The River above Asia and Oceania Ecclesial Network (RAOEN) was launched online on 24 November, seeking to engage the Church and the peoples of Asia and Oceania to explore pathways for deeper dialogue and broader interfaith collaboration for forests, oceans, and peoples in the region,
Pedro Walpole SJ, Ecojesuit Global Coordinator and key animator and network catalyst of the RAOEN initiative provided an orientation and the next steps for the new network.
RAOEN’s context is the Pacific, one-third of the planet’s surface, and is the largest climate determinant on Earth. Asia and Oceania share a common image in the River Above – the Pacific Ocean – which is the life, the river of Asia feeding all rivers, seasons and lives. The surface area and ocean currents absorb energy and generate thermals and other air flows, forming the weather patterns and events while sustaining their movement westward, and captured in the RAOEN Year of Weather video.
This flow is life-giving and life-taking, especially as the climate is changing and resources are being exhausted. The welfare of the lands and peoples is bound to the welfare of the seas.
The social and ecological disharmony is an indication of the sign of the times and there is a call for solidarity through dialogue and discernment to share a vision for caring, inspire hope, and commit to respond to the problems in the margins.
The biomes of Asia and Oceania comprise integral landscapes and seascapes that highlight the interconnectedness of life. Anthropocentrism, or “the belief that value is human-centred and that all other beings are means to human ends,” (from Anthropocentrism: More than Just a Misunderstood Problem by Helen Kopnina, Haydn Washington, and John J Piccolo) has compromised the integrity of the biomes and disrupted the balance of its ecological systems.
The increasing concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere resulting in ocean acidification detrimentally affects biological and physiological processes of marine ecosystems. Moreover, forests are being denuded, ambient air quality is deteriorating, and water bodies are becoming polluted. With rampant environmental degradation, the quality of human life is also adversely affected as cultures and communities dissipate as a result.
As such, issues persist in the margins and there is an urgent call for accountability to be drawn towards the global desires for the common good and the Common Home by moving forward the transition from an extractive economy to a circular economy. By doing so, growth is fostered as the connectivity of one’s choices is recognized.
The principles of Laudato Si’ also emphasize the need to live in harmony with natural systems that sustain balance and diversity by upholding cultural integrity and indigenous relations with the land and sea. This highlights the role of local churches in providing a voice for local concerns as they are called to engage themselves in the culture of communities for effective proclamation and practice in each sociocultural area.
Given an ecosystem context, the Church’s response is integral with Creation. As an ecclesial network, interfaith collaboration enables the exploration of opportunities for broader ecclesial services by engaging with neighboring communities in the regions. Through coordination, the development and mainstreaming of a framework for promoting integral ecology are sought and forming an intergeneration ecclesial network is possible through a transparent process of collaboration.
Through a territorial biomes approach, RAOEN seeks to sustain dialogue and collaborative engagements across the Church, indigenous communities, youth groups, and other organizations and institutions, to work towards an understanding on what is possible in caring for the oceans, land, and people by listening to cultural wisdom.
Listening and discernment shape the emerging process of collaboration as stories, experiences, and practices from the ground are shared and responsibilities are built. Such engagements will bear fruit through the development of case studies that capture stories of struggles and hope.
RAOEN also seeks to broaden and strengthen linkages in developing an atlas to highlight and celebrate the interconnectedness of biodiversity and culture. With RAOEN as a platform, collaborators are invited to share news, events, and stories to impart the message of hope as small stories create bigger realities. There are many challenges but RAOEN seeks to move forward with hope and share the gift of the spirit in unity, wherein strength is given to those taking action, and an ecclesial identity is humbly acknowledged.
The messages of hope, gratitude, and expectations from ecclesial leaders, indigenous leaders, and community representatives highlight how all are interwoven by the desire to move towards integral ecology for integral human development.
RAOEN’s launch starts a journey that challenges the Catholic Church in Oceania and Asia in listening to the life and concerns among forest and coastal peoples and enabling their voices to be heard and proposes four ways by which all can come together as people and as Church through dialogue, discernment, deeds, and desires.