In the course of this 'missionary journey' I had the great joy of celebrating the Sacrament of Confirmation with over 400 people in six different celebrations. Many young people dressed in their traditional attire for the celebration. Others dressed in western clothing. Papua New Guinea is a country and a society in transition... struggling to keep the best of tradition, while adapting to the modern world. It is not always easy. Less than 60 years ago, the people in this region were living literally in the Stone Age. They had traditions and customs to guide and protect them. The confrontation with the modern world presents many challenges to the people. I believe that the Catholic faith is a great support and guide to the people as they face these challenges. (Our faith is a great support to all of us, as we face the challenges of our lives too!)
Specific to the Huli culture, there is a traditional Rite of Passage whereby the young initiates are struck by a stick to show that they are ready to face the hardships of adult life. It is important, in that context that the young person does not flinch, but shows strength and valor. That tradition has made itself into the Rite of Confirmation. After the anointing with Holy Chrism, the newly confirmed are struck with a stick to show that they are ready and willing to carry the Cross with Jesus. (In the past, the universal Rite of Confirmation suggested that the bishop give the newly confirmed a gentle slap on the cheek to show more or less the same thing.) I was hesitant to do it at first, but the candidates themselves said that it was important to them. All of them, show a great bravery and strength and the people are there to cheer them on. (I would not recommend this for other contexts, but it is very meaningful, given the tradition and customs of the Huli people.)
After the Confirmation Mass at the main station, the people made a very special presentation to me....my very own pig! In the language and custom of the people, it was suggested that I would take it back to Mendi and breed it and then give the little ones to any people who would come to me in need. I was touched by their generosity in sharing this very valuable gift with me.
The people had to walk, some of them a great distance from some of the more remote outstations to attend the Confirmation mass. One group met with some 'enemies' on the road who drove them into hiding in the bush. They made their way to another Catholic outstation. They were frustrated and saddened that they would not make it for their Confirmation... So, after the celebration at the main station of St Joseph's Parish, we traveled to the outstation and celebrated the Confirmation Mass with this last group of young people. They were very appreciative, but not more than I for having this opportunity for sharing the blessings of God's Spirit with His people.
Pictured above are John and Max. They received the Sacrament of Confirmation at the main station...and they assisted at serving the Holy Mass.... Both of them told me that they would like to be priests someday. They asked for my prayers for them... and so I close by asking you, dear reader, to remember to pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life. God's Spirit is alive and active in the Church today as it was 2000 years ago. We pray that all God's people, especially the young will be open and docile to the movements of that Spirit in their lives.