Bishop Otto Separy of Aitape hands over a copy of the new pastoral plan to a family in Goroka. Photo courtesy of Fr. Giorgio Licini.

At a recent Mass, the bishops of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands revealed a roadmap for pastoral planning to guide the the transformation of their societies. “The new evangelization is at the core of the pastoral plan, along with the pastoral care of the family, the poor, the youth, street kids, as well as the media and a wide range of social concerns,” Fr. Giorgio Licini, head of social communications for the bishops' conference, told CNA. The pastoral plan's priorities are adapted to the unique challenges facing the population of the two island nations located in Melanesia. In Papua New Guinea, nearly all the population is Christian, and 27 percent is Catholic; yet many Christians there integrate indigenous beliefs and practices into their religious life. Many indigenous Papua New Guineans believe in sorcery, and retain such practices as contraception, abortion, and polygamy: in 1945, the nation gained a saint in Blessed Peter To Rot, a catechist who was martyred following his denunciation of polygamy. The pastoral plan is meant to underline the importance and the role of the Gospel in transforming Papua New Guinean society, especially in correcting such traditional practices as polygamy. Archbishop Michael Banach, apostolic nuncio to Papua New Guinea and to Solomon Islands, unveiled the pastoral plan in a homily at a Sept. 28 Mass said at Mary, Help of Christians parish in Goroka, Papua New Guinea. “This plan is for everyone,” he stated. Fr. Licini stated that “it is the first time that Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands has worked out a common pastoral plan.” Bishop Arnold Orowae of Wabag presented the pastoral plan, noting that “the world and the Church are in the midst of a deep and ongoing crisis such as we have never experienced before.” Bishop Orowae referred to uncertainty and unemployment facing youth; family breakdown; and the rise of corruption and violence as among the challenges facing the people of Papua New Guinea. He observed that “there is also an identity crisis in the priesthood and religious life.” The purpose of the pastoral plan, and of evangelization, Bishop Orowae stated, is “not simply getting people to become Christians or Catholics, or even (merely) necessarily getting people to come to church … it is about living the consequences of our faith in Jesus Christ by bringing the gospel values of mercy, forgiveness, and reconciliation into our lives, our workplaces, and all our social, economic, and political responsibilities.” “It’s the same old and 'new' evangelization: not a matter of doctrines, but of life,” Bishop Orowae said. At the presentation, Bishop Otto Separy of Aitape, one of the pastoral plan's main contributors, gave copies of the text to a local family; students from the University of Goroka; parish lay leaders; Fr. Bogdan Cofalik, pastor of Mary, Help of Christians; and Bishop John Doaninoel, S.M., an auxiliary bishop of Honiara, the capital of Solomon Islands. Fr. Linici explained to CNA that the pastoral plan “is the fruit of two years of study, sharing, and research, with its highlight at the General Assembly.” The general assembly of bishops from Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands was held Nov. 5-11, 2013. More than 150 representatives of the Church in the two countries contributed, offering their insights about the pastoral challenges and changing realities in Melanesia. The Church has earned its credibility with the Papua New Guineans, in promoting human dignity in the spheres of education, healthcare, food, housing, and social charity.