“The Pacific Conference of Churches welcomes you on board our ecumenical canoe, as we sail and voyage together beyond the fringing reefs and rocks of the many issues that affect us here in the Pacific and globally, and set sail with our eyes firmly fixed on the island of hope,” said Rev. Dr James Bhagwan, Pacific Conference of Churches general secretary as he welcomed participants of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace to Fiji, on 20 January.
The Reference Group of the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace and the Theological Study Group of the pilgrimage are meeting at the Pacific Theological College, in Suva, Fiji, 19-22 January, with the goal of reflecting on the situation in the Pacific through the lens of a global thematic focus on climate change and cooperation with churches, national councils of churches in the region, the Pacific Conference of Churches, and others.
In his welcoming words, Bhagwan alluded to the “island of hope” concept, which derives from a WCC document from 2001 entitled “Island of Hope - a Pacific Church Response to Globalisation,” subsequently endorsed by church leaders from the region.
“The island of hope proposes a way of life based on principles that do not exclude or marginalize, and on values that are commonly found in the various Pacific cultures,” said Bhagwan. “It is visionary in its view of the future of our region and we want to share this vision with the global ecumenical family.”
For WCC deputy general secretary Prof. Dr Isabel Apawo Phiri, Baghwan’s insight resonates the proposed theme of the Pilgrimage for 2020: “Caring for People, Water and Earth.”
“The Pilgrimage theme for this year connotes various streams of ideas that resonate on multi-levels with the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace, and with the Pacific’s religious, cultural, and socio-political landscapes,” she said.
“ ‘Caring for People, Water and Earth’ naturally frames the following social justice and political issues facing the Pacific today and the required actions and responses that may determine our pilgrimage’s agenda for the region in 2020,” added Phiri.
Prior to the meeting in Suva, four pilgrim team visits took place in various parts of Fiji on 16-19 January, focusing on climate-induced displacement, indigenous land rights and extractive industries, gender justice, people with disabilities, interfaith dialogue, climate change, ecological justice, ocean health, and care for creation.
During their visit to various communities in Fiji, delegation members met leaders of indigenous communities, local church leaders, victims of human rights violations and conflict, and champions of transforming injustices. Each pilgrim team visit expressed solidarity with those who reside in coastal areas, relying on natural resources for their livelihoods and well-being, and forced to survive the tidal waves of injustice.
As group members gathered in Suva, they developed theological reflections using the overarching themes “land and displacement,” “truth and trauma,” “gender justice,” and “racial justice.”
The programme in Fiji also includes the pre-launch of the WCC’s Ecumenical Water Network “Seven Weeks for Water” Lenten campaign, on 21 January.