were founded.


Today’s Challenges

If the Gospel is to grow and spread in Oceania in the same way as is described in the Acts of the Apostles, all in the Church need to be more aware of her missionary nature, especially by finding new ways of sharing in Christ's mission. Nearly all the missionary Bishops have appealed for help in terms of finances and personnel so that their Dioceses might achieve a more secure autonomy. They feel this lack of resources is the main factor holding back their efforts. For instance, if there were more priests in the villages, new religious groups hostile to the Church could not so easily make inroads there.

These same Bishops are also seeking to recruit and train a greater number of suitable candidates as catechists who will assist priests in pastoral work. Catechists are often very effective by the very fact that they actually live in the villages and share people's activities. Many dioceses have established courses to train evangelizers. Some responses suggest the forming of itinerant teams of evangelizers that would go from village to village, proclaiming the Gospel in a lively, charismatic way. Some would like to make much wider use of lay preaching, so as to proclaim the Gospel from door to door and in the town square. In these cultures the faith has been handed on orally, especially by narrative and story-telling. These still remain the principal means of communication. Faith does come by hearing; this is a universal rule for the Church's proclamation. Hence the need for retreats, for better instruction, for expanding the catechumenate and the call for a revival of parish missions. The developed countries also need evangelizers with a missionary spirit to tell the truth of Jesus Christ so that their very secular cultures may hear the voice of Christas it werefor the first time.

The Church, like other social institutions, are caught up in the current of rapid change and transformation. The result is that the faithful often become confused when they cannot make sense of these events in terms of faith as the "signs of the times". All the institutions of modern society, law, government, democracy itself, education, medicine, communication and transport, commerce and banking, etc., are subject to deep and rapid change. In this ferment, Church-State tensions that have occasionally openly manifested themselves in some countries.

Change appears to fragment the Catholic community and to weaken projects of evangelization. Some of the faithful surge toward reform, renewal and further plans for change. The need they perceive for modernizing Church life and making it relevant today draws some, at times, into open dissent against Church teaching. Others resist, hanging onto what they see as the sure treasures of their inheritance. Still others have been known to leave the Church or, as more often happens, form small groups in which they feel more comfortable outside the main lines of Church life. In response, the Bishops desire that diocesan and parochial institutions be established for instruction in the faith and that the apostolate of charity thrive and grow strong. They emphasize the need to introduce institutions more appropriate for today. In this regard, the new ecclesial movements have a prominent place. There is concern that women should be more active and better represented and integrated into the life of the Church. The laity are more than ever necessary today, as the Church strains forward in the work of transmitting the Gospel in a contemporary world where they can enter to fulfil their proper vocation and mission in the secular order.


The Impact of Culture

In a society which is in rapid transition and whose effects are felt in the Church, marriage and the family are experiencing profound changes and is often subject to many negative pressures. Marriage and the family are probably the two institutions which have felt the greatest impact of social change, especially in advanced technological societies like Australia and New Zealand. The prevailing and underlying philosophythat happiness comes from unlimited freedom rather than from commitmenthas had serious negative effects on marriage and the family. The consumer mentality undermines their stability. Christ and his plan for the world are seen as merely one option among many, rather than the Way, the Truth and the Life. Many interrelated factors are contributing to this radical fragmentation. In the indigenous cultures, in which community-centred and extended family values are treasured, family and marriage experience greater support than in typically Western societies. Some of these societies have inherited practices, e.g. the practice of "bride price" (the fact that a marriage must be fertile before it is socially recognized), the subservience of women and other customary practices, which, especially as a result of the influence of travel, increased wealth and consumer philosophies, have experienced significant changes. Consequently, marriage and the family have experienced difficulties and confusion. Traditional customs concerning marriage and the family have always offered challenges to the Church as she strives to present the Christian view of marriage and family life. Recent influences and growing materialism have often corrupted the meaning of these customs and have further confused the meaning of marriage and the family. The community, which has always had an enormous influence on marriage and the family, is also facing change and threats with a consequent effect on these institutions.

The Marriage Bond

An increasing number of marriages end in failure with tragic consequences for the family and society as a whole. The divorce rate in certain societies of Oceania is very high. Many couples want to be married in Church but have lost regular contact with the parish community and fail to understand the sacramental nature of marriage. The idea of a lifelong commitment and permanence is rarely seen in society as a value, thereby having a negative effect on the marriage bond. Couples are often immature, unprepared for the responsibilities of rearing and educating children, faced with financial difficulties and generally affected and influenced by the permissive society in which they live. The pastoral effects of the breakdown of marriage are experienced in local communities. Defections from the faith as a result of divorce and remarriage is a particular problem. In more traditional indigenous societies, certain customs are now undergoing change with consequent difficulties for the married life and the sacramental participation of the Church's members.

Frequently, in the case of the breakup of a marriage, a number of the faithful have had recourse to the Church's marriage tribunals with the result that marriage annulments have become widely known and discussed in the community. Not everyone automatically avails themselves of this possibility; there is often a misunderstanding of the process involved. At times, it appears to some to be intimidating, expensive, time-consuming and even lacking credibility. In addition, parish priests and others involved in pastoral work are often faced with a variety of matrimonial situations in which compassion combined with the need to affirm the Church's teaching on marriage and its value are required.

The Family

Responses reveal that the extended family is a reality and ideal that has all but disappeared; even the nuclear family unit is showing signs of weakness. There are endless pressures on and challenges facing the family in an age of moral relativism. Social policies often do not support the family unit and economic pressures cause additional difficulties. Men are often expected to put their job or career first, and women also frequently have a full-time employment. There is a ready acceptance of de facto relationships and the media advocates extramarital relationships as an alternative to the ideal of the Christian family. The impermanence of marriage and family institutions is one of the serious negative aspects in some parts of contemporary Oceania. Many couples live together before marriage and a considerable number of children are born outside of marriage with often adverse consequences for them as they oftentimes have no sense of personal identity and feel isolated and rejected. The Church continues to uphold the sanctity of marriage and the value of family life through her educational and pastoral institutions and programmes.


The Priesthood

In some particular Churches in Oceania, i.e., in Papua New Guinea and some Pacific islands, God continues to bless his people with numerous vocations. Many persons are interested in the priestly and religious life. At the same time, discernment in the matter is still required and occasional difficulties arise associated with local cultures and the varied perceptions of the role of the priest. At times, spirituality and deep prayer life are lacking. Sometimes, due to their life-style or involvement in politics, clergy do not live up to what is expected of them by local communities. Sometimes, young vocations find it difficult to persevere. With patience and creativity these problems can be overcome so that the blessing of these enthusiastic vocations can contribute to the life of the local Churches.

In other societies in Oceania, vocations are declining to the extent that serious difficulties are foreseen for the future. Thus a good number of smaller communities no longer have a resident priest with the consequent threat of a loss of a Eucharistic centre to the community. To meet the lack of priests, Dioceses have had to plan for the future, resulting in the positive participation of lay people in the various ministries of the parish. A problem arises with the number of aging priests; rural communities are suffering particular difficulties, given distances and the scattered local communities.

The role of the priest has changed markedly since the Second Vatican Council, adding to a problem of the priest's self-perception and an appreciation of his special and unique vocation. Scandals involving the clergy have had a negative impact on the image of the priest, and thereby on vocations, augmenting a problem of morale among priests and the perception of the priest in the Church and in society in general. In particular cases, sexual abuse on the part of the clergy has led to special pain and suffering for the community. Great care and sensitivity is demanded in the process of healing accompanying this sad reality. Despite these difficulties, however, the continued presence and apostolic work of countless priests, faithful to their vocation, continues to be a particular and ongoing blessing for the local Churches in Oceania.

To help meet the lack of vocations, various Churches in Oceania sponsor vocations programmes that involve prayer, reflection and discussion. Secondary schools are a potentially important means of fostering awareness of a priestly vocation. Clergy updating programmes have helped in making priests aware of their special vocation and their responsibilities in the life of the Church.

The permanent diaconate has been introduced in various Dioceses to help in a variety of areas, such as liturgy, catechesis, administration and other pastoral initiatives. A creative response is required in all of Oceania to find ways of promoting vocations. In some particular Churches, pre-seminary houses have been opened to help in the discernment, the initial formation and education of potential candidates.

There is difficulty in providing adequately trained staff members in the various areas of formation: spiritual, human, pastoral and intellectual. In areas where a great number of vocations exist, this lack of trained personnel is compounded by the need for new structures and facilities in the seminaries. Training in other countries has resulted in many benefits, though at times difficulties have been encountered because of differing cultures.

The Lay Vocation

Given the shortage of priestly vocations in some areas of Oceania, the laity have taken on a particular responsibility in a more active and constructive participation, especially in the parish. They undertake catechetical instruction, are involved in sacramental preparation, are responsible for youth work and general pastoral activities, and are sometimes called upon, under special circumstances and according to their position in the Church community, to lead services in parishes without ordained ministers.

Lay people need preparation and education to assume and develop these differing responsibilities. Many lay people are now studying theology. Catholic education centres offer courses in theology, religious education, pastoral ministry, etc., which assist the laity in the realization of their particular vocation in the Church's work of evangelization in Oceania. In a world that has lost many values and is in need of truth, they are living witnesses to the values and truths of the Gospel in their various professions. In a particular way, the laity's commitment in marriage and the family is a special vocation of Christ's love.

In many societies of Oceania, the missionary spirit and endeavour originally depended for much of their practical effectiveness on the role of dedicated catechists who, in response to the Gospel, acted as the intermediaries between the missionary and the local people. These catechists became an institution in their own right, in their task of organizing and leading various scattered communities in duties not reserved to the priest. They have contributed greatly to the planting and flowering of the Gospel. Their role, though changing 'in various particular Churches, is still of vital importance for the work of evangelization. They witness in a special manner to the many gifts that the Spirit gives the Church.

A number of these gifts and charisms are evident in various ways in the local Churches in Oceania. In collaboration with the local Bishop, each of these gifts have, in their own way, given new strength and enthusiasm to the preaching of the Gospel. There are groups of charismatic renewal, houses of prayer, Christian life groups, Christian meditation groups, and other institutions formally recognized by the Church.

The role of women in many parts of Oceania has received particular attention since the Second Vatican Council. The Church has sought to promote the rightful role of women in society and in the Church by recognizing their particular contribution to the apostolate and by involving them in various activities within the Church. Continued sensitivity to their role is required as they enrich the Church with their special gifts. Care is needed with the use of language and, where it is possible, well-qualified women need to be called upon in service of the Church. In a number of indigenous communities women are now involved in many of the Church's apostolic works. However, in some instances there are cultural difficulties which prevent them from being fully accepted, despite their vital contribution. They will only fully participate and be recognized in the Church once certain aspects of society begin to change.

Catholic education, along with its associated fields, is an important aspect of the Church's life in Oceania. The Catholic schools are a special resource of the Church providing education for the young and teaching and inculcating those Christian values so admirably set forth in the Gospels. They provide structured programmes of faith education for children and young adults and often a meaningful and enriching experience of liturgy. Indeed, in some societies they often provide the only link with the Church, a real experience of faith, as well as offering a service to the community and the nation. The schools play a vital role in the faith education of the young and with the diminishing number of religious involved in this type of apostolate, lay people are increasingly responsible for the running of schools.

Catholic universities and Catholic tertiary institutes also have an important role to play in Oceania. Through their expertise in the faith and their various structures, they are a means of dialogue with a secularized world. Their contribution to the life of the Church at the local level is significant. The faculties of theology offer an added richness to the Church, in her role of educating persons in the faith and in the training of seminarians. The Catholic university has a particular institutional role in the Church, meaning that it cannot be independent of episcopal authority.

Men and Women Religious and Consecrated Persons

Certain signs today indicate that the secular world is often a wasteland, a spiritual vacuum. Even where Christians are present, the world seems to be waiting and longing for a more evident sharing in the life which God offers in his Spirit. This desire finds expression in a search for spirituality, which is sometimes not given enough emphasis. With the rich experience of her history, the wealth of her doctrine and the example and message of her saints and mystics, the Church, who is holy, is challenged to formulate and spread a spirituality truly appropriate for these times in Oceania and its many cultures.

To make the Christian message come alive for Christians in their daily life is probably the greatest challenge facing the Church on the threshold of the third millennium. Sometimes, the celebration of the sacraments need better to convey a "sense of God", i.e., a witness to the fact that he is intimately encountered in the silence of contemplative prayer. At times, a loss of "the sense of the sacred" is detected at Mass, as, likewise, a loss of the "sense of sin" in the infrequent practice of individual sacramental confession.

The yearning for a spiritual life is witnessed to and fulfilled, in a special and unique way, in the consecrated life through which Christ's faithful, moved by the Holy Spirit, propose to follow Christ nearly, to give themselves wholly to God who is love and to signify and proclaim in the Church the glory of the world to come by pursuing the perfection of charity in the service of the kingdom. Contemplative orders, a number of which are present in Oceania, attest in a special way to God's transcendence, witnessing to the intimacy of communion between the person and God. Their presence in the particular Churches in Oceania is highly valued and of great importance.

In light of the Second Vatican Council, the congregations engaged in various apostolic activities went through a profound process of aggiornamento. This has often meant a radical change in their apostolic activity, in their community and prayer life and in a renewed witness to their original charisms. Many religious congregations are presently facing the challenge of decreasing numbers and aging members. Religious have largely disappeared from a number of Catholic institutions, leaving these institutions without that unique witness to the radical demands of the kingdom that religious traditionally provided. In the more secularized areas of Oceania, vocations to the religious life have seen a dramatic decline. In other areas, such as Papua New Guinea and the Pacific islands, a steady number of religious vocations is present to serve the local Church. In fact, in some areas, local religious congregations have been founded.

Religious congregations in some Western-type societies are finding it difficult to combat the prevailing value systems. This is manifested in the following ways: the value of the vow of chastity is often questioned and there are difficulties with it being lived out; the abandonment of traditional apostolates has not always been easy or readily appreciated; new life-styles have been confusing; youth do not seem to be readily challenged by the radical character of the consecrated life; at times, prayer life suffers at the expense of active life, etc.

At the same time, some religious have shown a great sense of spiritual discernment in a secular society by undertaking new apostolates, e.g. care of AIDS patients, apostolates to society's homeless and troubled youth, and a choice to serve the poorest in society. The Church in Oceania appreciates the selfless work of women religious, particularly those who, in many cases, originally sowed the seeds of faith and were intimately involved in their development. The fruits of their apostolate continue to enrich the Church. The consecrated life, when genuinely lived, is a powerful sign of dedication to the kingdom through the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and serves as a specific gift to the Church and a witness to the Gospel.

Edited from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
2 September 1998 
Special Insert