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Who is my neighbour?


It is a feature of our current times, in large cities especially, that people do not know their neighbours. Such is the pace of modern life; such is the transitory nature of people’s stay in one place that the sheer time needed for such bonds to develop is often not there.

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Four conferences of bishops are members of a group that meets every four years: the Catholic Bishops Conference of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands; the Federation of Catholic Bishops Conference of Oceania; the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference and the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference. The latest meeting, which concluded last month in Fiji, was more than a chance to get to know our neighbours. It also sought to:

I would say that these aims were easily fulfilled.

Another dimension to this regular gathering was the overlay of the continental phase of the Synod on Synodality. The presence, in particular, of Cardinal Michael Czerny, Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, and Sr Nathalie Becquart XMCJ, an undersecretary of the Synod of Bishops, and other Vatican officials assisted this dimension of the continental discussion.

They commented on how the problems facing Oceania, the main one spoken of by so many bishops being climate change and its impacts, were not theoretical but affect people now.

Although the number of Catholics in Oceania is only nine million and represents just 0.8 per cent of Catholics worldwide, there was a freshness and joy.

The main program was arranged around three themes: care for our Ocean Home; how might we in Oceania become a more synodal Church; and how might we equip our people for mission.

I had the grace of sitting next to Bishop Paul Donoghue SM of the Diocese of Rarotonga, Cook Islands. His is a diocese of more than 5 million sq km, where only 2 per cent is land. There are 2500 Catholics in the diocese, 15 parishes and four missions with four priests and six Religious.

Interestingly, he spoke of how the concerns expressed in the synodal documents and the consultation leading up to our gathering deeply resonated with his diocese, which had recently, at great expense, held its own diocesan assembly.

Maybe as part of our Together on the Way process we might explore ways of assisting other places such as the Diocese of Rarotonga.

Peace I leave with you

I recently had the chance to share the Lunar New Year with the Vietnamese Catholic Community at Our Lady of the Boat People Church in Pooraka, welcoming the Year of the Cat.

A lively and prayerful faith-filled Eucharistic celebration was concluded by a special ceremony. Wheeled to the centre of the church was a tree, hanging from which were hundreds of rolled up scrolls each containing, in Vietnamese and English, a quote from the Scriptures. The idea was that I choose one, seemingly at random, and give that to the community, which would then form part of the guidance of the community for the coming year.

Next the leaders of the community chose one for themselves, after which all were invited to come forward and to take one of the scrolls. This was done with great expectation and reverence, as each looked forward with anticipation to what the message this year might be. People came forward with receptive and prepared hearts. Hearts that you could see had been tilled by the joys and hopes that life had led them through in the past 12 months. Hearts that had learned that God was faithful; God was and is good. Hearts that were hungering for the Word of Life.

Mine was a quote from St John’s Gospel ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.’ (John 14:27) Accepting the peace that comes only from God is an art one learns over many years. Accepting what that means, namely, not letting your hearts be neither afraid or troubled, similarly is a lifetime’s work. Coming into Lent it is a personal reminder to me that actually God is in charge and is at the centre of all that we are and do.

This is not something I had come across before. It was easy to see the significance and importance of listening to God’s Word before we are or do anything. It was easy to understand that hungering for the Word of God is a seed planted there by God; the God who speaks to each of us, with hope. May we all learn these lessons.

Wishing everyone a joyful journey toward Easter during Lent. May it be a grace-filled time of renewal as we open our hearts to God, our neighbour.

Pope Francis has a good reflection on Lenten Penance and the Synodal Journey. It can be found at

God is good, good indeed.


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