by ROWENA OREJANA
Catholics need to look at supporting people affected by climate change and environmental degradation in all the contexts that these issues demand.
That was one of the messages delivered by Ursula Rakova during a visit to New Zealand in July facilitated by Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand.
Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’, with its emphasis on care for the environment, is especially relevant to Mrs Rakova.
She hails from the Carteret Islands — 86 kms north-east of Bougainville — which have been slowly inundated by the ocean for decades.
The director of an organisation called Tulele Peisa, Mrs Rakova was involved in the launching of Laudato Si’ in Papua New Guinea with Caritas.
Tulele Peisa means “sailing the waves on our own”.
Pope Francis’ encyclical, she said, struck close to the hearts of the 2700 people living in the Cartarets.
Some of these people are trying to start new lives on Bougainville, utilising land from the local Catholic Church.
“The Pope’s message to the world, not just to us Catholics but to the world, emphasises the preservation of Mother Earth. As custodians of Mother Earth, we all have a part to play in protecting this earth,” Mrs Rakova said.
Mrs Rakova said the situation in the Cartarets is getting bad. The rising sea level, which many attribute to climate change, means the atolls are getting smaller as the population increases.
The shorelines are being degraded over time and salty water has intruded into aquifers, making growing anything edible in gardens harder.
“If we look at people who will be displaced, these people should be at the centre of humanitarian support,” she said.
“The Catholic Church of Bougainville recognised the situation back in 1963 and started to talk about relocating the people. This was reaffirmed in 2007,” she explained.
The then-Bishop of Bougainville, Henk Kronenberg SM, saw the suffering of the people and gifted them with four parcels of land, Mrs Rakova said.
Families are starting to relocate to these lands.
“We want to move people within the age group of 18 to 45. We feel that this is an active population and they will be able to sustain themselves on the sites given to us,”she said.
The sites around the diocese — in Tinputz, Tearouki, Mabiri and Tsimba — were formerly cocoa and banana plantations.
“We are rehabilitating the plantations and giving each family one hectare of land to cultivate,” she said.
Mrs Rakova said partnerships with the Church should be strengthened.
Government, on the other hand, should finance programmes that will help displaced communities. “We had a situation where the Bougainville (local) government held back funds for our project,” she complained.
Mrs Rakova said there needs to be support for older people who do not wish to leave the Carterets.
At the moment, she said, food and natural fertilisers are being sent to help them keep their crops growing.
“We also need to support people in keeping their identity,” she said. “We are moving away, but not completely. We want to maintain cultural connectedness. We want to preserve that. We want to move with dignity. We are proud of our inheritance and we want to keep that.”
She said there are other communities in other atolls in Papua New Guinea who are being displaced by rising sea levels and they, too need to be supported.
“The others are not so organised, but it doesn’t give anybody the right to ignore these people. Other churches have so much unused lands. We will have to walk the talk,” she said.