“Tonga continues to slowly recover following the massive volcano eruption and subsequent tsunami in January. Communications have been disrupted. Recovery has been complicated due to an Omicron outbreak caused by relief workers. The region continues to be affected by extreme weather patterns as a result of climate change,” said Rev. James Bhagwan, general secretary of the Pacific Conference of Churches.
Self-determination and justice issues continue in the region, particularly for Maohi Nui / French Polynesia, Kanaky/New Caledonia and Tanah Papua/West Papua. The Pacific region expressed its sincere thanks to the WCC for ongoing advocacy and support for these communities.
The pandemic and natural disasters
Amidst all the challenges of the pandemic and natural disasters, there have been some hopeful changes in terms of restrictions being removed, and curfews have also been lifted in some parts of the Pacific.
Bhagwan added: “Over 90% of adults in Fiji have been vaccinated, as the government said, ‘no jab, no job.’ This has of course created issues in the church as some ministers and some congregations do not want to be vaccinated. Churches are now addressing vaccine hesitancy—and finding a way to provide pastoral care and support to those who do not want to be vaccinated.”
Tagolyn Kabekabe highlighted that “Solomon Islands people are relational people, and when they are asked to self-quarantine or self-isolate, it is quite difficult as they are used to relating with others, and so this also contributes to the spread of COVID.”
“There is some panic and fear in the community at the moment and the church continues to pray for hope for the future,” added Rev. Elder Dr Leatulagi Faalevao.
Churches continue to pray for hope as they endeavor to do their best to support the community during the lockdowns and curfews, though they have not yet started working on the programmes they have planned for this year due to the lockdowns, closed borders and curfews in some areas.
The Pacific region is very much looking forward to contributing to the ecumenical conversations, specifically on the topic of mission from the margins, as well as having some representation of their young people for the Ecumenical Youth Gathering.
Rev. Dr Seforosa Carroll, programme executive for Mission from the Margins affirmed that: “there are plans to do some capacity building with the delegates from the Pacific region so that we have a strong Pacific representation at the assembly overall and to be in full attendance even if it is virtually or in person.”
Pacific churches remain concerned about their attendance at the assembly due to closed borders internally and externally. Bhagwan expressed his concern that: “at the moment only Fiji borders are open and that means only delegates from Fiji can travel to attend the assembly in person.”
As they prepare for their Pacific church leaders meeting at the end of March in preparation for the assembly, the Pacific church leaders would also like to encourage the Pacific member churches to commit to supporting the delegates in the responsibilities that they take up for the assembly.
Solidarity in time differences
The Pacific church leaders in closing, called on the WCC and the central committee to stand in solidarity with the Pacific region when it comes to the time difference during these important meetings, as this results in very little participation from their region.
The Pacific church leaders urge that this be given serious thought, perhaps rotating the times in solidarity with different regions so that they can also have more participation and involvement from their region in these spaces.