Papua New Guinea’s first ever Cardinal, Sir John Ribat
(Vatican Radio, 18-11-2016)
The news of the Archbishop of Port Moresby’s appointment spread like wildfire through the Pacific region where Ribat serves as the President of the Federation of Catholic Bishops of Oceania.
Visiting Vatican Radio just two days before the Consistory, Cardinal elect Ribat (who by the way was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II this year) said that although Papua New Guinea is geographically as far as you can get from the See of Peter, Pope Francis’ appointment makes him feel very close... „It gives me a great feeling of closeness, in the sense that when we have issues or things that need to be attended to we will have someone who will be our voice representing the Church in PNG, Solomon Islands and the neighbouring countries as well” Cardinal Ribat says.
Speaking with passion of the work he spearheads - as Chairman of the ecumenical movement in Papua New Guinea - to promote ecumenical dialogue in a region where a large percentage of the faithful belong to protestant denominations, the Cardinal said they too “share this feeling of closeness”. Cardinal Ribat also talks about his personal, very deep, experience of dialogue and sharing with other communions as he comes from a family where many of his relatives are from the Methodist tradition.
He speaks of the pain both Catholics and Protestants have to live with as they cannot share Holy Communion during Mass but says that for the moment this is what they all have to live with as they push towards full Christian Unity, a pathway that leads to lasting peace and friendship especially at this moment in history which is seeing so many divisions and conflicts. Cardinal Ribat concedes that perhaps his ecumenical commitment is one of the reasons Pope Francis chose him to be part of the College of Cardinals. „While we are saying that the Catholic Church is the mother church, then we have to be true to our name and embrace all” he says.
Regarding other issues that he feels are particular challenges he is called to address, the Cardinal speaks of the relationship his Bishops’ Conference has with Muslims - who are a minority in his geographical area - but whom have been invited to share their concerns with representatives of other faiths in this very difficult time. „To go this way together means the building of peace, the building of unity, and that extends to all aspects of our life”, so this relationship, he says, is something I really value.
Cardinal Ribat also speaks of the need to give the right kind of spiritual and moral guidance to the people of a small nation that are dealing with exploitation and human trafficking. He says that possibly in a moment in which the Pacific region is suffering first-hand the devastating effects of climate change, with rising sea levels that force island populations to abandon their homes in search of new environment to settle down, the Cardinal thinks that the experience of the Church in PNG can provide a precious contribution to Pope Francis’ call to „care for our common home”.
He also links this issue to the current migration issue that is affecting the entire globe and calls on the United Nations to redefine refugees and consider those being deeply affected by climate change on a par with those fleeing persecution and conflict.
Commenting on the fact that Francis has „sort of broken the protocol” of the way Cardinals are appointed by reaching so far out to small countries across the globe (countries that are not seen as world players when it comes to taking significant decisions and making investments), Cardinal Ribat said this speaks not only of the Pope’s will to promote inclusion for all, but also shows how the Church today is shifting its focus from the center to the peripheries. And he says, developed nations have much to learn from smaller, underdeveloped nations regarding lifestyle and the protection of the environment.
Asked what he is going to say to Pope Francis when he meets him for the first time, Cardinal Ribat said he brings the greetings and the invitation to visit Papua New Guinea not only from the Catholics of the nation, but of all of its inhabitants!
Sir Cardinal Ribat, is 59-years-old. He was ordained in the Congregation of the Sacred Heart Missionaries in 1985. He was appointed as the auxiliary Bishop of Bereina in PNG in 2000 and became the bishop there in 2002. He became Archbishop of Port Moresby in 2008. Not only is he the first Cardinal from Papua New Guinea, his appointment marks a first for the religious order of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.