Kubethreana Taripo, Teremoana Macquarie and Teuraarii Macquarie who received the sacrament of confirmation on Sunday last week, with their families. MELINA ETCHES/22102412
Last Sunday in our Cathedral Church in Avarua, 11 youth together with an adult received the sacrament of confirmation. The ceremony consisted of three parts, writes Bishop Paul Donoghue of the Catholic Church.
The first required the candidates to publicly renew
their baptismal promises, stating that they rejected Satan and all his works.
Then I as Bishop called down the Holy Spirit upon the candidates. And the third
part was the anointing with oil, showing that the candidate is strengthened to
witness to God’s love and might in word and deed. I ended by offering the
candidates the peace of Christ. The overall aim for the candidate in this ceremony
was to complete the initiation that first occurred at their baptism; then when
they made their first communion, and now being initiated responsible member of
the church at confirmation.
In this article, it is my aim to elaborate on what is
involved in being a responsible and a fully-fledged member of a church and what
it means to witness to God’s love. How are we, the disciples of Jesus Christ,
expected to be Christ’s witnesses to the ends of the earth with the help of the
Holy Spirit in the year 2022 and beyond?
Each baptised person is called to a mission in the
church. Consequently, mission is carried out together, not individually, in
unity with all the church’s community, and not on one’s own initiative. The witnessing
of Christians to Christ is first of all communitarian in nature. Hence, in
carrying out the mission, the presence of a community regardless of size is
The disciples are urged to live their personal lives
in a missionary key. They are sent by Jesus to the world not only to carry out,
but also and above all to live the mission entrusted to them – not only to bear
witness, but also and above all to be witnesses of Christ.
In preaching the Word of God, the example of the
Christian life and the proclamation of Christ are inseparable. One is at the
service of the other. They are the two lungs with which any community must
breathe if it is to be missionary.
In telling his disciples to be witnesses, the risen
Lord also tells them where they are being sent. “Not only in Jerusalem, but
throughout Judaea and Samaria and indeed to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1: 8
Here we clearly see the universal character of the disciples’ mission. The
disciples are sent not to proselytise but to proclaim the good news. The Acts
of the Apostles speak of the missionary expansion, and provide a striking image
of the Church “going forth” in fidelity to her call to bear witness to Christ
the Lord, and guided by divine providence in the concrete conditions of her
life. When persecuted in Jerusalem, the early Christians then spread out through
Judaea and Samaria bearing witness to Jesus everywhere. (Acts 8:1, 4).
Something similar still happens in our own day. Due to
religious persecution and situations of war and violence, many Christians are
forced to flee from their homeland to other countries. As I write this, I hear
on BBC News that Russia is warning Europe to expect more refugees from Ukraine
as winter sets in. On our part, we are grateful to those countries that don’t
remain locked in their own hardships but bear witness to Christ and to the love
of God and are open to accepting refugees.
Recently we saw Cook Islands being given more
recognition on the international stage by the United States of America when the
President of the United States, President Biden invited Prime Minister Mark
Brown to the White House. Some writers applauded this, expecting more money to
come the way of the Cook Islands. I wonder how many of us ask, whether there is
something the Cook Islands can give in return? That moving onto the
international stage, the Cook Islands considers what it might give and share
with the rest of the world. What about welcoming some refugees seeking a new
home? The Cook Islands did it before, welcoming wayfarers who arrived
unexpectedly on an island.
Signs of the time
More and more, we are seeing the presence of various
nationalities now enriching the make-up of church membership. It was clear for
everyone to see in the nationalities of those making confirmation on Sunday –
Cook Islanders, a Fijian, Filipinos and a Samoan. This fact was highlighted by
the Prime Minister in his speech on the closing night of the Cook Island Games.
His point was that the recent granting of permanent residence was reflected in
those competing in the games. Surely this is a reminder to all our churches in
the Cook Islands that the pastoral care of migrants should be valued as an
important missionary activity that can help the local faithful to rediscover
the joy of the Christian faith they have received.
When the risen Christ commissioned the disciples to be
his witnesses, he also promised them the grace needed for this responsibility.
“You shall receive the power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you
shall be my witnesses.” (Acts 1:8)
Two days ago, we had the
public holiday for Gospel Day on Rarotonga. Next year Rarotonga will be
celebrating 200 years of the arrival of the Gospel on the island. One might say
that when the Gospel arrived on the islands of the Cook Islands it had reached
the ends of the world. One could conclude that the work of the Holy Spirit was
thus ended. As we look at our current membership, we note the empty seats of
members who no longer bother about the Gospel in their lives. The Gospel is
considered irrelevant. Some today use the argument that they can practise their
religion at home by themselves. I mentioned at the beginning that our
witnessing is for the sake of the community.
If we are at home by ourselves, we are not witnessing. We are no longer missionary.
As I stood before the candidates for confirmation on Sunday,
I asked myself if anything has changed since I made my own confirmation sixty
years ago. For one, I don’t think the small farming community in the south
Waikato where I grew up would have been too different to living in a village in
the Cook Islands in the sixties. Each day we saw the same neighbours. We knew
everyone we were going to school with, who we were playing sport with. There
were no strangers; no foreign workers; no aliens. The only exception would have
been our fathers, who had all been to war in Europe or in the Pacific and had their
eyes open to another side of humanity. A darker side that these men were not
prepared to talk about, even with their wives.
The world of 2022 is a hugely different place from the
world of the 60s. With the internet, the youth of today live in a world where
there is easy access to a multitude of points of view politically, morally and
culturally – religious beliefs that now extend to non-Christian religions, music
and art that bombard them with promises of happiness and true love. For our candidates
to say publicly that they believe in God, his only Son Jesus Christ and the
Holy Spirit is indeed a challenge. Previously it was taken for granted that
children would continue in the religion of their parents. But that is not the
reality today. More than ever, our youth need an advocate to reveal the truth
to their minds and to keep their feet rooted to rock and not sand.
“I have said these things while still with you; but
the Advocate the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach
you everything and remind you of all I have said to you. Peace, I bequeath to
you, my own peace I give you, a peace the world cannot give, this is my gift to
you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” John 14: 25 – 27.