The New Evangelization - Oceania

RELATIO - 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 Church.

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 missionaries' work.

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 II.

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 its own.

It should be noted that the region has already sought to develop its sense of identity by coming together in a Federation of four Conferences:


-New Zealand

- 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 four Conferences.

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., 1).

[In French]

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 the theme:

"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 4:22-24).

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 handicapped people.

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 some extent.

[In English]


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 Spirit.

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 of today.

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 themselves;

- 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

- prayer.

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 task.

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 world.

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 modern age.

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 gives you;

- 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 circumstances.

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 one.

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 some dignity.

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 contraception fails.

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 the young.

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 message.

We must therefore place the deliberations firmly under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

[In French]


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 be ignored.

Lay Vocations

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 better defined.

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 Church.

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 permeating dough.

This consideration must make us mindful of how much lay people need the encouragement and support of the Church coming from her leaders and communities.

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 addressed.

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. lab., 33)

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.

[In English]

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 particular area.

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 Education

"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 parish.

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.

Sacramental Life

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., 37).

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, evangelisation.

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., 32).


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 laboris.

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.