Oceania’s Catholic bishops have called on their respective governments and civic authorities “to be vigilant in guarding against any attempts by international businesses to exploit our common resource”, meaning the oceans.

The executive committee of the Federation of Catholic Bishops Conferences of Oceania (Australia, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands, New Zealand, CEPAC — the rest of the Pacific) met in Auckland from August 7 to 12.

The executive committee members able to attend were Port Moresby Archbishop Cardinal Sir John Ribat, MSC (president), Toowoomba Bishop Robert McGuckin (deputy president), Noumea Archbishop Michel Calvet, SM, Dunedin Bishop Colin Campbell, Palmerston North Bishop Charles Drennan (spokesperson) and Parramatta Bishop Vincent Long Van Nguyen, OFM Conv.

“As bishops of the Pacific, the place of the sea in the lives of the peoples we serve was a central focus of our meeting. Our common ocean is teeming with life and goodness. For many of our peoples the sea is their treasured source of nutrition, sustenance and livelihood,” they said in a statement released after the meeting.

“Our interest in the ‘Blue Economy’ is to uphold a model of development that respects the fundamental importance of sustainability that looks way beyond any perceived short term economic windfall,” the statement added.

Bishop Drennan said the plight of Kiwi lay missionary Doug Tennent who was deported from Papua New Guinea in June was also discussed in the meeting.

“He (Mr Tennent) is a much respected advocate for justice in PNG and indeed taught law at university level in that country,” Bishop Drennan told NZ Catholic. “Happily we can say that due to various interventions he has now been allowed to return to the nation he loves and serves.”

“But this whole incident reminds us of the ugly collusion that sometimes exists between corrupt officials and unscrupulous business interests,” he said.

The bishops also expressed concern for the livelihood and cultural integrity of the people of West Papua, without going into the issue of independence.

“There are some groups in Papua who would like to see a breakaway from Indonesia. This view sits against a complex historical backdrop. The FCBCO executive chooses not to enter into this political fray because we believe that independence can be understood on many levels,” explained Bishop Drennan.

“For our group it is best that we focus on supporting fundamental platforms of democracy like education, an independent judiciary, efficient and honest civic leadership, press freedom, and clear boundaries to the role of the police and military,” he said.

“Democracy fosters independence in the sense that it counters subordination — of individuals, families and ethnic communities — to those who exert pressure or exercise authority in a manner that is actually an abuse of power,” he added.

The bishops visited De La Salle College in south Auckland and the City Mission in central Auckland. At the City Mission, they served meals to the homeless, the mentally unwell and those suffering economic deprivation.

“We all noted how often we were simply and quietly thanked by those we served. That humbling experience brought a smile to our faces and strengthened our resolve to notice and to listen to those on the margins of our communities,” Bishop Drennan said.

An FCBCO plenary assembly will be held in Port Moresby in April next year. The theme will be — “Care of our Common Home of Oceania: A sea of possibilities”.

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