Aristotle, ToRot and Momis


AT the St Joseph’s Catholic church, I had one of the most powerful homilies I ever heard with such tenacity and vigour. It was the Feast Day of Blessed Peter ToRot, whose life and death is celebrated after the late Pope John Paul II beatified him in Rome.
The Apostolic Nuncio to Papua New Guinea, Archbishop Kurian Mathew Vayalungkal, highlighted the link between the life of Peter ToRot and the sacrament of marriage and what marriage life is in the Catholic Church. ToRot was imprisoned and killed by the Japanese invaders for standing up against polygamy and for practising his faith as a Christian during the World war II. He was a simple villager who lived as a catechist of the Catholic Church in those days.
Archbishop Kurian’s point was that for a happy marriage three ingredients are needed: praying together, loving and caring for each other, and forgiving unconditionally. He learnt this from his own parents. The message was loud and clear to most of us as the institution of marriage was at stake in this modern world. Marriage within the Catholic doctrine is the sacrament between a man and a woman, and it cannot be any other way. A reference was made to St Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, chapter 5: 22-32, which explains that the mystery of marriage between a man and a woman is like the relationship of Christ and the Church.
It was one of the best sermons I had ever had in a long time. For the first time we all clapped in appreciation of the powerful homily given with grace that Sunday.
Soon after the service I attended the launch of Father Andrew Murray’s book: Thinking about Political Things: An Aristotelian Approach to Pacific Life. Fr Andrew is a Marist priest who has taught philosophy for over 30 years largely at the Catholic Institute of Sydney but also at the Catholic Theological Union, and the Aquinas Academy in Sydney and at the Catholic Theological Institute at Bomana, PNG, and the Holy Name Seminary at Tenaru in the Solomon Islands.
The book launch took place at St Joseph’s Parish centre, East Boroko. The launch was open to the public according to the organiser, Father Joseph Vnuck, the president of the Catholic Theological Institute.
Dr John Momis, the resident of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, was chief guest. In a powerful short speech Dr.Momis spoke on the style of contemporary leadership in PNG and the need for deeper investment in ideological foundations to inform contemporary leadership.
I was particularly impressed with his reminder that all Papua New Guineans should remind themselves about the preamble of the Constitution – especially the national goals and directive principles – which provides the guiding principles in ideological development in PNG.
Dr Momis is not someone who minces words. Some level of maturity and deep sense of responsible leadership is needed at this time in PNG.
So what is the importance of a book on Aristotle to PNG?
Robert Sokolowski, of the Catholic University of America, says: “Andrew Murray offers us an ingenious and humane reading of Aristotle’s Politics. He represents the Politics as its author intended it to be received, as a work that clarifies how we must think about political matters and order our civic communities if we are to bring out the best in our humanity.
He does this by blending classical philosophy with the concerns of contemporary political societies of the Pacific Islands: the chapters of the book move back and forth between Aristotle and life in Melanesian, Polynesia, and Micronesia.”
I first read Aristotle as an undergraduate student of philosophy at University of Papua New Guinea in the mid-1980s. Aristotle studied under Plato at Plato’s Academy in Athens, and eventually opened a school of his (the Lyceum) there. As a scholar, Aristotle had a wide range of interests. He wrote about meteorology, biology, physics, poetry, logic, rhetoric, and politics and ethics.
It is also said that Aristotle tutored Alexander “the Great”, the general who expanded the Macedonian Empire all the way to what is now India.
Aristotle’s Politics is about the kinds of political community that existed in his time and shows where and how these cities fall short of the ideal community of virtuous citizens. In particular, Aristotle talks about the connection between the well being of the political community and that of the citizens who make it up, his belief that citizens must actively participate in politics if they are to be happy and virtuous.
What Aristotle says about what prevents revolution within political communities have been a source of inspiration for many contemporary theorists, especially those unhappy with the liberal political philosophy promoted by thinkers such as John Locke and John Stuart Mill.
The link between the sermon that Archbishop Kurian gave and the speech given by Dr Momis during the launch of the book on Aristotle and its importance to Pacific societies is that citizens must participate freely in the politics of the time. Great leadership moves society forward even against sectorial interests.
It was refreshing to hear the “Father of PNG Constitution” reminding Papua New Guineans to use the national goals and directive principles in the Constitution as the platform to create the political community that empowers citizens to participate in the development of their nation.
Dr Momis is a humble exemplary leader as well. He has seen the birth of a nation, the decentralisation of political power, and now as the leader of the Autonomous Regions of Bougainville moving towards a future untold.
The people of a democratic nation like PNG speak through the polls. For people to express confidence a leader must have the blameless quality such as good Christian values, strong family life, honesty, hard work, a proven record of serving people without thinking of oneself, and someone with impeccable principles of egalitarianism and utilitarian values.
People freely choose a leader to represent them, and the people deserve to be served.
We pray the next cohort of national leaders is like Aristotle, ToRot, and Momis

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