that they go their own way, don’t listen. Neither do they respect their parents, teachers and elders. This is the general perception, which often is not entirely true. Papua New Guinean and Solomon Islands young people are not much different from youths elsewhere in the world, essentially good, curious about many things and full of life. They are searching for their place in society, in a world that is increasingly confusing. Nonetheless, many parents and grandparents ask, “What will become of our children in the future?”
To be anxious about the future of our children is a legitimate concern. Every caring adult should be worried about this. But worrying about the future of children will not change anything, unless it motivates us to confront what is going wrong in society today and try to do something about it.
Concern for the Welfare of Children
This year the Catholic Bishops ask Catholic laity to focus their attention on the care, protection and catechesis of children. At every stage of life, toddlers to young adults nearing the age of eighteen, children and youths need special attention from their parents and other family members, if they are to mature into healthy, happy, responsible adults.
Nor should we forget the unborn, many of whom are threatened even before they come into this world. The terrible practice of abortion is a hidden reality in Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands. It is illegal. But there are those who want to change that.
A lot of children do not get the love and protection they need for a healthy, happy childhood – and many Catholic and Christian families fail to pass their good traditional practices, their faith and Christian values on to their children. Thus many young people today will grow up without a foundation of religious beliefs, Christian principles and virtuous habits to guide them in their lives.
“Well,” we grumble, “they don’t listen.” Perhaps they don’t, but for sure they watch and see what we adults do, how we behave, how we express our faith - and that, for better or worse, is where, every day, children learn most of their lessons of life.
High Rate of Domestic Violence and Child Abuse
Researchers tell us that there is an unusually high rate of domestic violence and child abuse in Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands. Every day the media is filled with stories that illustrate this shameful fact. But we don’t need experts and the media to convince us of this. It is not uncommon to witness violence of one sort or another in our own families and the communities in which we live. A drunken husband beats his wife and terrifies his children; a frustrated mother swears at her naughty child and slaps her. At school a bully dominates and frightens children smaller than himself; a teacher, regularly absent from the classroom, neglects his/her students at a time when they most need good instruction, loving attention, friendly guidance and a healthy environment in which to learn.
We are all sinners who have baggage from the past we are unable to offload. And, sadly, many adults carry around with them debilitating memories of violence and abuse from their own childhood, dreadful thoughts difficult to forgive and forget. It is not surprising, therefore, that family violence and abuse, parental neglect and a failure to instruct children in Christian faith, as well as basic morality, are passed from one generation to the next. However, it doesn’t have to be this way. We can change it. There is nothing more important for parents to do, than to break the chain of abusive and poor parenting that exists so strongly in our society. This is a task which must be accomplished primarily by the laity, the parents and the families.
Learning about the Appropriate Care of Children
Parents want to learn more about appropriate care of children, how to teach them effectively and how to guide and discipline them with love and understanding. The Catholic Church and others should offer them programs to do this.
Things are rapidly changing in Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands. It’s easy for parents to become confused and not know how to raise and protect their kids in the face of the many dangers present in today’s world. Some of the traditional ways parents used in the past when raising their children no longer work very well. Some of the old customs are no longer appropriate today. Some are even abusive and do lasting harm.
Already, in several dioceses, Child Protection and Family Life Offices are making “Positive Parenting” training available to carefully chosen married couples. These parents will become trainers and share what they learn with parents in the parish communities, the neighborhoods and villages. We hope this program will spread to every diocese. In positive parenting workshops, people learn techniques for raising children that foster a child’s physical, emotional, intellectual and social integration. This holistic integration is greatly strengthened when spiritual development is also emphasized in the trainings. Fathers and mothers who have an active faith and good Christian values should share these spiritual treasures with their children. If they do, their children have a better chance to form good relationships for happy married life in the future. Such families often are also the seedbed from which grow vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
Lukautim Pikinini Act 2015 for Child Protection
Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands have good child protection laws on the books. PNG, for example, has a remarkably good law entitled Lukautim Pikinini Act 2015. First enacted in 2009, the law was updated and improved in 2015. Unfortunately, very few people are familiar with what this legislation requires. The law has been poorly publicized and is inadequately enforced almost everywhere. Thus, because they are uninformed, many people do not recognize mistreatment of children happening all around them, - and that they themselves might also be guilty of such abuse.
Awareness programs about good parenting and child protection are badly needed. Therefore, the Catholic Bishops Conference recommends that Lukautim Pikinini Act 2015 be required reading and guided study for all students at Divine Word University, in all Catholic teachers’ colleges and health training institutions, as well as at catechist training schools and diocesan pastoral centres. Of course this must also be done in our seminaries. In fact, young people in our Catholic secondary schools would benefit greatly from guided study of the Act as well.
We urge parish priests and Catholic lay leaders, especially those who direct lay spiritual groups, to learn what constitutes child abuse and become familiar with child protection laws, so that they are able to teach and guide families and the general public concerning this issue. They should also become strong advocates for the enforcement of child protection laws so that child abuse in its many forms is fully recognized and stopped.
We encourage all the dioceses to set up a child protection office with trained personnel, whose task it is to inform families and communities about child abuse and the laws that have been enacted to protect children. Child protection workers should also assist people trapped in abusive situations. This will help rid society of the cruelty a great number of children are forced to endure day-after-day.
The Challenges of Living in a Rapidly Changing World
Culture in Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands is rapidly changing, especially in urban areas, but in village society as well. As already mentioned, some customs and methods of rearing children, common in traditional times, are not necessarily appropriate in today’s world. Catholic families need to talk about this issue in light of what they believe as Christians, what they have learned from the teaching of Jesus Christ and his Church. In his day, St. Paul encouraged families to do this when he wrote to the Christian community at Ephesus, stating: “Children, it is your Christian duty to obey your parents, for this is the right thing to do. ‘Respect your father and mother’ is the first commandment that has a promise added: ‘so that all may go well with you, and you may live a long time in the land.’ Parents do not treat your children in such a way as to make them angry. Instead, bring them up with Christian discipline and instruction” (Ephesians 6:1-4).
Positive Parenting and the Education of Children
Sound methods of positive parenting go hand-in-hand with catechesis of children. Good parents love their children dearly and create a joyful and loving family environment in the home, in which the children can thrive. They also instruct their sons and daughters in the faith, proclaiming to them by word and example the Good News of Jesus. Loving parents teach their children Christian values, which have helped them gain happiness in life, in both good and in challenging times. Just as St. Paul did, parish priests, but especially Catholic lay leaders, should remind parents of their responsibility to raise their children in a patient and loving way, instructing them in the faith so that children grow up with a strong foundation on which to develop happiness in life.
Someone once said, “In the home, the father and mother are the teachers of their children. In the school, the teachers are the father and mother of their students.” Education of children begins in the home at the earliest age and continues in the family even after children have begun formal education in school. This is a solemn responsibility of all parents, to educate their children. Schools assist parents to fulfill their obligation to educate and form their children for a happy and successful life. Thus it is that parents and teachers share a common and sacred vocation, the education and Christian formation of children.
Most parents might not know this but it is a fact that standards in formal education, from elementary through primary and secondary levels, are declining at an alarming rate in PNG and Solomon Islands. This has been taking place for a long time and has accelerated greatly during the past five years.
Early Childhood Learning
We encourage parents in the villages and the neighborhoods to work together in the community to educate and form their children during their earliest years. Mothers do this best. This kind of community self-help education program is called “early childhood learning”. The seeds of this developing initiative are planted and we already see grass roots early childhood learning centres popping up here and there all over PNG and Solomon Islands. We urge Catholic laity in the parishes to support this sort of program. We see this as an ideal ministry for lay people interested in promoting the protection, care and religious formation of children, beginning at the age of two or three, up to five or six years old. The benefits are great.
Children who receive good early childhood learning do far better than those who do not when they enter elementary and primary school. Early childhood trained kids are hungry to learn, are better behaved, know how to get along with other children, are attentive and respectful, and already have a foundation of good Christian values to guide them. “Let the little children come to me and do not stop them,” Jesus said, “because the Kingdom of God belongs to them….Then he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on each of them and blessed them” (Mk 10:14,16).
Our Catholic Schools – Making them Better
Do you want to send your children to a Catholic school? Many parents do. They think their children will be safe, get a better education and receive a firm foundation in the Catholic faith. Sadly, we are ashamed to admit, this is not always the case. What can be done to improve the deteriorating state of education in PNG and Solomon Islands, even in Catholic schools? Catholic lay people must take up this most important cause and find solutions to the problems we face in education.
In those parishes, where the parish priest, who represents the Catholic Agency at the local level, along with the parish pastoral council, the school board of management, parents and the school administration all communicate well and work together, the Catholic school will improve, in most cases dramatically so.
Promote a strong Catholic identity in your Catholic school with religious and social activities, in which all staff and students participate. Use Liturgy, Scripture, prayer, religious signs and symbols, along with periods of well-planned religious instructions, to create a Catholic atmosphere at the school. Promote excellence in teaching and learning. Properly limit the number of students per class, accept only students who are age-appropriate to each grade level, deal with bullying in every case immediately and eliminate absenteeism on the part of head teachers and teachers – and the school will make great progress in its mission of educating the young. In all of this, Catholic lay people, parents and grandparents, should pay much more attention to their school than they presently do. Diocesan Education Offices can only do so much to overcome the many challenges that prevent our schools from providing quality education for our children. Catholic laity should show more interest in their schools at the local level.
What will become of our children in the future? The challenges of a rapidly changing society have caught us by surprise and temporarily knocked us off our feet. But our faith is strong. We will stand up again. There are solutions to these challenges.
The Catholic Bishops address this pastoral letter about Protection, Care and Catechesis of Children mainly to Catholic laity, to the families. We ask you to thoughtfully read it, think about it and discuss it in the family, the parish and the community. Most of all, we encourage you to transform your worries about your children and grandchildren into positive action for change and a better world on their behalf in your families, the parishes and communities.
God bless you all.
+ Bp Arnold Orowae
President of the CBC PNG/SI
3 May 2017