Assembly 2007: Being Neighbours in the Pacific
Media release issued: Wednesday, July 4, 2007
Through listening to, speaking and praying with visitors from West Papua, Papua New Guinea (PNG), Tonga and Kiribati for four days the small dots on a map of the Pacific Ocean have become populated with people and the often narrowly focused attention given to northern neighbours has broadened.
Four guest speakers - Sr Keiti Ann Kanongata'a from Tonga, Sr Mariska Kua, RSM from PNG, Fr Seluini 'Akau'ola SM from Tonga and Fr Neles Tebay from West Papua - gave detailed presentations throughout the assembly based on their country's present reality; how the Gospel sheds light on that reality and how Australia can be a good neighbour.
CRA President Fr Mark Raper SJ said there had been a "significant shift" in the awareness of many of the leaders to the Church and civil realities of these nations so close to Australia. The plea of the guests was for mutuality and reciprocity.
"Their request was not to be left alone," Fr Raper said. "Now they have reached a level of maturity and autonomy as Religious within their own countries and local Churches, nonetheless they do not want to be left to go it alone.
"While we, in Australia, might see the ageing of our members as a problem, our neighbours see it as a gift, a source of wisdom. They ask to be accompanied. They look for mentors who will journey with them."
Fr Raper said they also asked the Australian Church to extend a welcome through pastoral and human care to the Australian 'face of the Pacific' - those people from their countries who are now living in our parishes, schools and communities.
CRA will form a taskforce to further this greater understanding gained through the assembly.
"As Religious we have an extraordinary wealth of networks," Fr Raper said.
"While our politicians relate in particular ways to the Pacific countries, we want to stress our relations as brothers and sisters.
"Meeting in solidarity, we have been helped to understand more fully our place in the Church and our role as Religious within our societies and within an increasingly globalised world."
Other international visitors - Sr Marietta Garnier AD a Thursday Islander who lives in PNG; Sr Grace Domani, President of the Federation of Religious in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands (FOR PNG/SI); Fr John Aneo MSC, Vice-President, FOR PNG/SI; Sr Cathie Mwagiordi FNDSC from PNG; Sr Mary Manuera FNDSC from Kiribati - also contributed significantly to the increased awareness and goodwill achieved during the assembly. The Religious leaders invited from East Timor sent apologies as they wanted to be with their people at a time when their country was undergoing deep crisis and well as facing elections.
Fr Raper said that in today's Australian Church a rich diversity, underpinned by remarkable energy, holiness and generosity, was the mark of Religious life.
While new forms of Religious life were stirring, many congregations were facing uncertainty and discouragement. Yet, regardless of size and circumstance, each Religious leader had a three fold role, he said.
"We are spiritual leaders, discerning for our communities; we are CEOs, governing our institutions; we are people of the Church and of society, giving voice to the needs of our time."
Another common factor was that each congregation was facing immense questions of transition.
"How can we be faithful to our mission in the new circumstances of our time?
"We know that our vow of poverty is empty if it is not relevant to the poverty in which so many people live today. We know our chastity gains meaning if it channels our creative imagination and passions and frees our spirit to love others selflessly. We know that obedience makes sense if it freely joins us in solidarity with one another in common projects that will make captives free.
"These days have enabled us to meet in confidence among our peers, trusting one another with our experiences and helping one another to find ways forward," Fr Raper said.
Other guests at the assembly were:
Archbishop Barry Hickey (Perth) who welcomed the Assembly to Perth;
the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Ambrose de Paoli (Canberra) who in commending CRA for its Being Neighbours in the Pacific theme noted that it was a good thing for geographic neighbours to work on their neighbourliness;
Bishop Luc Mathys (Armidale) representing the Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference;
Fr Ian McGinnity (Parramatta) representing the National Council of Priests;
three Vicars for Religious;
Sr Denise Fox RSM (New Zealand).
Visiting speakers were:
Fr Danny Meagher (Sydney) from World Youth Day;
Mr Jack de Groot and Mr Jamie Isbister (Sydney) from Caritas Australia, with whom CRA is working together with ACU in the Catholic Alliance for International Development;
Mr John Rowland (Melbourne) Albert Street Productions.
The welcome to country was made by Mr Ben Taylor, a respected elder of the Noongar people.
Assembly 2007 was the 31st annual meeting of Catholic Religious Australia (formerly Australian Conference of Leaders of Religious Institutes). It met with the theme, Being Neighbours in the Pacific, in Perth, WA, from June 26-29.
Among the decisions taken during the business section of the Assembly
Taking ecological responsibility
Catholic Religious Australia will investigate the possibility of using its collective buying power to make the purchase of hybrid cars and the installation of solar panels economically feasible for individual congregations.
Individual congregations have investigated the feasibility of hybrid cars and solar heating, among other ecological options, but have found the associated costs prohibitive.
CRA will look into obtaining economically feasible access for all congregations by approaching the issues at a national head office, rather than a local dealership, level.
further information: Sr Sharon Price RSM, Executive Director CLRI (NSW) 02 9663 2199
Offer of associate membership
Catholic Religious Australia associate membership without voting rights will be open to the groups developing new forms of religious life in Australia that have some canonical status.
The decision was taken in the light of a growing number of new groups which are not religious institutes but have members living consecrated lives.
Some have achieved limited formal recognition within the Catholic Church structure; others have not. Some have the intention of becoming religious institutes or other new forms of consecrated life, while others will remain associations of Christ's faithful.
Associate membership to those with some canonical status will open conversation with the groups, and offer support, encouragement and the collective wisdom of the CRA membership.
further information: Fr Tim Brennan MSC 02 9665 8999
Short courses in Canon Law
Catholic Religious Australia (CRA) and the Canon Law Society of Australia and New Zealand (CLSANZ) will work towards offering a three-year cycle of short courses in Canon Law with a focus on religious law.
As well as assisting congregational leadership - leaders and councils - courses also would be open to others holding senior responsibility within Church structures such as formation directors and bursars.
While the courses would impart basic canonical information, they could also alert participants to more complex issues for which they may need advice; demystify cannon law and remove some common misconceptions.
CLSANZ has already agreed to the partnership which was readily approved by the CRA 2007 assembly meeting in Perth.
further information: Fr Tim Brennan MSC 02 9665 8999