They presented the gift on behalf of the Cook Islands government and people at an audience with the Pope at the Vatican last month.
Puna and his wife Akaiti were honoured with an audience with Pope Francis on November 11.
The prime minister was invited by Pope Francis, along with all the Pacific Forum Leaders, to share concerns and views on climate change ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference, COP23, in Bonn, Germany, the following week.
The PM decided it would be appropriate to present the global head of the Catholic Church with a gift from the government and people of the Cook Islands, including the more than 2000 Catholics in the Cook Islands Diocese.
A local church member came up with the idea of a rosary made out of local materials as a gift best representing the people of the Cook Islands.
“I wanted to showcase our people and our pearls”, said Puna. “ I am truly grateful to the Cook Islands Pearl Authority for gifting the 59 suitable pearls for such an auspicious recipient and occasion.”
Once the pearls were sourced, it was time to construct the rosary and a number of people helped to put the precious gift together. Local jeweller and pearl retailer Fisher Pearls was asked to build the rosary, as the company had previously made rosaries and were familiar with the craftsmanship the gift would require.
“We have made a number of these previously”, said business owner Brent Fisher. “Constructing this one for this occasion was a pleasure.”
Next came the carving of the crucifix and the medallion and these were hand-carved by Pati Avalea, who used mother of pearl shell to create important parts of the gift.
The rosary was presented in a carved wooden repository, the work of the skilled workers at Island Craft under the careful eye of proprietor Fletcher Melvin. With the repository to carry the rosary to Rome complete, the only step left was to take it to the Head of the Catholic Church in the Cook Islands, Bishop Donoghue, to bless it.
The audience with Pope Francis was called by the Vatican and extended to all the member states of the Pacific Forum.
Pope Francis shared the concerns of island states, coastal and fishing communities, and called for global cooperation, solidarity and strategies to address issues such as the deterioration of the environment and the health of oceans. Pope Francis shared the concerns of island states who are exposed to frequent extreme environmental and climate events, and the impact of rising sea levels and the continuous deterioration of the barrier reef.
He blamed many of the causes of this environmental decay on the short-sighted human activity and economic greed connected with exploiting natural and human resources.
However, Pope Francis expressed satisfaction that the problem of global warming and rising sea levels that mainly affect impoverished coastal populations, are being discussed in international forums, such as the on-going United Nations COP-23 Climate Change Conference in Bonn.
He evoked the vision of an “earth without borders” requiring the need for a global outlook, international cooperation and solidarity, and a shared strategy to address environmental problems.
He lamented the fact that since the appeal by the Filipino bishops nearly 30 years ago, the situation of the oceans and the marine ecosystem, especially the coral reefs, has not really improved.
“We still face problems, including pollution caused by the accumulation of plastics and micro-plastics in oceans,” he said.
After the speeches the gift was presented to the Pope by the prime minister and his wife Akaiti.
“It was truly a wonderful opportunity to share a piece of our culture, a piece of our home with the Vatican”, said Puna.
“To be able to present this to Pope Francis on behalf of the people of the Cook Islands was a great honour.
“This will forever be a token of our gratitude and recognition of the support Pope Francis has made not only towards the Catholic Church members here in the Cook Islands, but also to the cause of climate change and the need for global and attitudinal change.” - Release