Return to Edition Index

Our Ocean Home

14 December, 2022

Mary Anne Baillie is a parishioner of St. Patrick’s parish, Mackay and has a keen interest in the implementation of the encyclical, Laudato Si. On November 28th -30th she participated in an online conference called “Our Ocean Home,” hosted by the Australian Catholic University and the Vatican department for promoting Human development. Mary Anne offers some reflections on the event.

Some years ago, I returned to Mackay, where I was born and grew up, to enjoy my retirement.  Mackay is located on the coast between the Great Barrier Reef and the coal mines of the hinterland. This geographic position creates a tension: with the need to protect the fragile beauty of the Barrier Reef, and to ensure Queensland benefits from the coal industry. Notably, Mackay is a part of Oceania.

The Archbishop Peter Loy Chong, of Suva, Fiji, and President of Federation of the Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of Oceania, addresses the impact of climate change on Oceania; “We are the Catholic Bishops of Oceania, and we want to be prophets for the ocean and Oceania peoples.”[1] The Conference will hold its next meeting in Suva, Fiji, from February 5th to 10th 2023. The archbishop hopes that “We will speak to the world to commit to its caring for the ocean. This is the first and most important step towards caring for mother ocean, our common home.”[2] Looking to  use a synodal model, this event holds significance for our part of the world as the bishops undertake to listen to the people of Oceania who are daily living with the impact of the climate crisis, caused by rising sea levels.

I recently participated in an online event called “Our Ocean Home,” aimed at building awareness about next year’s meeting in Suva. This online public event from November 28th to 30th was hosted by Australian Catholic University and the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. Meeting for two hours each day, the event followed the process of Storytelling, Prayer, Theological reflection, Dialogue, and the sharing of emerging insights. So, after praying together, there was storytelling from citizens of the islands. Then, reflections were offered by various scientists, notably former Professor Jeremy Hills of The University of the South Pacific who said science alone could not solve the global environmental crisis facing the people of Oceania. Theology too has a role. Citing Pope Francis’ Integral Ecology Paradigm (LS #137 – # 162), he argues “that we need to modulate our science towards caring for the ocean, putting a person right at the centre of the ocean”. Professor Hills continues, “Science needs to be used for supporting our interconnected worldview and our dialogues with the ocean, rather than being a solution on its own.” Next came theology, especially from Archbishop Loy Chong, who spoke of the need for “contextual theology” that places theology in the geographic and cultural milieu of peoples’ daily experience. The archbishop proposes a theology for Oceania that speaks to our world about God, in situations of vulnerability; like the people of Oceania whose existence is now perilous because of rising sea levels. Then came dialogue in small groups, leading to the emergence of new insights.

“Our Ocean home” was clearly synodal.  After the theological reflection we gathered into small groups for further dialogue.  Bishops, scientists, clergy, religious, and lay people all shared their insights from the processes of storytelling and theological reflection.  There was no hierarchy; everyone had the same amount of time to speak.  I was part of a group that included Archbishop Peter, who was eager to hear from each participant. The final step of the process was to share our emerging insights. This online event showed how the church of Oceania is seeking to implement Laudato Si, leaving us with the challenge; “What is one thing our Church could do to make a significant difference in our part of the world Oceania?”[3] I was glad to have participated in an event that connects our Catholic theology to such a big issue of our time

[1] See Media Release 8th Dec 2022 from Australia Catholic University Protecting the people of Oceania from marine threats requires science and human dialogue.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.