Tonga Bishop’s Oceania message to Synod of Bishops


Editor’s note — Bishop Soane Patita Paini Mafi, Bishop of Tonga and President of Conferentia Episcopalis Pacifici (CEPAC), attended the Synod of Bishops held Oct. 5-19 in Rome. Here is a written reflection he shared with the pope and his brother bishops.


Most Holy Father, Brothers and Sisters in Christ, I send warm greetings to you from CEPAC Conference of Bishops in Oceania.

The focus of my short reflection is on Part II, Chapter 1, paragraph 50, of the Instrumentum Laboris which points to the responsibility of bishops and the clergy and the charismatic gifts in the pastoral care of the family.

The one point that I would like to stress as outlined in paragraph 50 which says: “The engagement of so many brothers and sisters in the pastoral care of the family can lead to new effective forms of service for the Church community, which, because of the presence of the Holy Spirit, is emboldened to ‘go out’ of itself in mission.”

I was giving a talk during the great Year of the Priest in one parish in my diocese. The hall was packed and I was passionately talking to the audience about the pastoral role of priests. At one point in the talk I had to make a quote from Cardinal Hume’s pastoral letter to Bishops and Clergy in regards to the Year of the Priest. And so I cited one phrase from His Eminence’s own words with a slight tone of emphasis: “When priests move the people move.” Immediately the hall, to my surprise, was filled with applause and clapping and then slowly came to a halt. I then continued my speech and this time I re-phrased the quote that I had spoken of with my own re-interpretation: “… So when the priest is on fire, you people will surely be on fire.” The entire hall immediately went crazy, and it took a little while before I could stop the people from their ongoing jeering.

At the end of my talk I asked a young couple who were among the listeners, “Why were you so noisy during that part of my speech?” The reply came with something like this: “Bishop Mafi, it was because it is really true. We are very simple people but we will always be ready for something more. And somehow today, it was like that we had been waiting for this for so long, for someone like you, to say those things to us. We know that priests and especially bishops do have the mana (meaning the power). And we need to see the mana from you and we will be convinced and be able to pass that mana to others. We love this Church so much, no matter what. For we know that that true power is in here. Though we know that we have weaknesses and that the Church has her own, we still feel that we can do much more in the church and for her mission. All that we need is some encouragement and empowerment from priests. We know that he has very special grace and power from God to guide God’s people. Tell them that we love them and we do pray for them during this Holy Year of the Priest.” Then came, my dear brothers and sisters, the real punch line, “… And please tell the priests, as you have just told us today, that they do have that “fire”, and so let us be on fire.”

To me this real story represents a common conviction that is particularly in the hearts of our Catholic people in the Pacific. This was also reflected in the responses collected in the Linneamenta. The spiritual holiness of the pastor, his creativity and his warm relationships to people and especially to families and married couples, are really what counted.

The churches in our CEPAC region is so called the “young churches” of Oceania, and most of our dioceses had only been around for about a couple of centuries except for one or two who were around a little bit longer. Our own responses to the Lineamenta had been quite revealing in regards to the challenges that Marriage and Family life have been facing in our region. We are obviously not exempted from those negative influences that affect family life in other parts of the globe. Globalization continues its impact both in its good and harmful ways. The seduction of wealth and the pull of relativism, careerism, and hedonism had crept in with their subtle bites. Migration and ‘hunt for work’ had their own good and bad effects too.

So again the big message here is for the renewed pastoral roles of the priests. His direct encounter with families and couples has to be in the language and ways of the people — the language of simplicity and humility, the way of love and of mercy, the way of Christ, the good Shepherd.

Are we convinced of having the “fire?”