From Suva And Rome With Love

ANALYSIS: Gifts impress Need to Care for Creation – the Earth and its inhabitants When the President, Major General (Ret’d) Jioji Konusi Konrote recently met with Pope Francis in the
03 Apr 2017 11:00
From Suva And Rome With Love
The medallion that was presented as a gift to the President of Fiji.

ANALYSIS: Gifts impress Need to Care for Creation – the Earth and its inhabitants

When the President, Major General (Ret’d) Jioji Konusi Konrote recently met with Pope Francis in the Vatican City, Rome, apart from exchanging views on global and national issues, they practised a tradition which is an integral part of diplomacy- gifting.

In the days of ancient civilisations, dignitaries and leaders exchanged gifts to welcome, honour and cultivate gainful diplomatic relationships. Many of the choice of gifts embody symbols of esteem and welcome while travelling abroad or receiving visitors. Gift exchanges take place in the ceremonial climate of toasts, banquets, speeches and formal meetings.

In today’s rites of diplomacy and international relations, a gift of State often captures the essence of a nation, chosen for its ability to exhibit pride in a unique culture and people. Gifts of state may showcase traditions of fine or folk arts, crafts or craftsmanship.

They may display wealth in precious stones or metals, fine textiles and apparel. Gifts may draw from a rich heritage of antiques and antiquities or an expressive storehouse of cultural icons. This way the gift becomes more than a mere formality, but a reminder of the special alliance between the gift giver and receiver.

President Konrote gifted the Pope with a Lali (Fijian wooden gong) carved out of a mahogany tree that once stood outside Fiji’s State House that fell in the wake of Tropical Cyclone Winston last year.

“That Lali is significant to us Fijians since we will be presiding over the Conference of the Parties 23 in Bonn, Germany later this year,” Mr Konrote said.

“For us here in Fiji and for all the Pacific Small Island Developing States, climate change is real. As we get ready to preside over the Presidency of COP23, we are reminded of the devastation wreaked upon us by TC Winston. We know of the enormity of this challenge because we have witnessed first-hand the devastation of climate change related disasters,” Mr Konrote said.

“We now are calling on the world. We need the world to come together and deliberate on this issue for the survival of humanity.”

Pope Francis gifted President Konrote a medallion – a bronze casting which signified a fruitful field. The two gifts were symbolic.

President Konrote’s gift signified the summoning of the world to take action against the challenge posed by climate change.

Pope Francis’ gift on other hand represented a hope that is derived from the Prophet Isaiah in the Old Testament of the Holy Bible: “The wilderness will become a fruitful field.”

The synopsis of the medallion states; “the dry, thorny branch that blossoms and bears fruit symbolises the passage from selfishness to sharing, from war to peace, it is a parable of the change that takes place when men and women open their hearts to the authentic values of growth and social harmony”. It also states that the tondo (the work of art) is not perfect, but missing some parts, as a sign of commitment demanded of everyone.

The two leaders’ choices of gifts were remarkable in that their messages on environmental stewardship were interlinked and complementary, whilst affirming the important place of gift giving in diplomacy.

The Pope’s gift spoke volumes of the climate change challenges we face here in Fiji and the Pacific on a daily basis.

In his Encyclical letter Laudato si’ on Care for our Common Home which he also gifted to President Konrote, the Pope paints a poignant reflection on what is happening to our common home – the Earth. He discusses pollution and climate change, the issue of water, loss of biodiversity, decline in the quality of human life and the breakdown of society. He also addresses the global inequality and the responsibility of all leaders to care for the vulnerable and marginalised.

In his 144-page book, apart from his spiritual guidance, Pope Francis offers advice on humanity’s calling to live out a new way of life (ecological conversion) – a life that challenges all to be the change that will bring good to the whole of creation, a realisation of the covenant between God, humanity and the created environment.

Gifting is an unwritten rule in diplomacy and without it, a meet is often deemed incomplete.

According to an academic, for centuries, the exchange of gifts has held us together. It makes possible a bridge to the abyss where language struggles. Gifts often come in different types, shapes, colours and sizes. It is a reminder of an alliance between the two countries.

The two gifts will be treasured in the two States. Whilst the lali rests in one of the chambers in the Vatican, the medallion will be at home in Fiji’s State House.

Every time Mr Konrote will see the medallion, he will be reminded of his conversation with Pope Francis in the Vatican City. It will call to mind our common responsibility to be stewards of God’s good creation.

It may be the same for Pope Francis, as the Lali will be reminder of all churches and religion’s prophetic responsibility to speak about the suffering climate change is causing on peoples, and the call placed on every person to act decisively to address the challenge confronting the environment.

In diplomacy, every gift has significance and meaning. While some gifts are more pronounced than others – Fijians can be assured that the meaning of Fiji’s gifts to Pope Francis was most appropriate in the strong message it conveys. Fiji’s message reciprocated and affirmed by Pope Francis’ bronze medallion impresses the same message of stewardship and our collective responsibility to care for creation. It is a message of love, peace and tolerance.

Edited by Naisa Koroi


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