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Report of Mons. John Atcherley DEW, President of the "Federation of Catholic Bishops' Conferences of Oceania" (F.C.B.C.O.), for Oceania

Geographically, Oceania could not be further from the Middle East, and yet the links between our two regions are strong.
I represent the Federation of Catholic Bishops of Oceania: Australia (32 dioceses) Papua New Guinea (22), New Zealand (6) the Episcopal Conference of the Pacific consisting of 17 dioceses and ecclesiastical territories. In total a diverse and scattered community of about 6 million Catholics, small “islands of humanity” (Radcliffe) in the vastness of the Pacific Ocean that covers one-third of the world' s surface.
In November 1998, all the Bishops of Oceania assembled here for the Synod for Oceania. We were challenged to "Walk the way of Jesus Christ, to tell his truth and to live his life." It is a communio of faith and charity that links us with the Churches of the Middle East, we have come to appreciate the rich diversity members of these Churches bring to Oceania. We recognize their vulnerability in living as minor Churches, and we "are eager to appreciate, understand and promote the traditions, liturgy, discipline and theology of the Eastern Churches." (EIO 12)
Out of Australia's five million Catholics there are a small, but significant number of Catholics who belong to the Eastern Catholic Churches. The two largest Eastern Catholic Churches in Australia are the Maronite and Melkite, each of which is an established diocese (eparchy), with a bishop (eparch) who is a member of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and who from time to time come to the New Zealand Conference meeting. As well as these Eastern Catholic Churches, there are also Chaldean, Syrian, Syro-Malabar and Coptic Catholic Churches.
The Maronite, Melkite and Chaldean Eparchies extend into New Zealand, offering pastoral and liturgical services to their communities there too.
The wider Middle East is present in Oceania through migrants and refugees who have made their home in the region: European Jews from earliest days of Australia and New Zealand settlement, as well as refugees from Germany in the 1930s, and survivors of the Shoah; Lebanese, Palestinians, Egyptians; Iraqi, both Christian and Muslim; and in more recent years, Kurdish refugees from Iraq, Iran and Turkey.
Our historical links are strongly marked by war and peace .
Australian and New Zealand troops (ANZACS) trained in Egypt during the early years of the Great War (1914 - 1918); sadly the next generation was back in Egyptian desert again in the early 1940s of the Second World War.
Fijian peace keeping forces have served with the United Nations in both Lebanon and Sinai.
These links are cemented today through the presence of many pilgrims from Oceania who visit the Holy Land; through refugee resettlement; aid development programmes of Caritas Internationalis; the presence of international religious orders who are dedicated to educational work, or the support of the Holy Places.
Response to the Instrumentum Laboris:
There are two themes of the Instrumentum Laboris I would like to respond to from the experiences of Oceania.
1.Communion and Witness;
The Instrumentum Laboris has brought to our attention in a new way the challenges facing the Christians in the Middle East: the complex political conflicts, questions of freedom of religion and conscience, living in daily contact as a minority in majority Islamic or Jewish communities, and the constant movement of peoples through emigration and immigration. We are far away, but aware that we are linked to all Christians in the Middle East through a common baptism, ecclesial tradition, faith in Jesus Christ and commitment to his mission. We would like our Christian brothers and sisters in the Middle East to know that we value this communion, that we commit ourselves to stand in solidarity as they suffer, and will support them in prayer and practical assistance in the challenges they face daily.
2. A commitment to interfaith relations:
The Churches in Oceania are novices in this field, we have much to learn from the sustained commitment of the churches of the Middle East to the dialogue of Abrahamic faiths. We recognize the complexity of the historical and cultural context in which this dialogue is carried out with the signs of hope in the peace process, as well as the setbacks of misunderstanding, persecution and betrayal.
The Introduction to the Instrumentum Laboris speaks of the need for Christians to get know their Jewish and Muslim neighbours well if they are to collaborate with them in the fields of religion, social interaction and culture for the good of society. Remembering the need for religion to become the basis of peace and for promoting the spiritual and material values of people the following efforts have been made in Australia and New Zealand.

[00021-02.04] [RC004] [Original text: English]


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