Subject: Don't forget Papua: Melbourne bishop 

6 Aug 2007

Catholic News

Don't forget Papua: Melbourne bishop

A Melbourne bishop well known for his support for Timorese people, Bishop Hilton Deakin, is calling on Australians to remember the role played by Papuans in assisting Australia during World War II and has urged Australia to resist human rights abuses in the region.

Giving the homily at the inaugural Asmat Mass for West Papua recently, Bishop Deakin called for Australians "to remember West Papua and draw upon all the memories that we can to further their cause".

At the service, people from West Papua also presented Bishop Deakin with a letter for Pope Benedict.

Noting that there are "political affairs, national affairs, and international affairs that affect the people of West Papua", Bishop Deakin said that "some people believe that all these sectional aspects, and only these sectional aspects, define the place for any legitimate comment that one may make about the people of West Papua, of their present condition, and their future."

"But I come from a tradition that says 'no' to that. I believe that it is a limiting way of tackling the issue. It's a reductionist way. But it is a way that somehow or another attracts people today," Bishop Deakin said.

However, a Christian point of view is different, he continued.

"The first step in this, which is also the basic principle of what one might call basic Catholic social theory and practice, is that no matter how we see people treat one another, we are all fashioned, whoever we are, in the likeness of God.

"It is a given. It is only discussable in the sense that it can be described. That is, a human being, a total human being, body, spirit, soul is somehow of God, and in some way like to him.

"Out of this comes a second point that is also strong in the shared Christian faith, but most certainly in the faith of my Catholic tradition. Namely, that no one is alone.

"And for that reason, we so strongly reject the modern habit of stressing individualism as a philosophy to be followed. We in fact belong to community. We reach out and will always touch a neighbour.

"To understand anything and any comment that one would make about human rights, about the plight of West Papuans, or the East Timorese, or the Australian Aboriginals, we must keep those two principles in mind, because that's where we start from," Bishop Deakin said.

"When we make a claim to freedom of comment in such matters as the ones that we are talking about now in West Papua, it is because in our view and judgement the rights arising from those points that I have just annunciated are being violated.

"Often people, like government information bureaucrats, spin doctors, foreign affairs and staff diplomats, settle for versions of affairs that are far short of the truth.

"The world, as a matter of fact, and this is my view, our neighbours, even the West Papuans have walked in fogs of misinformation for more than half a century.

"And always as a result of fogs of misinformation, the victim is the truth," Bishop Deakin continued.

"Yet our national authorities are at this present time negotiating a treaty with the oppressors of West Papua," Bishop Deakin said.

"Its aims determine not only its content, but claim to be the right decision for West Papuans. West Papuans have a distinctly and different view. And so do I. And so should everyone of good will.

"Yet this treaty is being signed in our name and in the name of our nation. Just a month ago, a UN representative spoke of the continuing dangers to any West Papuan who speaks, writes, or seeks to exercise her or his basic human rights. And here we are in Australia contracting a treaty that covers these issues without noting them."

"Those of you who have fled from that oppression and are here with us today — and thank God you are — can give a virile testimony for such degrading conditions in your homeland without a doubt, as indeed you have.

"The sufferings, the rapes, the bashings, the lack of due legal process, the murders, the suppression of indigenous culture, and the imposition of a foreign culture."

We must admit that we all have a great capacity to ignore these sorts of things; to say, when they are brought to mind, 'we didn't know'. We have been saying those things forever and ever.

"We did it during the Second World War, even in Australia, over the holocaust. We can see it being so blatantly done at the present time over, what I think, is an invasion of Aboriginal communities across the top end of Australia.

"In all of this, let us pray that the West Papuan people never lose heart," Bishop Deakin concluded.

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