Thursday, September 27, 2012

PNG: "One tribe, one kantri."

With the start of the recent national elections in Papua New Guinea, two new provinces were added to the country: the Hela Province and the Jiwaka Province. These two provinces were not formed by the addition of new territory to the country (as one perhaps could say about the addition of Alaska and Hawaii as States of the USA). They were formed by dividing two existing provinces: Hela was divided from the Southern Highlands and Jiwaka was divided from the Western Highlands. Since this is an accomplished fact, I don’t wish to evaluate the pro’s and con’s of what has already happened. Here in the Diocese of Mendi, we look forward to working closely with the leaders of the new Hela Province, and we share in the sense of hope and expectation of the people of Hela.

Papua New Guinea is a beautifully diverse country that is made up of hundreds of different cultures. Often it is said that there are almost 800 languages representing almost the same number of cultural groups of people. One of the greatest challenges over the past years since PNG won its independence in 1975 is the matter of how to form one country out of the multitude of tribes, clans and language groups.

One of the first major challenges to this vision was the terrible crisis in Bougainville. As a result of this bloody conflict, Bougainville is now an Autonomous Region which some believe may eventually end up as a country independent of PNG. Apart from such an extreme situation, one might ask the question, is it good for the country that each year, more and more provinces would be formed by division?

One could imagine many other groups in the country asking the question: If it is good for Jiwaka and Hela to become their own provinces, why not us? Where would such a division begin doing real harm to the country? In a country of over 700 language groups, (most admittedly too small to be politically independent), when would the national government have to draw the line and say, “No more divisions”?

Politics is a part of the reality of human beings as social creatures. Perhaps we could generalize and say that politics is most-often motivated by self-interest. What makes politics good or bad from a human point of view is how broadly or narrowly the “self” is understood. Politics at its best seeks to serve the common good; that is, it understands “self” in terms of the entire community. Politics at its worst defines “self” in a very narrow way, so as to mean, my group, my friends, my interests or, even simply “me” the politician. It takes courageous leadership to help everyone in the political community (which includes all of us) to broaden the concept of “self” that we are interested in.  (Of course, we must always guard the dignity and unalienable rights of every individual and not just consider them as parts of some overarching collective.)

A country whose people cannot see beyond narrowly conceived self-interest to the promotion of the common good of all will never gain the strength and vision required to develop to its full potential. “A house divided against itself shall not stand” (cf. Mk 3: 25). It is not the place of leadership to impose a vision of the “self” but rather, in the lively discourse of pluralistic democracy, to help people freely grasp a wider, more inclusive view.

I believe the Church has an important role to play in this lively discourse. In its recent Pastoral Letter on Communion, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of PNG/SI proposes a movement toward communion as a response to many of the challenges faced by PNG society today. A commitment to communion can invite people beyond alienation experienced by so many people today – especially the young - to a real experience of belonging. The dynamism of the church, inspired by the example of Jesus and made possible by the Holy Spirit is toward “com-union”, that is, “being one with” others (and ultimately with God). This oneness, this solidarity is the foundation of any authentic community. This dynamism toward unity begins with individual persons but can extend to wider communities and even nations.

I was walking through a pharmacy in Boroko recently and picked up a rubber wristband like the ones which many young people are wearing these days. This one had the flag of Papua New Guinea on it and the words: “One tribe, one kantri”. The dream of the Founders of PNG was to form one, independent country. They strove to forge a real unity out of the wonderful diversity in language and culture. The strength of the people of Papua New Guinea in the future will very much depend on the unity that all are able to bring about within the wonderful diversity which exists. The beauty, strength, values of each language group and culture in PNG can enrich and strengthen the one people, the one tribe, the one nation that is developing into the one country of Papua New Guinea.

(An article I wrote which was published by The Catholic Reporter in September 2012 in honor of PNG Independence Day - with some minor changes.)

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Bishops Celebrate Closing Mass at Saint Peter's

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Today, the bishops attending the Seminar for New Bishops from missionary countries celebrated their closing Mass of Thanksgiving under the awe-inspiring masterpiece known as Bernini's Glory behind the main papal altar of Saint Peter's Basilica.

The principal celebrant was His Eminence Cardinal Filioni, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, the sponsor of the seminar.  In his homily he spoke of the three major responsibilities of a bishop:  to teach, to shepherd and to santify the People of God.

These two weeks have been a time of prayer, learning and fraternity among the bishops from all over the world.  I will miss the new friends that I have made in this short time.  I have been inspired by their prayerfulness and encouraged by their pastoral zeal.  Listening to their stories I have come to see that we share many of the same challenges.  Knowing of our unity in faith and prayer will be a source of strength for me as I return to the diocese of Mendi.

There are many problems in our world today.  But I walk away from these two weeks in the Eternal City with a great sense of hope for the Church who continues the saving mission of Jesus in our world... a mission of announcing what we all need to hear:  Good News!

Please pray for these new bishops and know that you are in my prayer as well.

(There will be more coming... so stay tuned!)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Learning from the Poverello

11 September 2012

On Sunday, the Bishops attending the Seminar being sponsored by the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples went on a pilgrimage to Assisi.  We had a brief tour of the Basilica of Saint Francis, a very solemn Mass in the Upper Basilica, an inspiring visit to the tomb of Saint Francis and then a festive lunch hosted most hospitably by the Conventual Friars in the grand refectory of the Sacro Convento.

I couldn't help but think that Saint Francis has much to teach those who are called to the ministry of bishop in the church.... even though he never wanted to be a priest (though tradition tells us that he was a deacon).

Francis was a man of intense prayer, he loved voluntary poverty and simplicity, he was passionately in love with the Lord whom he wanted to following in intimate closeness and he loved the Holy Father and the Church... In all these ways, Francis is a pattern for every Catholic and especially for bishops.

Back now in Rome, our program continues in full force for the rest of this week.  On Monday, Cardinal Grocholewsi spoke to us about Seminary Formation of priests and Cardinal Burke gave a wonderful presentation entitled: "The Bishop and the Administration of Justice".  Today, Cardinal Nicora addressed the group on the topic of "The Administrative and Financial Service of the Bishop" and Archbishop Mamberti of the Vatican Secretariate of State gave a presentation on the importance of relations between the Holy See and the State.

In the afternoon we had group discussions around the central topic of evangelization.

Thank you for your prayers for all the bishops.  You remain in my thoughts and prayers.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Blessed by Pope Benedict XVI

Friday, 7 September 2012
Castel Gandolfo

Today, nine-one bishops from missionary countries throughout the world boarded two large buses and headed for the hills!  Literally.  Castel Gandolfo is the summer residence of the Holy Father.  The pictures show some of the beautiful private gardens of the pope located in the mountains outside Rome, overlooking Lake Albano.

Even on holiday, the Holy Father is keeping a very busy schedule.  He met with the bishops who are in Rome for the Seminar for New Bishops.  Cardinal Filoni, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples gave a short address, and then the Pope, speaking in Italian greeted the new bishops and encouraged us in the ministry entrusted to us by His Holiness.

After this, the Holy Father greeted each bishop individually with the gentleness and joy of a true father.  We should all pray daily for God's blessing on Pope Benedict XVI.a

Ninety-one bishops, all dressed in our black cassocks, walking through the small town of Castel Gandolfo became somewhat of a tourist attraction in itself.  Camera shutters were clicking everywhere.

Before returning to Rome, the buses stopped at a missionary center for training catechists.  In the great dining room there, the bishops were treated to a delicious Italian meal.

When we returned to Saint Paul's College, Cardinal Ouellet, the Prefect of the Congregation of Bishops was waiting for us.  He presented a paper entitled:  The Pastoral Governance of the Bishop.  We have heard that the three major responsibilities of bishops are: to teach, to sanctify and to govern (or shepherd).  Cardinal Ouellet's presentation dealt with the third of these three important tasks of the bishop.

Ninety-one bishops will sleep very well tonight, after a very busy and blessed day.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Called to preach the Risen Lord

Thursday, 6 September 2012

We are staying at the Pontifical International Missionary College of Saint Paul the Apostle for the seminary for new bishops.  The picture above shows the chapel where we gather to pray during the day.  The great mosaic on the front wall shows a scene from the Acts of the Apostles - where the Apostle Paul is preaching to the pagan Greeks.  Acts says that Paul admired the religiosity of the Greeks who even had a shrine to "The Unknown God" - but then he proceeds to preach to them about the One, True God who has made Himself known through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  The upper portion of the mosaic shows the glory of the Resurrected Christ.  It is a beautiful image for meditation for missionary bishops who also preach the resurrection of Jesus to those who have never heard His Name or do not know Him as they should.

Yesterday, in our presentations, we had a good refresher about the Social Teachings of the Church; the Pontifical Mission Societies which support the work of missionary churches throughout the world; finally a wonderful exposition of the Spirituality of the Bishop.  In this last talk Cardinal Amato spoke of the pillars of the Spirituality of th Bishop.

Today, we heard presentation on the very important role of the laity in the mission of the church, and then one on the important diocesan structures, e.g. 1)  Presbyteral Council (in Mendi, we call it the Priests' Senate),  2) The College of Consultors; and finally, 3) the (diocesan) Pastoral Council.

Tomorrow, Friday, we are going to Castel Gandolfo, the summer residence of the Holy Father, for an audience with Pope Benedict XVI.  This will be the highlight of our trip as we meet with the Successor of the Apostle Peter and visible sign of communion in the church.

On Sunday, we will all be going on pilgrimage to Assisi.  That is a special grace for all of us, but especially for Franciscans.  There are three Capuchins here:  Bishop Bill Fey and I... and a Capuchin bishop from Malta serving in Kenya.  There are also three Observant Franciscan bishops here as well.

Please know that you are in my prayers as we go through the various stages of this holy visit to the Eternal City.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Bishops reminded of priorities

Saint Paul's Pontifical International Missionary College, RomeTuesday, 4 September 2012

I'm sitting in the library of the Pontifical Missionary International College of Saint Paul in Rome.  It's 9:00 PM.  (The picture shows the entrance to the college.)  The library is full of bishops from all over the world  doing what I am doing ... checking email and trying to keep in touch with their dioceses back  home.

The program has kept us very busy.  Each day beginnings with Morning Prayer and Mass and then we are into the program.  Different presenters come in throughout the day to give us input on various topics of interest to new bishops.  The presenters are Cardinals, bishops, priests, etc.  Yesterday, we heard great presentations about the work of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.  Today we heard from the Congregation on Divine Worship.  The Cardinal Prefect reminded us that our major role and responsibility as bishops was to lead people to holiness through the celebration of the Eucharist and other Sacraments.  It might seem obvious, but I was glad to hear it, because often, I find myself worrying and spending much time on many other things - like getting a cement mixer to a construction site or finding ways of closing the abyss between expenses and income!

After each presentation, there is a good amount of time left for Questions and Answers.  I am amazed that bishops from Africa, Asia, South America - in many ways - are dealing with many of the same issues that we face in PNG.  It's consoling to know that we are not alone!

Meals are also a great time of sharing.  There is a real fraternity growing among the assembled bishops.  It's one of the great blessings of such a wonderful gathering.

I know that I'm getting many ideas for when I return to Mendi.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Seminar for New Bishops in Rome

Sunday, 2 September, 2012

I am in Rome for the next few weeks for a Seminar for new bishops.  The seminar is being conducted at the Pontifical Missionary College of Saint Paul the Apostle.  There are 91 bishops participating in the seminar.  The bishops come from all over the world: 63 of the bishops are from Africa; from 4 Caribbean countries, 3 from Latin America, 16 bishops from Asia (Azerbaizan, Bangladesh, India, Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka); 6 from Oceania (Pacific Islands, Timor l'Este and three from Papua New Guinea: Bishop Bill Fey, OFM Cap. from the Diocese of Kimbe, WNBP, Bishop Rolando Santos, CM from the Diocese of Alotau, and yours truly from the Diocese of Mendi. 

There is a wonderful spirit of fraternity among the bishops from all over the world.  And it is inspiring to hear the stories of our brother bishops and see how the church is growing throughout the world.  The language of the seminar for prayers and the other sessions will be Italian - but some translation will be provided for the non-Italian speakers.  As mentioned, this is a seminar for new bishops - those who were ordained in the last year or so.  From time to time, I will share some thoughts of what is happening at the seminar... and if I didn't forget to bring the right cable, will upload a few pictures too.  In any case, know that you are in my thoughts and prayers...