While many in different sectors of the Church are pulling out their hair trying to resolve the Amoris Laetitia communion debate, Papua New Guinea's new cardinal said his country has a much more immediate problem.
“For us, Amoris Laetitia will always be there,” Cardinal John Ribat told CNA Feb. 11.
“You can have time to talk about this,” he said, but stressed his
country is facing one major problem that can't wait for a solution:
“It is really the biggest issue for us. We cannot keep quiet about
it. We have to come out with it,” he said, noting that the “king tides,
king waves” and rough winds “belting” the island nation are already
forcing many people from their homes.
These are the things “we cannot stop. They continue to come, and they
are more powerful than us,” the cardinal said, explaining that while
temporary sea walls have been set up, “they won't hold.”
“Our situation, it's timely, you either talk about it or you see
these people finished...There's not timing for it. The time is either
now or never.”
Cardinal Ribat, a member of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of
Jesus, was one of the 19 prelates that got a red hat from Pope Francis
in November’s consistory, and is a prime example of the Pope’s affinity
toward the global peripheries.
Not only does Ribat come from a small island nation with an equally
small Catholic population, he is the first prelate from the country to
ever be named cardinal, giving voice to a sector of the Church whose
concerns might otherwise go unheard.
The cardinal said he didn’t know that he had been named a cardinal until the country’s nuncio came and told him.
“For me it was absolutely unexpected. I never dreamt about it, never, I
never wrote for this. It just came. So it was really a shocking news for
us,” he said, explaining that the appointment sent “a great message” to
Papua New Guinea.
Not only did he get congratulations from the country's Catholics, but
he also received celebratory calls and messages from other Christian
denominations as well as the nation’s small Muslim minority. Prime
Minister Peter O’Neill also offered his congratulations in local papers
and on TV.
For the cardinal, his appointment is “timely and it gives us a chance
to come to the center and hear our voice, to listen to our voice.”
“It's really looking at the small Church, the small area, and
bringing it to the center. So the periphery, bringing us to the center
where we are listened to, we are recognized, where we are appreciated,
where our situation is also understood.”
Ribat said his red hat was timely above all because it allows him to
have more heft when voicing the country’s concerns, particularly on the
issue of climate change.
The phenomena is something new that most islanders have found
themselves entirely unprepared for, he said, explaining that “we were
happily living and it was not a concern for us. But at this time we
cannot be quiet.”
“It’s happening at this time and we don’t know where it is coming
from and why it is happening...we have islands disappearing, being
washed because of the high-rise sea level and people there, they have to
move,” he said, noting that many of the smaller islands “are not able
to sustain themselves” for much longer.
Papua New Guinea is among the nations considered most at risk for the
effects of climate change. For several years the country has been
affected by rising sea levels and changes in temperature, rainfall
patters and the frequency of tropical storms.
According to the Australian Government’s 2011 Pacific Climate Change
Science Program report, temperatures in the capital city of Port Moresby
have increased since at a rate of 0.11 degrees Celsius per decade since
1950, causing sea levels to rise at a rate of 7mm per year since 1993,
since water expands as it gets warmer.
Predictions for the future look grim, anticipating that the trends
will carry forward as temperatures continue to increase, leading to
hotter days and more volatile rainy days, with sea levels continuing to
Islands such as Carteret and Tuvalu have reportedly already begun to
feel the sting, with rising sea levels leaving food gardens flooded
while homeowners seek to transfer to higher ground. Coconut farms – the
country’s primary agricultural product – have so far been most heavily
The report also states that inconsistent weather and rain patterns
have already led to more frequent onsets of malaria and the common flu,
and will soon start to have an impact on the economy, since the
country’s agricultural production is being affected.
In his comments to CNA, Cardinal Ribat, who met with Pope Francis
right before coming to the interview, said he brought the issue up with
the Pope during their meeting, and that Francis was sympathetic to their
“His response was that the nations are not listening, that’s what he
said,” Ribat explained, recalling how the Pope told him that while “we
do our best, we try to voice our concerns,” the answer ultimately
depends on other nations.
Pope Francis has often spoken out about the need to make more firm
commitments in trying to find solutions to climate change, focusing on
the issue at length in his 2015 environmental encyclical Laudato Si.
He also issued several strong statements on the issue ahead of the
2015 COP21 climate summit in Paris, which was attended by Vatican
Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin.
Speaking of Laudato Si, Cardinal Ribat said the encyclical helped the
world to see “the importance” of the problems they face not just in
Papua New Guinea, but “in the whole Pacific.”
Ribat called on nations to take greater action, specifically asking
“powerful” countries in the West “to respond in a positive way to help
us, because this high-rise sea level, we’ve never experienced it before
(and) we are wondering what is happening to us, why all this is
For those who doubt the effects of climate change or think that it’s a
myth, the cardinal said his response would be to “come and see” if they
“really want to be sure about what is happening.”
“This is where you really see the effect of what is happening,” he
said. “So when you talk about climate change, maybe here because you
have a big land mass you are talking about it and waiting for it to come
in the future. For us, it is right now.”