Seeking to engage the Church and the peoples of Asia and Oceania to explore pathways for deeper dialogue and broader interfaith collaboration for forests, oceans, and peoples in the region, the River above Asia and Oceania Ecclesial Network (RAOEN) (https://www.raoen.org/) was launched online on 24 November.
RAOEN for forests, oceans, and peoples
The Pacific, one-third of the planet’s surface, is the largest climate determinant on Earth. Oceania and Asia share a common image in the River Above – coming from the Pacific Ocean – is the life, the river feeding all rivers in Asia, seasons and lives. The surface area and ocean currents absorb energy and generate thermals and other air flows, forming the weather patterns and events while sustaining their movement westward. This flow is life-giving and life-taking, especially as the climate is changing and resources are being exhausted. The welfare of the lands and peoples is bound to the welfare of the seas.
Over 100 participants from interfaith and ecclesial networks, environmental groups, and other organizations joined the RAOEN launch with Michel Roy, former Secretary General of Caritas Internationalis, moderating the event. With this context, Pedro Walpole SJ, animator of the RAOEN initiative provided an orientation and the next steps for the new network.
Messages of encouragement and support for the RAOEN initiative were shared by Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle (Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and former Archbishop of Manila), Cardinal Oswald Gracias (Archbishop of Bombay and president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India), Archbishop Peter Loy Chong of Suva, Fiji and president of the Federation of Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of Oceania. Cardinal Peter Turkson, the Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Human Development at the Vatican, expressed his gratitude for the opportunities opened by RAOEN to connect, collaborate, and address the crises the world, especially the poor, is experiencing and worsened by the pandemic.
The Greater Biome of Oceania and Asia is experienced by each person. Biomes are the integral landscapes, seascapes and life systems of a given geography, highlighting the unique connectivity of water, land, life and climate and also all life as affected by human activity.
The principles of Laudato Si’ also emphasize the need to live in harmony with natural systems that sustain balance and diversity by upholding cultural integrity and indigenous relations with the land and sea. This highlights the role of local churches in providing a voice for local concerns as they are called to engage themselves in the culture of communities for effective proclamation and practice in each sociocultural area.
RAOEN seeks to sustain dialogue and collaborative engagements across the Church, indigenous communities, youth groups, and other organizations and institutions, to work towards an understanding on what is possible in caring for the oceans, land, and people by listening to cultural wisdom. Listening and discernment shape the emerging process of collaboration as stories, experiences, and practices from the ground are shared and responsibilities are built.
RAOEN also seeks to develop an atlas to highlight and celebrate the interconnectedness of biodiversity and culture. Collaborators are invited to share news, events, and stories to impart the message of hope as small stories create bigger realities. RAOEN seeks to share in the gifts of the Spirit wherein strength is given to those in unity and action, and an ecclesial identity is humbly acknowledged.
Expectations for RAOEN from indigenous leaders in Asia and Oceania
Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, former UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and an indigenous leader from Asia, emphasized the critical role of indigenous communities in managing the resources in the biomes they relate with and the need to empower them as they uphold their rights to their ancestral domains. From Oceania, Auimatagi Joseph Sapati Moeono-Kolio, head of Greenpeace Pacific, shared his reflections in a video message (https://youtu.be/ArRyapgDDYI). He hopes that RAOEN “foster(s) a greater sense of moral obligation, provide a practical application of faith, and encourage parishioners that the Church doesn’t end when the parish doors close on Sundays.”
Community representatives shared reflections of hope and action and their expectations of RAOEN in deepening commitments and broadening solidarity.
Sister Makareta from the Whanganui-Māori Tribe in the Manawatū-Whanganu region of New Zealand shared the environmental concerns in the Whanganui river. Sister Makareta shared how the Māori draws from their culture in strengthening their values and duties in caring for their land and sustaining life (https://youtu.be/juwtveiBi0A), as embodied in the saying “Ko au te Awa, ko te Awa ko Au” I am the river, and the river is me.
Yeni Kristanti shared about working with the Asmat people of Sawa Erma in Papua New Guinea and how the Sawa Erma parish accompanied the community amid the COVID-19 pandemic (https://youtu.be/NdTJODoEruU). At the onset, the community expressed their concerns, despite quarantine measures, there was an alarming lack of information. The parish recruited resource persons to inform the community and formed outreach teams; food and medicine were regularly provided to those in temporary shelters.
Rosalyn, Country Director of Jesuit Refugee Service-Myanmar, shared the initiatives of the people in Kayah State (https://youtu.be/W9CyFK8EcOA). Despite the community’s efforts in caring for the environment, solid wastes continue to end up in water bodies and worsened by the pandemic. The community mobilized to conduct clean-up drives and developed local action plans. Rosalyn emphasized the significance of RAOEN as a platform for sharing best practices and local stories.
Lastly, Somnuek Sriphornphunsawat from the Emmaus Center in Chiang Mai, Thailand, (https://youtu.be/sKy4ZPYQhDI). Through the practice of “forest ordination,” trees are deemed as sacred and people are prohibited from cutting and destroying ordinated trees, enabling people from different faith and cultural backgrounds to share their experiences.
Towards integral ecology for integral human development in Oceania and Asia
Mauricio López, former Executive Secretary of the pan-Amazonian ecclesial network, REPAM, shared his message of hope and gratitude for the initiatives of RAOEN, ensuring the critical voices of Oceania and Asia are listened to in the global ecclesial networks alliances for integral ecology.
The messages of hope, gratitude, and expectations from ecclesial leaders, indigenous leaders, and community representatives highlight how all are interwoven by the desire to move towards integral ecology for integral human development.
RAOEN’s launch starts a journey that challenges the Catholic Church in Oceania and Asia in listening to the life and concerns among forest and coastal peoples and enabling their voices to be heard and proposes four ways by which all can come together as people and as Church through inter faith dialogue, discernment, deeds, and desires.