Political issues affecting Tahiti and Fiji were highlighted at the Aug. 30-Sept. 4 commemoration in Samoa of the 50th anniversary of the Pacific Conference of Churches (PCC).
During the meetings, Tahitian President Oscar Temaru appealed to the churches for help in his country’s fight for independence from France.
“My country used to be free, and my people used to be in charge of their destiny. That changed in the 19th century after the European discoverers reached our shores,” Temaru said. “This suppression dates back to 1880, but continues to the present day,” he said. Tahiti is part of French Polynesia, a protectorate of France.
At about the same time as the commemoration, the government of Fiji cancelled the annual meeting of the Methodist Church of Fiji and Rotuma and then extended the crackdown by prohibiting any church meetings except Sunday worship and barring foreign travel, which meant that clergy were unable to attend the Samoa event.
Methodist church leaders have opposed the military government, which has suspended a number of civil liberties.
Leaders of the PCC called on the Fijian government to enter a mediated dialogue process with the Methodist Church and the PCC called on its members to stand in solidarity with the church through prayer and messages of support.
The Tahitian situation “is an on-going and unfinished story about colonization, and severe injustice,” said World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary the Rev. Olav Fyske Tveit in an interview with the Pacific Island News Agency.
Tveit said the WCC would work in solidarity with the Pacific churches to raise awareness of the issues facing the Maohi Nui (Tahitian native) peoples.
The anniversary celebrations were hosted by Malua Theological College in Samoa, where the first representatives of the PCC assembled in 1961.
The welcoming ceremony featured traditional dancing, the exchange of gifts and feasting, according to a WCC news release. Speakers for the occasion included Tveit, pioneers of the ecumenical movement in the Pacific, government leaders from Samoa and Temaru.
The need for greater unity among Christians was recognized, as well as for a common engagement in dialogue with representatives of other religions. Economic, social and environmental issues were discussed in a part of the world under threat by rising ocean waters that accompany global climate change, the WCC reported.
During five decades of decolonization and the establishment of independent churches, the PCC has grown to include 28 Pacific island member churches and nine national councils of churches. An estimated 5.2 million people belong to the churches of the PCC out of a Pacific population totaling 8 million.