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  • Isabella Saleu

Catholic Bishops Conference holds Christmas Press Conference

Gordons, Port Moresby:Several key issues were addressed by the Catholic Bishops Conference of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands (CBCPNGSI) during a Press Conference held on 21st December 2021 at the CBC headquarters, Gordons.

The issues addressed were A Call for Dialogue in West Papua; An Appeal for Elderly and Sick Ex-Manus Refugees; the 2022 General Elections and a Christmas Message delivered by the General Secretary of CBCPNGSI, Reverend Fr Giorgio Licini PIME. Also, on the panel were Mr Jason Siwat, Migration and Refugees Desk Director of CBCPNGSI and Director of Caritas PNG, Ms Mavis Tito.

Beginning with a condolence message on the passing of the late Sir Paulus Matane and expressing sympathy and solidarity to the victims of the recent cyclone in the Philippines, Fr. Giorgio also highlighted the ongoing issues that the two countries, PNG and SI have been facing such as the recent Honiara political unrest; the women and children been tortured due to senseless sorcery accusations in the highlands of PNG; the Pandemic and young people left to fend for themselves, amongst others.

He said this year was a difficult time but as we enter Christmas celebrations, we should not forget what it truly means for us. We are reminded of the spiritual dimension that this Feast brings to touch our hearts and renew our families and communities with the spirit of friendship and solidarity. He also cautioned that we should be wary of commercial purposes and not use this time for that.

“Although this may be a time of friendship and family togetherness, let us not transform Christmas into an event where we lose the meaning of it which is that the Child Jesus has come to bring us hope, peace, joy and love and our focus should be that, especially in such times.”

Presenting the West Papua and Ex-Manus Refugee issue on behalf of the President of CBC PNGSI Archbishop Anton Bal, was Mr. Siwat who, supporting the call by the West Papuan Church Leaders earlier this year for humanity, justice, truth and for the safety of their people, strongly recommended a dialogue be made with all concerned parties in the hopes of bringing about peace and stability.

He acknowledged the work the Church did for this group of people bringing to light that on November 17 and 22, there were 107 and 32 West Papuans respectively, including women and young children, that crossed into PNG borders through Wutung village in West Sepik Province and were assisted by the Diocese of Vanimo. This, he said, was a clear indication of the responsibility of the government towards those who seek safety within our borders.

Regarding the refugees on Manus Island in Manus Province, following the call of Sir John Cardinal Ribat MSC to Prime Minister James Marape on 22nd September 2020 on the fate of the asylum seekers when Canberra withdraws from the Regional Refugee Arrangement on 31st December 2021, Mr. Siwat said although there may be talks of support put in place by the PNG government to assist the refugees that will be left behind, there is still uncertainty on how sustainable the support is particularly to the vulnerable.

“We as the Bishops Conference call on the government for a more considerate approach towards aiding these groups of people and that they should not be victims of government decisions. They are human beings and should be given a chance as is our Christian duty”, he stressed.

Ms. Tito who presented the statement of the 2022 General Elections, said they have been partnering with the PNG Electoral Commission in rolling out educational election-related programs that seek to empower eligible citizens on how to properly exercise their rights wisely and responsibly.

She highlighted the 3 objectives they plan to work with for the upcoming elections: Educating eligible citizens on enrollment process and the Limited Preferential Voting System; Promoting the rights and responsibilities of citizens particularly women and children engaged in political affairs without fear or favor and working with law enforcement agencies and local leaders to ensure a violent free election.

She also emphasized on the very low statistics of young people participating in the elections and made a call to the youths to exercise their rights and let their voices be heard.

The press conference concluded with a Q&A session. It had in attendance religious, staff of CBC and representatives from different media houses.

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