Monday, April 18, 2016

PNG and Solomon Islands bishops looking to stand in solidarity with Papua: Mendi bishop

PNG and Solomon Islands bishops looking to stand in solidarity with Papua: Mendi bishop

Updated about an hour ago
Religious leaders in Jayapura have described the situation in Indonesia's Papua province as a 'conflict', 
following an unexpected visit from Pacific bishops.
The group from the Catholic Bishops Conference of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands made a quiet trip to 
Papua two weeks ago, ahead of the organisation's annual meeting in Vanimo.
The conference is expected to make a statement soon addressing the issues of West Papuan independence, and the 
status of refugees from the region who have crossed the border into Papua New Guinea.
The Bishop of Mendi in PNG's Southern Highlands, Don Lippert, says it was considered unwise to make a b
ig announcement before the Papua visit, but it had been planned some time in advance.
"Some of our people had been over there weeks before setting it up and making sure that everything was done," he said.
"As it was, it took a little doing. Some negotiations and all of that... But on both sides, it was able to be worked out, and 
we're both very happy that it took place."
The visit was accompanied by a strong military and police presence, and the bishops were escorted from the border in
 a military bus.
"From their perspective, it was a sign of courtesy... It was a short visit, it was a day and half, and there wasn't a lot of
 free time with 'the man on the street' so to speak... But we did get around to some different places, to the seminaries,
 to a hospital, and then to the meeting," Bishop Lippert said.
He said that while the visiting religious leaders came with open minds, the issue of West Papuan independence was 
an unavoidable topic of conversation.
"It was more of a fact-finding, eye-opening visit. There was not much agenda other than the fraternal aspect of it, and 
either by design or by chance, there was no closed-door sessions with the religious leaders on that side," 
Bishop Lippert said.
"Having said that however, I'd say that wherever we went, this issue is not just one issue among many other issues 
coming from the Papuan side -- this is absolutely the issue, and it was referred to by religious leaders over there as 
'the Papuan conflict'... And it was brought up as our meetings began by them, not by us."
After the meeting, Bishop Lippert said there was hope for future communication, and he expects the bishops conference
 to release a statement in solidarity with the Papuan community.
"Coming in kind of stomping our feet, and coming in heavily with our agenda or with our view of things over there,
 could cause more problems for them than help them at this moment," he said.
"I think the desire is to stand with them, in solidarity with them, to know more and to have more exchange, and to 
truly help them in ways that may advance the situation there.
"What they're calling for, officially anyway, is some kind of official dialogue, and it was beyond my belief to know that
 there is not an official dialogue going on between Jakarta and the local Papuan people, that was a big surprise."

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