By Paul Dobbyn
AN “overwhelming religious illiteracy” in Catholic schools and the loss of Catholic identity in public life were among issues discussed at the gathering of the Oceania bishops in New Zealand.
More than 80 bishops and delegates attended the Assembly of the Federation of Catholic Bishops Conferences of Oceania in Wellington from May 12 to 16.
Topics discussed included Australia’s immigration policy and detention centres as well the negative impacts of modern social communications on once-isolated communities and the unity, energy and hope shown in communities throughout the Oceania region.
The bishops also discussed topics that would be considered at the Extraordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops to be held in Rome in October this year.
Lismore Bishop Geoffrey Jarrett said many discussions had centred on the topic of Catholic identity.
“The loss of Catholic identity in public life begins with loss of Catholic identity in the formative years of upbringing,” he said.
“Although many young people self-identify as Christians and/or Catholics, and see a certain importance in the historical figure of Jesus, there is among them, even those educated in Catholic schools, an ‘overwhelming religious illiteracy’.
“There is an incomprehension of such basic realities as Christ’s work of salvation, and the place of the Church and the seven sacraments in making this salvation present and accessible today.”
Bishop Jarrett said ordinary parish life and structures were not seen as providing a place for such young people to grow in this understanding.
“However, this can certainly be achieved in a Catholic school environment which is both clearly linked to the evangelical witness of its local parishes, and in which teachers themselves are knowledgeable, enthusiastic and practising Catholics,” he said.
Brisbane Auxiliary Bishop Brian Finnigan said “many among this wonderful gathering of bishops from a variety of dioceses faced a variety of difficulties”.
“These included violence, (one bishop had a young priest shot dead), lack of resources, difficulties in traveling, corruption in public life and rising sea waters,” he said.
The assembly, which is held every four years, brings together Catholic bishops from across the region to discuss issues and challenges facing the Church in Oceania.
Toowoomba Bishop Robert McGuckin, who was elected to a four-year term as vice president of the assembly, said “the communities we serve are culturally very diverse, but we have common pastoral tasks”.
Bishop Jarrett said the assembly had gathered “a remarkable group of men of many nations, united in the face of social and spiritual challenges in a common apostolic endeavour, with so much energy and hope”.
During the Opening Mass the Apostolic Nuncio to New Zealand and the Pacific Islands, Archbishop Martin Krebs, read a message sent by the Holy See’s Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, on behalf of Pope Francis.
In it Pope Francis offered his prayerful support and his hope that during their time together the Bishops would find inspiration and strength for their common mission in the service of God’s people.