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Apostolic Exhortation Summary: Ecclesia in Oceania

Summary of Apostolic Exhortation "Ecclesia in Oceania"
Offered by Vatican Press Office

The opening words of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Oceania are a clear indication of the document's relation to the series of papal documents, employing the same formula, which have concluded the various continental synodal assemblies called by the Holy Father in preparation for the Third Millennium in Tertio millennio adveniente, 38 (2).

The Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for Oceania, in the course of its celebration 22 November-12 December 1998, "analyzed and discussed the present situation of the Church in Oceania in order to plan more effectively for the future [and to focus] the attention of the universal Church on the hopes and challenges, the needs and opportunities, the sorrows and joys of the vast tapestry which is Oceania" (2). The document is, therefore, an instrument of the papal post-synodal Magisterium which sets forth in an ordered manner the fruits of the work of the special synodal assembly and provides particularly applicable pastoral teaching to assist the Church in Oceania in her work of evangelizing all -- Church members and others -- in the Pacific region.

Ecclesia in Oceania is mainly composed of four chapters based on the elements in the formulation of the synod theme: "Jesus Christ and the Peoples of Oceania: Walking His Way, Teaching His Truth, Living His Life". In this regard, the Holy Father states: "the theme is inspired by the words of John's Gospel where Jesus refers to himself as the Way, the Truth and the Life (Jn 14:6) and it recalls the invitation which he extends to all the peoples of Oceania; they are invited to meet him, to believe in him, and to proclaim him as the Lord of all.

It also reminds the Church in Oceania that she gathers together as the People of God journeying on pilgrimage to the Father. Through the Holy Spirit, the Father calls believers -- individually and in community -- to walk the way that Jesus walked, to tell all nations the truth that Jesus revealed, to live fully the life that Jesus lived and continues to share with us now" (8). The Holy Father has also chosen to introduce each chapter with Scriptural icons, indicative of Oceania and its peoples who are scattered, for the most part, on innumerable islands in a vast expanse of water and are dependent on the sea for food and travel.

The document's brief Introduction (1-2) is Oceania's song of praise to God at the beginning of the New Christian Millennium and a proclamation of hope in Jesus Christ for the future as a result of the many gifts of peoples which the region and its peoples have received in the past through "God's infinite goodness in Christ" (1), not the least, the Christian Faith brought by missionaries to the region. This faith has "yielded an abundant harvest among the peoples of Oceania" (2).

The Scriptural passage of Christ's call of Peter and Andrew as they were casting their nets by the sea of Galilee (cf. Mt 4: 18-20) introduces Chapter I, entitled "Jesus Christ and the Peoples of Oceania" (3-9). Besides presenting the rich diversity of peoples and cultures in the Pacific region, the chapter relates that "during the synodal assembly, the universal Church came to see more clearly how the Lord Jesus is encountering the many peoples of Oceania in their lands and on their many islands" (3), which leads to an awareness -- as in the case of Peter and Andrew -- that "the Lord has called the Church in Oceania to himself: as always the call involves a sending forth on mission" (3).

The Holy Father, therefore, insists, that "Christ is now calling the Church to share in his mission with new energy and creativity" (3), requiring the Church in the region to search "appropriate ways of presenting to the peoples of Oceania today Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour" (4).

What follows is a brief theological explanation of the Person of Jesus Christ, "Shepherd, Prophet and Priest" (5). After the presentation of the call to mission and its emphasis on the personal encounter with Jesus Christ, the chapter then proceeds to describe the history of the faith in the region and the rich, vibrant diversity of the "Peoples of Oceania, whose joyful acceptance of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is evident in their enthusiastic celebration of the message of salvation" (6).

The Holy Father states that not to be forgotten in presenting Christ is the variety of cultures in Oceania, a fact which requires a "careful discernment to see what is of the Gospel and what is not, what is essential and what is less so" (7) and a consideration of "the worldwide process of modernization which has effects both positive and negative" (7).

In fulfilling her mission, the Church -- the Pope continues -- is performing a service to all the peoples of the region, since "the peoples of the Pacific are struggling for unity and identity; among them there is a concern for peace, justice and the integrity of creation; and many people are searching for life's meaning" (8).


In this regard, it is with firm conviction that he states: "Only in accepting Jesus Christ as the Way will the peoples of Oceania find that for which they are now searching and struggling. The way of Christ cannot be walked without an ardent sense of mission; and the core of the Churches mission is to proclaim Jesus Christ as the living Truth -- a truth revealed, a truth explained, understood and welcomed in faith, a truth passed on to new generations" (8).

The chapter concludes by emphasizing that through the synodal experience many participants discovered "the religious gifts, the cultures and the histories of the peoples of Oceania" (9); became "more aware of the often hidden or unrecognized graces that the Lord has bestowed on his Church ... a source of great encouragement" (9); and, through dialogue and discernment, "opened the eyes of heart and soul to discover what can be done to live the Christian faith more fully and effectively (9).

Chapter II, "Walking the Way of Jesus Christ in Oceania" (10-17), begins with the Biblical passage of the call of James and John to discipleship as they were mending their nets near their father Zebedee's boat (cf. Mt 4:21-22), and treats Church communio, its effects and challenges in the Pacific region.

Using the image of the Church as mystery and gift of communio, the Holy Father quotes from a homily given in the region by his predecessor, Pope Paul VI: "'Prompted by the Holy Spirit, the Church must walk the same road which Christ walked, and the Church means all of us, joined together like a body receiving its life-giving influence from the Lord Jesus.' The way of Jesus is always the path of mission; and he is now inviting his followers to proclaim the Gospel anew to the peoples of Oceania ..." (10).

After the explanation of the concept of Church communio, the chapter proceeds to illustrate the various examples of communio, that is, the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for Oceania, the unity of the episcopal college, the unity of the local Churches and the unity of the universal Church. Quoting again Pope Paul VI on the subject, the Holy Father augurs: "May we always find ways to support one another in our united efforts to build up the church and to live out this communion in service and faith" (11).

These words are given practical form in the chapter's treatment of episcopal conferences -- national and regional -- and the presence of Eastern Churches in the region. On these subjects and the concept of communio in general, the Holy Father then states that "the challenge for the Church in Oceania is to come to a deeper understanding of local and universal communio and a more effective implementation of its practical implications" (12).

The emphasis in the initial part of Chapter II on communio logically gives way in the latter part to the subject of mission in which "the present generation of Christians is called and sent now to accomplish a new evangelization among the peoples of Oceania..." (13), a mission which involves many challenges "to reach out to those who live in unfulfilled hopes and desires, to those who are Christians in name only, and to those who have drifted away from the Church, perhaps because of painful experiences" (14). Above all, "the Synod Fathers wanted to touch the hearts of young people (14).

Generally speaking, "the Church is challenged to interpret the Good News for the peoples of Oceania according to their present needs and circumstances" (14). What follows is a paragraph on how the Church in Oceania as a "Church of Participation" is approaching these challenges in providing missionaries beyond Oceania, in the increasingly significant role of catechists and in programmes for renewal and lay involvement, just to mention a few (15). "The Synod Fathers expressed both deep appreciation for these efforts and strong support for those prepared to offer themselves for work in the Church's mission" (15).

Similarly, the Church's mission involves "'a dialogue which includes identifying what is and what is not of Christ.' Every culture needs to be purified and transformed by the values which are revealed in the Paschal Mystery. In this way, the positive values and forms found in the cultures of Oceania will enrich the way the Gospel is preached, understood and lived" (16). The Holy Father concludes Chapter II with the reminder, "to guide the process, fidelity to Christ and the authentic Tradition of the Church is required" (17).

Chapter III, "Telling the Truth of Jesus Christ in Oceania" (18-35) opens with a citation from the Gospel of Luke, 5:1-3, in which Christ uses Simon's boat to teach the crowd. Relating this image to the Church's charism to teach, the Holy Father emphasizes that the truth of "the Gospel must be heard in Oceania ... A new evangelization is needed today so that everyone may hear, understand and believe in God's mercy destined for all people in Jesus Christ" (18).

To achieve this goal will require not only "new ways and methods of evangelization" (18), but also an interior renewal in all the Church's members which is geared towards strengthening the faith, properly assessing the contemporary situation and courageously proclaiming "once again to human society the entire Gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ" (18). Where the Bishop in his Church is the prime witness to the truth of Christ, "all Christ's faithful -- clergy, religious and laity -- are called to proclaim the Gospel" (19) as a result of communio, which needs always to be renewed and fostered to "bring to the peoples of Oceania the wonderful fruits of the Holy Spirit" (19).

The entire group of agents of evangelization is to proclaim the truth of Christ in the particularly challenging areas in Oceania, that is, "traditional religions and cultures and ... the modern process of secularization" (20); "the media of social communications" (21); "catechesis, instruction and formation in the faith" (22); "the work of ecumenism" (23); "fundamentalist religious groups and movements" (24) and "interreligious dialogue" (25).

This proclamation of truth is not only in words but in actions. The Holy Father points out, therefore, that "the Church regards the social apostolate as an integral part of her evangelizing mission to speak a word of hope to the world; and her commitment in this regard is seen in her contribution to human development (29), her promotion of human rights (27), the defence of human life and dignity (30), social justice (28) and protection of the environment (31)" (26). The chapter concludes with a treatment of the Church's "remarkable contribution" (32) in Oceania in the fields of education (32-33), health care (34) and social services (35).

The Biblical icon introducing Chapter IV, "Living the Life of Jesus Christ in Oceania", is the account of the miraculous draught of fish (Lk 5:4-7), whose note of abundance aptly convokes the treatment of the Spiritual and Sacramental Life of the Church (36-52), in which "living in Christ implies a way of life made new by the Spirit" (36). The Holy Father points out in this chapter that the Synod Fathers "emphasized the fundamental importance for the Church in Oceania of prayer and the interior life in union with Christ ... and recognized the need to give fresh impetus and encouragement to the spiritual life of the faithful" (37).

Such renewal will necessarily focus not only on God's Word in the Bible, since "holiness of life and effective apostolic activity are born of constantly listening to God's word" (38), but also on the Liturgy (39), particularly in placing the Sacred Eucharist at the center of the Christian's life (40) and having recourse to the Sacrament of Penance, with its "healing grace" (41) and the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, where "Christ's compassionate life is offered in a special way to the sick and suffering" (42).

In the latter part of the chapter, the Holy Father addresses various groups in the People of God in Oceania (43-47). He speaks to lay people, recalling that "in Baptism, all Christians have received a call to holiness. Each personal vocation is a call to share in the Church's mission; and, given the needs of the new evangelization, it is especially important now to remind lay people in the Church of their particular call" (43); to youth, praying that "they always be drawn to the overwhelmingly attractive figure of Jesus, and stirred by the challenge of the Gospel's sublime ideals!" (44); to married couples and families, who "will always need the concerted pastoral care of the Church" (45); to women who need to be provided with opportunities to "offer their gifts more abundantly in service of the Church's mission" (46); and to new ecclesial movements, "a sign of the times" (47) in the region, asked to "work within the structures of the local Church in order to help build up the communio of the Diocese in which they find themselves" (47).

The section concludes with a treatment of the ordained ministry and the consecrated life (48-52). "Given the essential role of the priesthood and the great importance of the consecrated life in the mission of the Church, the Bishops at the Special Assembly affirmed the witness offered by Bishops, priests and those in the consecrated life through their prayer, fidelity, generosity and simplicity of life" (48).

In this regard, the Holy Father points out that "the promotion of vocations is an urgent responsibility of every Catholic community" (48) and that "each bishop is responsible for the formation of the local clergy in the context of the local culture and tradition" (48). While praising priests for "their ongoing fidelity and commitment" (49), the Holy Father also reminded them that "every priest needs unceasing conversion and openness to the Spirit in order to deepen his priestly commitment in fidelity to Christ" (49), particularly in priestly celibacy and the communio of the presbyterium.

"The life of Bishops, priests and deacons requires continuing formation and opportunities to renew their zeal in their vocation" (49), if they are to avoid the problems which can sometimes arise in the course of their ministry. The Holy Father also notes that the "permanent diaconate has been introduced in some dioceses of Oceania, where it has been well received" (50) and that "faithful to the charisms of the consecrated life, congregations, institutes and societies of apostolic life have courageously adjusted to new circumstances, and have shown forth in new ways the light of the Gospel" (51). At the same time, "... the life of prayer in the contemplative vocation is vital for the Church in Oceania" (51).

The Pope ends the chapter by marvelling: "Pondering God's generosity in Oceania and his infinite love for its peoples, how can we fail to give thanks to him from whom every good gift comes" (52)?

In the Conclusion of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Oceania (53), the Holy Father, recalling that Our Lady is revered in Oceania under the titles of Our Lady of Peace and Help of Christians, invokes the Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus and Mother of the Church with a lengthy prayer: "O Mary, Help of Christians ... Our Lady of Peace ... Plead for the Church in Oceania that she may have strength to follow faithfully the way of Jesus Christ, to tell courageously the truth of Jesus Christ, to live joyfully the life of Jesus Christ. (53).

[text distributed by Vatican Press Office]

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