13th September 2021

Book in Focus

Weaving Theology in Oceania

Culture, Context and Practice

Edited by Beatrice Green and Keiti Ann Kanongata’a

Weaving Theology in Oceania: Culture, Context and Practice maintains the name of the CEPAC/APTO Conference in Suva, held in December 2018, from which it is derived. It is structured to reflect the process of weaving materials for the great ocean-going canoe of Oceania—seen in the centrepiece photos—as a way to unify the 16 chapters by different authors: the “Ground Mat” for Part 1, the “Roof” for “Pastoral Concerns” in Part 2, and the “Sails” for “Communications and Navigation” in Part 3.

The content, intentionally paradigmatic of the Oceanic tradition of weaving, is like the sail described by Upolu Lumā Vaai, as “culturally and contextually rooted”, “relational and transpatial”, “resilient”, “constantly opened” and “original”.  It is buoyed by passion, compelling and restrained—a depth of scholarly, active engagement and personal commitment that evokes the human urge to go beyond constraining horizons, to live larger than the tests of time; because the ocean of the Mystery of the Great Beyond is the energy behind this whole endeavour.

The contributors to this volume, of diverse ages, genders and denominations, voice the Oceanic response to the exigencies of our times. Keiti Kanongata’a SOLN, explains in her Foreword how, “Today, through education and communications, we rise to defend ourselves against the waves of change coming in the small ripples and wild surf of modern issues such as globalisation, clericalism, and climate change. The use of modern technology and social media challenges our Pacific wisdom to grapple with: how do we keep our Oceanic identity and at the same time be relevant to the rest of the greater world?”

Below, brief descriptions of the 16 chapters, as given in the Preface, show the diversity of content:

Keiti Ann Kanongata’a in the first, ‘book-end’ chapter, issues a challenge both to Tongan society and the wider world when, with prophetic authority, she demands an end to spousal violence. The cases the author cites from experience are her platform to argue for a return to the best characteristics of traditional culture, whilst also acknowledging and engaging with the impacts and influences of modernity. The author grounds the argument in Christian Scripture and tradition, emphasising divine beauty and the need for contemplative practice, and calling for a “theology of beauty” and an “Oceanic mystical theology”.

Andrew Menzies begins by exposing the gravity of injustices inflicted upon the Indigenous people of what is now Kalgoorlie as a result of the discovery of gold, and applies the reality of injustice and unresolved tension between the dynamic life of local community and distant, callous, or indifferent controlling centres of wealth and power to Christian institutional and community life. Pointing to the common good as an inspired and holistic enterprise, he focuses on relevant insights, especially those of Jeremiah, Leonardo Boff, and even Australian author Tim Winton. Menzies' careful reflection on the history and significance of Boff's Base Ecclesial Communities conveys his belief in their importance for our times of crisis, revealing the ways and means by which the Holy Spirit, and the Word of God bring ordinary people, otherwise marginalised, into creative collaboration towards the realisation of God’s reign of justice and peace.

Gerard Hall connects the prophetic and mystical dimensions of Practical Theology as a means of facing the crisis of eco-degradation and global warming. With reference to both classical and modern sources, he elucidates an understanding of “genuine mysticism”, noting its relative neglect and utmost importance for our caring and healing of the planet. The author shows how the mystical thread in Pope Francis’ Laudato Si, Raimon Panikkar's Trinitarian spirituality with its focus on the “wisdom of the earth”, and the “natural mysticism” of Indigenous peoples all strongly support his insight and argument.

Debra Snoddy takes us on a scriptural tour of the significance of Mary Magdalene in the Gospels. Among other exploratory paths, this demands an exegesis of the appellation, Magdalene, early Church assignments and designations, and anomalies in respect to the Gospel of Luke compared with the other three Gospels. She reveals how the different treatments of this Mary in the Gospels of Luke and John are quite marked. Ferreting out the truth of the matter brings the author to the point of demonstrating how Mary Magdalene is emblematic for us in searching for the best Christian response today.

Christopher Longhurst presents “a contextual theology by looking at how indigenous cultural motifs are embedded in Christian themes through pictorial art” in order to augment the dialogue between faith and culture. Through sampling many different examples of interculturality in painting through the decades of modernity, he argues that the exercise of this principle in religious art has the potential, through respect of difference and acknowledgement of commonality within diverse cultures, to teach us how to better listen, look, and learn; the result of this will be a deeper sense of belonging, albeit a “double membership”.

Beatrice Green argues for the recognition of a movement to the next stage of consciousness to which humanity is being drawn by the Holy Spirit. The works of Bede Griffiths, Ken Wilber and Steve McIntosh—with their diagrams—support the argument which also includes the visions of Raimon Panikkar and David Bohm. The value of spiritual experience that is essential to integral consciousness obtains renewed emphasis, while the mysterious source of consciousness’ unfolding is presented via a final illustrative story.

Donato Kivi begins Section Two, with his offer of a Marian-ecological spirituality as a response to the fragmented and broken reality of the vanua—understood in its widest sense as the context from which all draw life. Kivi uses familiar, ecologically-based typologies of soil, garden, and earth to represent Mary’s Virginity, Motherhood and Queenship, in order to present her at the heart of creation, bearing help for our wounded world. The author uses familiar garden experiences of fertilising, nurturing and seeing, together with Scripture and Church tradition to articulate how we can receive the seed of the Word, nurture it in the garden of our heart, and share it to all the world. The goal is no less than a re-evangelisation of the faithful to mission, and re-conversion to love of all creation.

Stephen Beaumont explores the tension that exists between the therapeutic relationship and pastoral mission, and the gap where debate and discussion on this subject should exist in Australia. His response to this omission centres on his experience leading outdoor adventure-based programmes. He includes an insightful case-study of his experience with “bush therapy” working with disadvantaged and vulnerable youth, in particular with an Indigenous adolescent young man. From this, there emerged for him a fresh understanding of Incarnational theology as ground for this ministry.

John Collins and Debra Snoddy in the book’s centrepiece, collaboratively recreate the formative experience of the CEPAC/APTO Conference in Suva. The chapter’s symbolic image, Talanoa, evokes a profound interrelatedness generating life. Their rendition includes contributions from the conference plenary session presented in poetic form, followed by theological commentary that invites further interpretation and development. The chapter is illustrated with photographs taken during the conference.

Denise Goodwin presents, via a case-study based on the drawings, written explanatory texts, and oral accounts of a focus group of Dinka children affected by the war in South Sudan, analyses and conclusions that bear directly on Western cultural presuppositions. She shows that tension exists with the different mind-sets of ‘others’ entering from outside. Based on the hermeneutic circle of interpretation, the carefully structured study offers keys for spiritual and theological analysis of the children’s deep fears and altruistic motives, which, in turn, direct her discernment of the sources of tension in cultural relationships. This study carries the hope for the seeds of future harmonious understanding and integration, for the sake of spiritual integrity.

Aoife McGrath presents a persuasive argument for examining and gearing programs in ministry formation to counter and correct the tendency among students in these institutions to avoid depth of engagement in course practice designed to facilitate personal integration and authenticity. Student reactions are identified as reflecting the complexities of contemporary culture and Catholic context. However, the importance of personal development and self-transcendence is demonstrated to be not only necessary for pastoral leadership, but also for Christian mission generally. (McGrath also includes an insightful reflection on her Fijian experience.)

Clement Papa introduces Section Three; he draws upon intellectual influences in his own theological journey to argue the importance of applying Lonergan’s praxis theology to contemporary Melanesian culture, in order to create a vital Melanesian theology. The author reflects on his own experiences of how political corruption in Papa New Guinea has had devastating effects on social health and stability. He finds an answer in Lonergan’s dialectics of history which had led him to propose a particular ‘Catholic Action’ to provoke reform. The author believes that an understanding of Lonergan’s theology of redemptive history will help direct and clarify ways to work together to find solutions to address Melanesia’s dire needs.

Joel Atwood, in response to the theological task in Island Melanesia with its huge diversity of living languages, proposes better recognition and elevation of status of the ‘contact language,’ Bislama. Based on his experience of Vanuatu in particular, he describes how Bislama, while “significant” and “prevalent” is regarded as inadequate for the theological task, except for textual translation. He seeks to demonstrate, with examples and analysis, how a better understanding of, and literacy in, Bislama can enable its use, along with relevant terms from the local vernacular, to communicate theology.

Brendan Long intends political persuasion as to the efficacy of religious adherence for the common good, aided by his own tool, the ‘yeast test.’ He interrogates the survey methods that seek to establish the financial contribution that citizens belonging to a religious tradition make to the national economy. He establishes the link between the Gospel motif of the ‘yeast’ and the persons of religious persuasion who are volunteers and donators, not merely for preservation of the institution, but altruistically towards the common good. This is original research in the area of theology and economics.

Philip Gibbs traces the development of the Federation of Catholic Bishops Conferences of Oceania (FCBCO), from its beginnings in the new millennium to the present. He shows how practical issues, that were voiced by the relatively few Pacific representatives at Vat II, provided the ground for ongoing engagement with the needs of the people of the region, and how change and development is reflected in ongoing, widening interaction with FCBCO and other Church leadership groups. The author examines the significance of the Synod for Oceania in 1998; and the importance of Laudato Si’ and “communion in diversity” for the region. A regional description and map are included.

Robert Dixon in the final, ‘book-end’ chapter, presents an historical survey, augmented with his own precise illustrative graphs, of the Australian Catholic population from colonial settlement to the present. The author shows how globalisation was the condition of the Australian church from its inception. In this comprehensive study of how globalisation has impacted Catholicism in Australia over two centuries, elaborating the changing contexts, and interpreting motives, the author provides a measured path through sociological complexity which leads to a recognition of the same ‘global’ character in parishes today as being a sign of hope for the future.


“This collection of exciting new perspectives from Oceania demonstrates the centrality and creativity of practical theology today. It is startlingly fresh, contextual in the very best sense, and relevant to people’s actual lives. Highly recommended.”
Professor Wayne Hudson
Director, Centre for Public and Contextual Theology, Charles Sturt University, Australia

“This valuable collection of some sixteen essays proves the continuing health and vigour of practical theology in Oceania. The range and depth of the “weaving” involved in the writing and editing of these precious accounts provides not only a rich resource for theology today, but also testifies to the patient and genial editors who have brought all together for our benefit.”
Professor Anthony Kelly, CSsR
Australian Catholic University

Beatrice Green is affiliated with the Australian Catholic University, where she has tutored in Theology for 20 years. She is an executive member of the Association of Practical Theology in Oceania Inc., and a former President and Secretary of this association. Her PhD dissertation, “A Christological Interpretation of the Golden String of Bede Griffiths' Spiritual Journey,” has generated further writing on interfaith dialogue, practical theology, and spirituality that has been published in academic books and journals.

Keiti Ann Kanongata’a SOLN works in the Diocese of Tonga and Niue, and is the founder and Director of the Catholic Theological Institute for the Laity. With a strong interest in advancing the role of women in Oceania, she is co-founder of the Association of Pacific Women and Theology and the Association of Tongan Women Doing Theology. She is actively engaged in public policy and has facilitated Situational Analysis of the Tonga National HIV-AIDS programme. She is politically active through submissions to government and through peaceful action, and has published articles in various academic media.

Weaving Theology in Oceania: Culture, Context and Practice is available now in Hardback at a 25% discount. Enter the code PROMO25 at the checkout to redeem.

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