Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
First of all, as bishop, I welcome our special guests, Fr. Roger and sister Benedicta, both of them working at the National Office of Community Animation Service, (Movement for a Better World). Some know about this but many of you do not know: it is that the diocese owes so much to this Movement for a Better World for introducing us to the spirituality of communion and to the methods we can use to build up a Church in line with the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, a Church of Participation and Communion. This has led us to the writing of our Diocesan Pastoral Plan and its implementation. We are honoured and blest by your presence.
I also welcome all of you participants in this Assembly, in a very special way the representatives of the far away parishes. Your presence and your participation in this gathering will enhance our communion as one People
Our Journey continues and it is the fruit of our strong faith, our love and daily commitment. As we kept moving forward during the last four years we worked so hard to give a very solid foundation to our lives as Catholics – and that foundation is the Word of God in the Bible
I acknowledge the extremely hard work of the previous DTPA members: Fr. Vinod Joseph Dmello, SMM, Sr. Wilhelmina Sundu, FMI and Mr. Billy Kuruka. They led the process of walking together with the Bible (Word of God) in the billums that are our hearts. They coordinated all the planning and programming that were needed; they prepared and organised Bible courses; they prepared programs about the Bible for the radio; they kept busy with formation programs in parishes; they kept alive the diocesan newsletter Challenge; they challenged the Diocesan Services and the Parish Teams to give their best in following and implementing the Diocesan Target, keeping the SCC alive and working with the people to alleviate the impact of the social issues affecting their lives. Fr. Vinod wrote many project proposals so that we would have the funding necessary for all that work. Because Fr. Vinod and Sr. Wilhelmina were both called to other ministries before the end of this phase we were not able to give justice to the new members of the DTPA, Fr. Leo Kartika, SMM and Sr. Joycelyn Landeu, MSC . Luckily Mr. Billy Kuruka remained a member of the DTPA. But I think that despite the lack of time to give orientation to the new team, we are moving forward with the grace of God and the learning of the new members. Fr. Leo and Sr. Joycelyn, thank you for accepting to coordinate the Diocesan Pastoral Plan with Mr. Billy Kuruka despite the shortness of your initiation and training for your new responsibility.
I often wonder why we were able to give Bible courses during the four years of this phase to all the people in the Diocese. Why were we able to enthrone the Bible in all the homes of the diocese on Bible Sunday? Surely it is because of our faith and our love for the Word of God. But certainly it is also because we have methods to help us put our good spirituality, our ideas, our dreams, etc. into actions. We think together, we plan together and we do together. I know that the dioceses that do not have such methods to involve all the people in a process as ours are struggling to implement plans, whether it is their own diocesan pastoral plan or putting into action the Conference Pastoral Plan. Sometimes even ourselves, even though we have the methods, we do not program our good ideas or our planned actions and then it is simply forgotten.
And now we move forward, setting our minds and our hearts on the Demands of our Faith. It is not only about knowing better our faith but I think more importantly to live it each day. How can we do that? Simply by accepting and adopting the lifestyle of Jesus and faithfully live his teachings. And that lifestyle is characterized by his love. To follow his way, live like he did, is to learn to love as he did
You will see in the presentation of the Diocesan Planning that we would like to make one important change in the structure of the levels. Why do this? Simply because we feel that our present situation is leading us to bring newness in order to serve better our people and move forward towards our goal. In the Gospel Jesus talks of new wineskins that are needed when we have new wine. The new ideas, insights are like new wine. For these ideas and new insights to flourish and give life we need the structures to support and back them up. These structures are like the new wineskins.
We decided that during this Diocesan Assembly we will celebrate special and significant events that are touching our life as a diocese. The 300th anniversary of the death of St. Louis-Marie de Montfort, the Patron Saint of the Diocese; the 50th anniversary of the establishment of our Diocese; the Bible enthronement in all the homes of the Diocese; the Jubilee Year of Mercy and the Demands of Faith that will be at the core of our next Phase
I think that the spirituality of communion, the capacity building of all our people and the efforts towards self-reliance are most important in order to make of our diocese a living Melanesian Catholic Church. I assure you that during my last years with you I will devote myself wholeheartedly to build up the hearts, the minds and the hands of our people. There is nothing that can give more joy to a leader than to see his people stand up, take active part and become co-responsible for the life of the group. As your bishop I often experience that joy and I am sure that there is plenty more to come.
We can say that our Diocesan Pastoral Plan is a Plan of Diocesan Spirituality. It is a concrete expression of how TOGETHER we, the members of the Church in this diocese, moved by the Holy Spirit want to respond to the call of God to become holy. Our DPP is our chosen way to enter into this communion of holiness. All our choices are related to this main option and give us identity. We are a Church of participation and communion. This fundamental option is to enter into communion with God, one another and nature, accepting the gifts of God through Christ and in the Spirit. And we express this as a body, together.
The word TOGETHER is most important. We share the same vision, we walk the same journey, we hold hand to one another, we care for one another, the common good is most important to us, we foster participation all the time and at all levels, all have a chance to contribute, it is our decision, our plan, our mission, our life and our future. I here invite the parish Teams, the Diocesan Services and all the Teams at village or settlement levels to live communion in your team. Team work is a must if we want to build communion among ourselves and our people. The leaders in their groupings / teams need to be an example to the others (pray together, reflect together, plan and programme together, share the tasks, then report to one another and evaluate the actions planned together). At the end of the day this is where the difference starts to take place in our efforts not to live and work in isolation but in communion and in harmony. The good example always speaks louder than the words.
The spirituality of communion is like the soul and source of energy of the Church that we are. We strive to live relationships of love among ourselves as those in the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This path leads to holiness. Together we reflect and seek the will of God, together we decide to respond to the will of God, together we do the actions according to the will of God and consequently together we become holy.
I read something very interesting a few days ago. It was about circular living. One question to you all: "What kind of organigram do we have for the diocese and the parishes? What does it look like?" (Circular model – communitarian model).
When we faithfully follow Jesus and understand the Gospel well we find out that what is proposed to us is to work towards creating a circle community. In a circle there is no bottom or top. All are equal. All are facing each other. All are in a better position to know and respect each other. (How can we respect the person we are climbing over to get to the top of the ladder?) All are in a position to share what they have with those who have less. We can begin to do this in our homes and then in our Small Christian Communities. These are very good place to start. And then all the SCC’s facing one another and all equal. I personally find that way of thinking very enriching and challenging.
This year within the Conference of Bishops of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the establishment of our dioceses. A theme that Fr. Victor Roche, our General Secretary promotes for this jubilee is FROM MISSION TO CHURCH AND CHURCH TO MISSION. I find this interesting because we have to always remember that we are a missionary Church, called to spread the Gospel and share the Good News with all people.
Our Diocesan Pastoral Plan is a wonderful instrument to mould us into a Missionary Church. Pope Francis, in The Joy of the Gospel wrote that once baptised we become missionary disciples. I quote Pope Francis from his message to the World Youth Day on July 27, 2013: "Be servants of communion and of the culture of encounter. I would like you to be almost obsessed about this. Be so without being presumptuous, imposing ‘our truths’, but rather be guided by the humble yet joyful certainty of those who have been found, touched and transformed by the Truth who is Christ, ever to be proclaimed".
We are always struck with the shortage of priests. This burden or problem always makes it more difficult to move fully forward on the Journey of Faith but at the same time gives an opportunity to religious or lay people to take on responsibility with courage and great love for the people.
Some people are worried because they see that the missionaries from Canada are very little in number now. There is only one sister left from Canada, Sister Pierrette and she is going finish during the first part of next year. And I am the only Canadian man left and I have a maximum of five years left if I remain in good health. But why worry? This diocese belongs to God and is on a Journey of Faith because of his rich blessings to us. We are the Church. I personally find it interesting and enriching that our missionaries are now coming from many different places (India, Indonesia, Madagascar, Malawi, Congo, Australia, and we have sisters, brothers and lay people coming from other Provinces and Dioceses and Religious Congregations in Papua New Guinea. Bishop Gerard came and we moved forward; I replaced him and we kept on moving forward; when I leave another one will come and we will still move forward. I strongly believe that it has been like this and will continue to be like this because we have our Diocesan Pastoral Plan. What a beautiful treasure this plan is to all of us! Let me describe it in a few words: TO WANT TOGETHER (common vision, our will and our decisions); TO WORK TOGETHER (shared responsibility, cooperation and collaboration); TO BE TOGETHER (oneness, trust, interpersonal relationships in love, harmony, unity in diversity, community holiness).
You probably also worry sometimes about the change of leadership for the diocese. I must say that I also do worry at times. I ask all of you to pray so that hopefully early next year I will be able to present a request to Rome for an auxiliary bishop. When such a request is presented a list of three suitable candidates needs to be provided.
"The Holy Year of Mercy invites us to reflect on the relationship between communication and mercy. The Church, in union with Christ, the living incarnation of the Father of Mercies, is called to practise mercy as the distinctive trait of all that she is and does. What we say and how we say it, our every word and gesture, ought to express God’s compassion, tenderness and forgiveness for all. Love, by its nature, is communication; it leads to openness and sharing. If our hearts and actions are inspired by charity, by divine love, then our communication will be touched by God’s own power" (Pope Francis, 50th World Communication Day, 2016).
To all of you, participants in this Diocesan Assembly: do not forget that you are here on behalf of all the people of the Diocese. It is not the forum to discuss and try to find solutions for some smaller problems you might have in your parish or your Service. Not at all! Here we have to look at the bigger picture, the picture of a diocese, the picture of a People of God on a Journey of Faith, a People united because they share One Vision, a People growing in holiness as we strive to live loving relationships as those lived between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. At this Assembly we think Diocese.
We desire to follow the way of Jesus and our Patron Saint, St. Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort loved Jesus and followed his way of love. Montfort was a man promoting renewal in the Church at his time. In his parish missions he was encouraging and preparing the people to live fully the grace of their baptism, follow the teachings and ways of Jesus in their everyday life and become missionary disciples. He also discovered an easy way to go to Jesus, stay close to him and see him in all the brothers and sisters, especially the poor, the sick and the neglected. That is the way of Mary. Mary, model of faith, person who put her whole life at the service of God and Jesus, continues to do that work today. She is with us. She walks with us our journey of faith. Mary and Montfort will be very active participants in our Diocesan Assembly.
We appreciate all the hours of hard work given to prepare this Assembly. Let us appreciate the services of all those who have taken on responsibility for the smooth running of the Assembly.
We cannot live the experience of this Diocesan Assembly without thinking of our many friends and benefactors who pray for us and help us financially. These people of faith are part of our big family. They love us and we love them.
Feel blessed because you are here. Take part fully in the silence, the prayers, the listening, the reflections, the sharing, and the decisions. And let us celebrate this great moment of grace.
We keep a moment of silence to think about all the members of our Church, our Diocese who are not with us physically in this Assembly. We know that they are one with us and praying for us.
Dear Brothers and Sisters of Daru-Kiunga Diocese,
As St. Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort is also the Patron Saint of our Diocese it is very important that we take part in these celebrations.
I sometimes wonder how did the three Montfort Families end up in this very remote and underdeveloped part of Papua New Guinea. And how is it that this Diocese is one of the very few places in the world where the three Montfort Families work closely together. Some ideas that come up into my mind when I think of this is that Montfort has a very special love for the poor and we can easily say that all the people in the Western Province are poor and live in a poor place where not much development has taken place over the years. I also think that God knew very well that to come here to do mission work and establish the Catholic Church and remain faithful to our commitment we needed the strong and on-going support of one another and a spirit of team work in order not be discouraged by the daily challenges and struggles.
I take this occasion to share a few thoughts about Montfort will all of you so that you can grow in holiness by imitating him.
Montfort is a man of God: His motto was GOD ALONE. That says a lot.
Montfort and Jesus: Montfort had a great love of Jesus. He was very close to Jesus. His wish was to always know more about Jesus, love him more and follow him more faithfully each day. In one of his sermons he wrote: "Jesus, our Savior, true God and true man, must be the ultimate end of all our devotions; otherwise they would be false and misleading".
Montfort and Mary: His love of Mary was a great part of his life. For him Mary was the way to go to God just as God had chosen her as the way for Jesus to come to us. He promoted devotion to mother Mary but as a means to be more united with Jesus. Most people didn’t know how to read and so he encouraged them to say the rosary so that they could meditate on the mysteries of Christ.
Montfort and the Bible: a great love for the Word of God in the Bible. Spent hours and hours reading the Bible. All his teachings are based on the word of God. He always had a Bible in his billum.
Montfort and the poor: he saw Jesus in the poor. He often had a poor with him. To take care of the poor people was a priority in his ministry. He organised teaching of catechism for the poor.
Montfort and baptism: through his priestly ministry, especially in all his parish missions Montfort wanted the people to renew the promises made at their baptism and live fully the life as a child of God.
It is not surprising that the Montfort Missionaries accepted to come and bring the good news of Jesus Christ to the poor people of the Western Province where nobody wanted to come. It is not surprising that they stayed here despites the numerous challenges. Like Montfort they trusted fully in the Divine Providence. God wants us to be here and so he will take care of us and of them.
It is not surprising that the Legion of Mary and the Rosary Groups are increasing and very much alive in our diocese.
It is not surprising that we try to go the most remote places where the poorest people live.
It is not surprising that our people love Mary dearly.
It is not surprising that our people try to develop a personal relationship with Jesus their Saviour.
It is a time for us to thank the Lord for having Montfort as our Patron Saint. He is a model of faithful and dedicated Christian living. He can teach us how to be persons of prayer, how to cherish the word of God in the Bible, how to walk in the company of Jesus and Mary, how to let the Holy Spirit help and guide us, how to care for Jesus in the poor and the sick, how to reach out to others with zeal, how to live fully the graces received at baptism, how to face the many challenges of life and trust fully that God will take care of us as he is our Loving Father.
Let us pray to Montfort and he will obtain abundant blessings for us.
+ Gilles Côté, s.m.m.
Bishop of Daru-Kiunga