Bishop Rolando C. Santos, C.M.
Alotau-31 May 2014
My dear brother priests, sisters, and all the faithful of the diocese of Alotau,
The grace and peace of the Risen Christ be with you all!
We have just celebrated the Year of Faith – a time to give thanks to God for the supreme gift of our Christian faith and a time to challenge ourselves to carry on the urgent mission of transmitting the Gospel in a new way that reaches out esp. to those who have drifted away or live in the fringes of the Church. In the opening statement of his recent apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis says that “The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus (E.G.,1) This encounter is the fruit of evangelization. He then tells us that “an evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral!” (EG, 10) because preaching the Gospel should always be a “delightful and comforting joy” for all those who carry it out.
Evangelizing the Family. During the Second General Assembly of the Catholic Church in Madang (Nov 5-11, 2013) and the recent Annual General Meeting of the Catholic Bishops Conference in Port Moresby, the bishops resolved to make “Evangelization in and through Families” the theme for this year. This is in line with the solicitude that Pope Francis has for the family of today as he gathers bishops from all over the world for an extraordinary synod on the Family this coming October. In solidarity with the Holy Father, let us make the family the focus of our evangelization and catechesis in the diocese this year. Evangelization is the most valuable service we can give to families. We evangelize the family so that it may become a believing and evangelizing community (FC 51). It is my hope that we do not leave a single family unevangelized. Through our renewed commitment to the work of evangelization, may every single family experience the joy of the Gospel and become a light of Christ to others.
In our diocese, we see a significant number of people who suffer from broken homes and failed marriages. There are women and innocent children who become victims of violence and abuse right inside their own homes. The home is becoming a dangerous place to live in when it should be a place of love, comfort, security and joy. Oh, how we dream of a home where people are treated with respect and grow into healthy persons as children of God. This can only come about when people accept and believe in the Gospel and live it. Jesus is at the heart of the Gospel. He is God’s message of love for the world, the One who came that we may have life and have it more abundantly.
A believing and evangelizing family. In the Apostolic Letter, Familiaris Consortio, John Paul II, mentions four general tasks of the family. 1) Forming a community of persons where love binds each and every member of the family together. 2) Serving life which begins at conception in the womb and ends at the tomb. Begetting children, caring for them and educating them are the primary ways whereby couples serve life. 3) Participating in the development of society. “The family (is) the first school of the social virtues that are the animating principle of the existence and development of society itself” (FC 42). 4) Sharing in the life and mission of the Church. The family is called to build up the Kingdom of God in history. As a believing and evangelizing community in dialogue with God, the family is at the service of man (FC 52). The family can only do this if it is also a praying family. The family that prays together, stays together. Family prayer, esp. the rosary, should hold a special place in every Christian home. The family is called to be a domestic Church where the Word of God is read, shared, explained and lived, and which worships God together in the celebration of the sacraments, esp. the Eucharist. Prayer is the life blood of the family. As the Lord said, “without Me, you can do nothing.”
Mixed Marriages. One of the common concerns raised by parishioners in our diocese is marriage with non-Catholics. Sometimes the non-Catholic party is not open to marriage in the Catholic Church and this deprives the Catholic party of Holy Communion. Other times we just lose our member to other churches. We need to instruct well our faithful and encourage them to marry Catholics like themselves or non-Catholics who would respect their Catholic belief. Catholics should do the same for their non-Catholic partner. According to Church law, mixed marriages are not to be done without the express permission of the local bishop. The bishop can permit this only if there is a just and reasonable cause. The Catholic party has to declare that he or she is prepared to remove dangers of defecting from the faith. He or she has to make a sincere promise to do all in his or her power for the children to be baptised and brought up in the Catholic Church. The other party should be informed of the promise and obligation of the Catholic party. Before receiving the sacrament of marriage, both parties are to be instructed about the purposes and essential properties of marriage. (Can. 1124-1125). Both parties should knowingly and freely vow to love each other faithfully to the end of their lives and care for their children as Christ has loved us.
Failed marriages. There are no perfect husbands, no perfect couples, no perfect marriages and no perfect families. Every person brings into this world his/her own share of weakness and sinfulness. This is the reason why many marriages fail. This, however, should not discourage couples nor make them lose faith in the institution of marriage. Conflicts in marriage naturally arise. Our Christian faith gives us the power and the strength to deal with these and to grow from the experience. We are called to forgive each other and grow in understanding, compassion and love for one another. Marriages don’t have to fail in spite of the many difficulties and hardships involved. What is needed is prayer and a lot of patience, gentleness, humility, and the faith to believe that God loves us unconditionally in spite of our many weaknesses. To love is to learn to be patient, to suffer in love and to forgive. With the grace of God, we are capable of doing this if we unite our sufferings with Jesus who suffered for love of us. For this reason, we all have need of grace and redemption. We need Christ to help us stay in love. Just like the couple at the wedding feast of Cana, couples need to invite Christ into their married life. Let them heed the voice of Mary who directs us to her Son: “do whatever he tells you”. When we obey the Lord, we are more capable of accepting the crosses and trials of life and turn these into blessings which bring joy and gladness to those who obey. We can do this if we pray. Those in failed marriages should never stop from praying and going to church. Let us heed the voice of the Good Shepherd who says: “Come to Me all you who labor and are heavily burdened and I will give you rest.”
- It is sad to know that there are many couples who live together without the benefit of a formal marriage. They deprive themselves of what is essential for every love relationship to endure: commitment. To cohabit without getting married makes partners unsure and insecure with each other. It also places the future of their children in an uncertain situation. Christian marriage is a sacred act of total self-donation, where couples give themselves to each other completely, without reservation, in total fidelity to each other to the end of their lives. They do so while accepting the responsibility to be open to life, to the begetting and rearing of children according to the plan of God. Mere cohabitation places in danger the security and dignity of each partner, as well as the welfare of children who come out from this union. How many couples enter into such unions without much thought and reflection? How many deprive themselves of the blessings and graces of the sacrament to assist them in the many challenges and trials of married life? Do not make the mistake of cohabiting with a partner when you can have something better and more secure. Get your partner to get married with you. His response will prove to you whether he truly loves you. Do not be afraid of a life-time commitment. The only kind of love that is worthy of such a name is love that is firm and lasting.
Adultery. There is no sexual act in the Gospels more clearly defined as sinful and immoral as the sin of adultery. “You have learnt how it was said: “You must not commit adultery. But I say this to you: if a man looks at a woman lustfully, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Mt. 5:27-28). Adultery clearly violates the fidelity that is demanded of married couples. It is a violation of personal dignity and the respect one should have for oneself, the partner, one’s spouse and children, and most importantly, for God’s plan on marriage. How many homes have been left broken and clans divided because of the sin of adultery? How many couples have separated creating deep wounds and scars in their lives and the lives of their children? However, the sin of adultery can be forgiven. Instead of hatred and vengeance, there is need for forgiveness, healing, redemption and reconciliation which come from much prayer and penance. As Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery: Neither do I condemn you. But, go and sin no more.
Premarital chastity. A relationship which does not bear the mark of personal discipline and self-control is bound to failure. Marriage is not for beginners or teen-agers, but only for mature and responsible people. True love knows how to wait. Chastity is a virtue which helps us to control and direct our sexual passions according to the will of God. “Making love” is only for married people who have already vowed themselves to each other in a permanent commitment. This kind of love is not the product of a passionate feeling or a passing emotion. It is a decision to respect and care for the gift of one another, and the gift of new life which can ensue from such a relationship. Sexual intercourse is the highest physical expression of this love. It is only done by people who have truly committed themselves to each other in the unbreakable bond of marriage. To have intercourse without getting married is to indulge in an act which is not honest and true, but a lie.
Young people are to be educated in the ways of true, honest, mature, healthy and joyful relationships. They have to learn genuine friendship before they can enter into marriage. Young people must learn how to say NO to themselves, to things which are not yet for them. Self-control is a sign of maturity. Young people who observe premarital chastity, and think more of the good of the other rather than of themselves are more likely to be blessed with a happy and lasting marriage.
Contraceptives. These are being advertised and promoted as though they are what responsible people should always use when engaging in sexual acts. However, the Church teaches that the use of contraceptives is objectively sinful. They go against the unitive and procreative purposes of the sexual act which are to show mutual love between husband and wife, and to beget children.
The new-found freedom that contraceptives give can easily lead to promiscuity and irresponsible, selfish behaviour. The use of contraceptives is a sign of the lack of commitment to each other and openness to life. It is a denial of life and fertility which couples are called to give to each other with total generosity and trust. Contraceptives violate that unconditional love which couples are asked to give to each other. Instead of being a responsible free act, the sexual act is grounded in fear and selfish motives. If there is a serious reason for couples to space children, they should use the natural method of family planning. This has no bad side effects as it respects nature and promotes healthy relationship and self-control, respect for the woman and human life which begins at the time of conception.
Mary Stopes and abortion. It is disturbing to learn that the government of PNG has chosen to entrust the program of family planning to an organization which is well known to provide not only contraception and sterilization but also abortion. Mary Stopes International claims that the abortion they provide is part of health care, and that it is “safe, compassionate and medical”. What a heap of lies! Abortion is never safe and compassionate. It is always the killing of an innocent, unborn child, created in the image and likeness of God. Abortion has no place in health care and medical practice since all health care providers take an oath to uphold life and not death. Once conception has taken place, human life begins. This life is to be respected since it enjoys the same rights as those of any other human being: the right to life, to be respected and loved, to be born and cared for, and to grow so as to know, love and serve his Creator and be happy with Him forever in Heaven.
The Constitution of Papua New Guinea does not allow for abortion except in the case of a pregnancy which directly threatens the life of the mother. What the Church teaches is that the life of both mother and child is equally important. Under these difficult circumstances, what should be done is to do one’s best to save the lives of both mother and child. If in the process of saving or curing the mother, the child in the womb should die, this should not be regarded as an intended consequence. We are never justified to directly kill an innocent human being even if this were to save the life of another. Medical doctors should do their utmost to save the lives of both mother and child, and not regard one as more important than the other.
Mary Stopes and Population Control. Unfortunately, our PNG government is getting the services of Mary Stopes International to provide hormonal implants (implanon) to thousands of young women and girls of child-bearing age in this country. Implanon is used to sterilize women so they will not conceive and bear a child either temporarily or permanently . It is part of the population control program of the government which erroneously believes that the country is over populated and that this is the great obstacle to the development of this country.
PNG has only a total population of about 7.5 million. It is also one of the richest countries in the world in terms of natural resources. It can easily feed at least 20 times its present population if only there were better planning and accountability. Unfortunately, much pressure is being put on our government by outside agencies to lower the population and what it calls “maternal mortality rate”.
If women are dying in pregnancy or child birth, this is not because of pregnancy or child-bearing itself. The human body is one of the most perfect creations of God. The Bible tells us that after God created man and the universe, he saw that everything He did was good. Pregnancy and giving birth are good in themselves. If mothers are dying, this cannot come merely from getting pregnant. What pregnant mothers need to reduce the risk of mortality are better and more health services, hospitals and health clinics. Our village women need more nurses and health care givers who will attend to pregnant women and who will also educate them on how to take care of themselves and their infants during the period of pregnancy. This is what the Catholic agency health clinic in Nimoa has done. Because of the good health services they provide with the help of Dr. Barry, there is low or no maternal mortality rate in Nimoa. On the other hand, Implants can have bad side effects on the health of the woman. They also violate their dignity and threaten the life of the unborn. The way to development is not by controlling the population through sterilization or abortion. What is needed is greater responsibility, initiative, imagination, accountability, respect for life and the family, and a deep trust in God.
Family Life Apostolate. To promote the Christian values of family life, we have to strengthen the Family Life Apostolate of the diocese. Let us do this starting this year. I have asked our diocesan FLA officer-in-charge to give seminars in all the parishes, starting in the mainland. Parish priests should make sure that the Family Life Apostolate is well organized and working in their respective parishes. The parish FLA team are to meet together regularly and give seminars to the different Christian communities (CC), the small Christian communities (SCC)and those getting married. We have to make it our special mission to evangelize and catechize other families. No one is exempted from this. The parish priest takes leadership in animating the FLA team and in directing and giving these seminars. The instruction should include an explanation of the Sacrament of Marriage, the sacred duties which couples have for each other and their children, and ways by which they can grow and nourish their married life and be of service to society and the Church at large.
Campaign for Marriage. All parishes should organize a program to instruct the faithful on the values and graces that come from receiving the sacrament of marriage. Any couple desiring to get married is to be entertained by the parish priest. He conducts the premarital interview and investigation, and arranges a suitable and workable program of premarital instructions for them together with the FLA team. Deserving couples are not to be made to wait unnecessarily for a long time before they could avail of the sacrament of Matrimony. This year I request all parishes to organize a campaign to reach out to couples who are living together without the benefit of the sacrament so that a mass wedding can be arranged for those who are deserving. No one should be unduly pressured. This should be carefully planned and all the canonical requirements for marriage properly carried out.
Child-Protection. Children are especially loved by God. Jesus said: let the little children come to me, for to such belongs the Kingdom of Heaven. We should always give respect and care to children who bear the image of God and whose angels constantly watch and pray for them. A child is anybody below the age of 18. Young girls and boys are especially vulnerable to physical, verbal and sexual abuse. In the manner of disciplining them, we can never use physical violence or severe punishment that harms them or degrades their dignity. Children grow up better as mature and healthy individuals when we take time to talk to them, to listen and explain things in a gentle way, rather than when we threaten or inflict them with hurting words or physical harm. Severe corporal punishment has no place in a Catholic school, much less inside the family home. Rather, we should take time to listen to children, esp. those who suffer from abuse, and provide parental guidance to those with problems and difficulties.
Those who sexually abuse minors should be brought to justice. They should be reported to the child protection officer and to the police. The sexual abuse of minors is a serious crime. It cannot be allowed to go unreported, even if the culprit happens to be a public servant or a priest. This kind of abuse will only stop if everybody work together in eliminating it in our schools, villages, communities, and the home. Victims of sexual abuse should always be protected and given proper care, understanding and counselling.
Schools. Parents are the first teachers of their children and have the primary right and responsibility to educate them. However, they need the parish, the Christian community and particularly, the school to help them educate their children. Our Catholic Agency schools are an essential vehicle for the continued evangelization and education of our children and youth in the Christian faith.
Every Catholic agency school should make it their primary mission to evangelize and educate the children in the faith. This is the highest form of education. Let us remember that Christ is the Teacher of life, and we should explain Christ’s teachings to the children. The school board of management should make sure that the children get a proper and Christian education which the parents desire for them. The parish priest, who represents the Bishop as head of the Agency, is an essential member of the school board. The board makes policies so that the school preserve its Catholic identity and values. The board decides and approves the kind of teachers who teach in the school. They also decide on which students are to be enrolled while honouring the selection policies and guidelines of the government.
It is essential that our schools be 100% Catholic. Teachers in our schools should not only be academically qualified, but also true witnesses of the Christian faith by word and example. They are to serve as role models to our children and youth. Religious education (RE) is an essential core curriculum in every Catholic Agency school, and must be allotted the number of periods set down by the National Catholic Education Board. Teachers in Catholic schools are expected to not only to teach Religious Education, but also to prepare well for it. They should be qualified and hold a certificate for this, as well as continuously update themselves in the teachings and catechism of the Catholic Church. Educating children in the faith is not to be regarded as a mere drudgery and obligation. It is a service of love and joy. There is no greater love that a teacher can give to their students than to help them grow to be mature persons and responsible citizens of this country according to the wisdom of Christ, our Supreme Teacher.
Children and Youth. The future of Christian married life and the family lies in the youth of today. The youth of today are the material by which we build the Christian family of tomorrow. They are to be assured of a good Christian upbringing starting in the home. Most important, parents must show much love, dedication and care to their children. Parents are not to delay in having their children baptized in the Church. Parents should make sure that a month after birth, or even earlier, their children receive the sacrament of Baptism, and accept the responsibility to raise them up in the faith. Through Baptism they become children of God and are incorporated into Christ and the Church, the Family of God. Parishes and schools should develop a program which prepares children for their first Holy Communion soon after they attain the age of reason (7 years old). Confirmation class should be carefully prepared so as to assure that those to be confirmed have learned adequately the basics of our faith so as to give a clear and bold witness to it in daily life.
Parents and Christian communities are to pay esp. attention to the youth of today, and show them much love, understanding and patience. The youth need to be listened to. We have to dialogue with them on many of the questions that confuse them and keep them away from the Church. The parish should support the Youth Ministry program. Every Catholic community should realize that they have an important duty to form the youth of their parish according to our Christian Catholic faith. The parish, CCC and SCC are to involve the youth in their liturgical, apostolic and other church activities. We want to form young people who have a sense of personal self-discipline and self-control, and who can unselfishly give themselves to others in love and service in the manner of Christ. We wish to form them also to be Marian since Mary is the perfect disciple of Christ. She is the model for our youth of faith, purity, humility, obedience and charity. The theme of this year’s December Youth Convention is “Courage! Come to Jesus through Mary.”
New Teachers College. The Government of Milne Bay Province as well as the Catholic Diocese of Alotau have signed a memorandum of agreement on April 3, 2014, at the Masurina Lodge to construct a primary teachers college at the church land in Hagita. Acting Provincial Administrator, Mr. Michael Kape, signed for the government, while I, as bishop, signed for the diocese of Alotau. The Honorable Governor, Titus Philemon, signed as principal witness. I, as bishop, signed it not only because I was happy to partner with the government in such worthy a cause, but also because I see the teachers college as a good vehicle for the continued evangelization of Milne Bay Province.
The school will be officially called “St. Mary Teachers College – Milne Bay Province”. St. Mary is the patron because being the Mother of Jesus, she is the first teacher of the greatest Teacher of all time. Moreover, as a mother, she stands for the dignity of all parents who have the primary right and responsibility to educate their children. The motto of the college is “Vita et Veritas”. As a Catholic Agency school, St. Mary Teachers College is committed to upholding life (vita) and serving truth (veritas). The college will do this by training quality teachers who will be imbued with the Gospel teachings of Christ, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life, after the example of Mary, the perfect disciple of Christ.
The teachers college will be open to Catholics but also to young people of all faiths and denominations who are willing to be educated according to the best teachings and traditions of the Catholic Church. There is no need for non-Catholics to fear since this Catholic college will uphold with the strictest compliance the purity of the Christian faith. The government need not fear either since the Catholic Church has always championed religious freedom and the basic equality of all regardless of faith or gender.
Ecumenism and Church Unity. At the cenacle before he died, Jesus prayed for the unity of all those who will believe in him. “May they all be one as you, Father, and I are one so that the world may believe that it was you who sent me.” All Christians are called to work for the unity of all Christians. We have to work on respecting each other and not to spread lies or misinformation based on plain ignorance, misconception or bias. We have to work on understanding each other’s beliefs, and more importantly come to a proper understanding of the Christian faith as taught by Christ through the Church. It is also important that we collaborate together in the work of evangelization, integral human development, eradication of poverty and the establishment of a just and more peaceful society for all. Finally, let us pray that one day we, Christians, may finally be united under one Church and one leadership which upholds what is essential in the faith and respects diversity in the expressions of that one faith.
As we look forward to the great feast of Pentecost, let us open wide our hearts and minds to receive the Holy Spirit. May he may dwell in our hearts and transform us with his fire to become more and more like Christ, the evangelizer. May we also be filled with the love of Mary who during the visitation filled her cousin, Elizabeth, with joy as she brought her the Saviour whom she carried in her womb. May we also, like Mary, give joy to families as we bring to them the Christ we carry in our lives.
Sincerely in Christ,
+Rolando C. Santos, C.M.
Bishop of Alotau-Sideia