06/30/2022, 14.24
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Lisbon summit: First meeting of Catholic leaders in defence of the oceans

At a meeting held on the sidelines of the United Nations Conference on the Oceans, which ends tomorrow, Indigenous and Church representatives from Pacific Island countries discussed how to defend the seas from a Christian perspective. For the archbishop of Suva (Fiji), an anthropocentric paradigm should replace the economic one.

Lisbon (AsiaNews) – The United Nations Conference on the Oceans opened in Lisbon on 27 June and will end tomorrow. Archbishop Peter Loy Chong of Suva, capital of Fiji, who also chairs the Federation of Catholic Bishops' Conferences of Oceania, along with other Catholic leaders from Oceania, took part in the summit for the first time.

On 28 June, representatives of Indigenous peoples, cardinals, missionaries from different congregations and members of the Laudato Si' Movement from the Pacific Island countries took part in a meeting held on the sidelines of the UN summit to give voice to vulnerable populations and present the Catholic perspective on the defence of the environment.

“We are human, we are complicated, we repeat our own mistakes because we are not robots. Change begins from the heart but to be achieved it needs a symbolic language,” said Archbishop Chong.

Indeed, for the prelate, “academic and scientific language” comes with limits. This is why we need a "language for God" and an “anthropocentric paradigm" in lieu of the “economic” one.

Often "we tend to romanticise Indigenous people, but tribal leaders who should be the guardians of the Earth very easily forget their role as soon as you put an envelope full of money in front of their eyes,” the prelate lamented. “The ecological crisis is also an internal crisis of man."

The meeting was titled "Oceania Talanoa", participatory dialogue in the tradition of Fiji, where Tala means to speak and Noa to listen, said Amy Echeverria, a US missionary with the Society of Saint Columban who moderated the meeting.

Fr Pedro Walpole, a Jesuit from the Philippines, coordinator of Ecojesuit and the ecclesial network River Above Asia, also highlighted the complex link between economy and ecology, emphasising the need for consumers to be aware of the interconnection between oceans and human beings.

“The waters of the seas absorb 90 per cent of the excess heat in the atmosphere. Let's think about it when we turn on the air conditioner,” the clergyman said. “Consumers must connect with this reality; otherwise, nothing will change. They must be connected with the heart, not with the pockets.”

Theresa Adler, who grew up in an Aboriginal fishing community, heads Gewagal Cultural Connections in Australia. She stressed the lack of representation of Indigenous peoples, although their ancestral knowledge can play a very important role in the defence of marine ecosystems.

“When you bring home a newborn from the hospital you immerse him in water like a baptism. In my tribe we believe we come from the sea and turn into humpback whales after death. Before coming here to Lisbon, the last sound I heard was the song of the whales.”

Fr Tevita Naikasowalu, coordinator of the Department of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation of the Missionary Society of Saint Columban in Fiji, had similar experiences.

“The umbilical cord of newborns is thrown into the sea as a reminder that you come from there. The ocean is like a mother who nurses her children; it cradles us even when we pollute and exploit her.”

"It is important to be here to give voice to those who do not have it,” said the clergyman, moved, when he spoke about Indigenous peoples, whether today’s tribal peoples or “the ancestors, those who fought, those who died in the name of faith and progress.”

"To the leaders of the world I would like to send a message of simplicity,” Fr Tevita added. “We don't need to grow more to make the world a better place; we need to be humbler by sharing the wealth we already have."

Speaking about the climate emergency, Pelenatita Kara of Caritas Tonga noted that “it is as if we were pointing a loaded gun at our head, the bullet hits us and we pass it on to our children and grandchildren.”

Finally, Sister Robyn Reynolds, a member of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart who teaches at the Yarra Theological Union, bemoaned the absence of women and young people, let alone Indigenous groups, at the main UN conference.

“Young people should not only be encouraged, but we need to learn from them. They are magnificent leaders, but where are they? They were not invited. The Church is missionary by nature.” For her, “being ecological is not an option; she already is.”

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