Monday, December 29, 2014

Sweet 15!

On Holy Family Sunday I had the privilege of celebrating the fifteenth anniversary of Mary, Mother of God Parish in Komakul.

Fr Kris Sokol, MSF and I are walking to where the Holy Mass will be celebrated.

Father Kris Solok, MSF - a  Missionary of the Holy Family from Poland is the parish priest (pastor) of the parish.

Komakul is located in the Southern Highlands Province in the Eastern Deanery of the Diocese of Mendi.

Standing on the parish grounds, if you look one way you see Mount Gilluwe in the distance...

And if you look the other way, you see the much closer Mount Ialibu.  Thanks to our trusty local young people to make sure that we don't miss these natural wonders!  It can get rather chilly there, especially in the evenings and early mornings... But the Lord gave us a glorious day to celebrate with the good people of Mary, Mother of God Parish.

I was accompanied in the procession by two catechists, who came dressed in their traditional attire.  Meet Catechist Simon and Catechist Samuel.  Catechists are key people in the life of the church in Papua New Guinea.  In the Diocese of Mendi, there are 30 parishes or pastoral areas - and over 300 rural outstations.  There are less than 30 priests serving in the diocese.  Catechists and other lay ministers are indispensable in bringing the Good News of Jesus to the people in this remote mission diocese.

Women in traditional attire preparing for Holy Mass to begin.

 After the Mass, I had the joy of blessing an "Atrium" - that is used to present the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd to children.  The Missionaries of Charity (of Blessed Mother Theresa) are spearheading this effort.  We thank Pontifical Society of Missionary Childhood for their assistance in this project.

When it comes to weddings at least, the 15th anniversary is often called the Crystal Anniversary.  In any case, it was crystal clear that the people of Komakul are happy to be celebrating 15 years as a parish and will continue to be a community of love and faithful service under their patroness, Mary, the Mother of God.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Father Damian of Muli

Earlier in Advent I had the joy of visiting Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Muli, located in the Eastern Deanery of the Diocese.  I was invited to come and spend a few days of celebration ... to celebrate the parish anniversary, bless a multi-purpose building and celebrate the Sacrament of Confirmation.

Meet the parish priest, Father Damian, MSF.  Fr Damian is a Holy Family Missionary and belongs to the Polish province.  He has been serving in the Diocese of Mendi for over seven years.

His tender pastoral heart is matched by his pastoral zeal and hard work in building up the Church in this remote area of the diocese.  Several parishioners cannot hold back their emotion to see that Father Damian came to the celebration dressed in the traditional attire of the local people.  (Just the face decoration takes four hours to apply.)  Cultural understanding, appreciation and sensitivity is a must for the ex-patriate missionaries who come to PNG to serve.  Still, all cultures need to be redeemed in the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Marching and chanting with traditional instruments of war is always part of these big cultural celebrations.  While tribal warfare is still present in PNG, the Catholic Church has been a stabilising force for peace and understanding among the many tribal communities of this Melanesian country.

Of course, I too get into the act... as I am met and welcomed to the parish.  It is an honour to participate in these meaningful celebrations.

Digging the mumu pit.

These big celebrations almost always include a traditional mumu, which you have already been to if you have read the blog previously... so I won't describe it in detail at this point.

Removing the hair from the slaughtered pig.  The pig is the main attraction at a mumu.
Women peeling kaukau (or sweet potatoes) - a staple food in the Highlands.  The kaukau also goes into the mumu pit!
Fr Damian in front of the pit where the stones are being heated.  The stones will do the cooking!
In four or five hours the food is ready.... cooked to perfection.

Here try some!

A very important part of the celebration is sharing the cooked pig.  It is cut up and shared with the various groups and people who have come to celebrate.  Here Father Damian is giving me the backbone of the pig - usually reserved for VIPs and special guests.  (The rain does not dampen anyone's spirits.)

Legion of Mary women discuss the day's events, among the banana trees!

Marching and eating aside, I was in Muli for other very important reasons, one of those was to bless a multipurpose centre that would be used as a kindergarden, and meeting rooms for the Legion of Mary and Rosary group...

Here, I am blessing a dormitory used by the Rosary Group for overnight meetings.

My stay in Muli concluded with a very beautiful celebration of the Sacrament of Confirmation.  Here, at the Entrance Procession, young men with bows and arrows that were used in tribal fighting are symbols of banishing spiritual evil from the community.

Well-behaved children are rapt up in the beauty and meaning of it all.

The sanctuary of the church in Muli was designed by Father Damian and is based, in part on the Diary of Saint Faustina.

We pray that the gifts of the Holy Spirit poured out at Confirmation will built up the Church.

The happy and spirit-filled Confirmation class of Muli.

The Diocese of Mendi is blessed by the life and ministry of the Holy Family Missionaries of the Polish Province.  Pictured here is Father Damian, Father Eki (who is the Director of the Cathechist Training School in Mendi and Father Chris, who is the parish priest of Saint Mary Parish in Kamakul.  (Father Chris was the photographer for many of the photos in this instalment of the blog.)

See you next time!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

We Can't Wait For the Future ....

Recently I was invited by Fr Mathew, an Indian Priest from the Congregation of Saint Therese, to come to his parish for the blessing a new Youth Center which was built by the people themselves in the Porondaka outstation of the Margarima Parish.  (Unfortunately the pictures of the Youth Center itself - which was built of bush materials - didn't turn out... But, believe me, it was very impressive!  Basically, it is a large building with a thatched roof, with two large rooms to accommodate boys and girls who will gather their for regular meetings, retreats and religious formation.)

We drove as far as we could and then we began the walk through the characteristic beauty of the Papua New Guinea countryside.

Before we were even close, we were greeting with an enthusiastic group of young people who came to welcome us and "march" us to the place where the Holy Mass would be celebrated and the blessing would take place.  The joy you can see on the faces of the young folks was contagious!

I was not kidding when I said marching!  I joined the line of people in their traditional attire and to the sound of drums and traditional chants of the people we marched to the place where the people had gathered.  (We did take a break every once in a while to catch our breath!)

A bit closer to our destination, we were met with even more people who lined the route to the Porondaka outstation.  The young people had prepared a beautiful Song of Welcome and some flowered necklaces for us.  It is a big celebration when the bishop comes to visit.  I am humbled by the simple yet profound faith of the people.  In these occasions, I always remind myself that it is not about me, but about Jesus and His Church.

When we finally arrived we found hundreds of people who had gathered for the celebration... Some had walked as much as 14 hours to be there... It was a beautiful day, in the midst of a week of constant rain!  The people took their places on the green grass under blue skies and we prepared to start the Mass.

The people are very proud of their cultural heritage.  Some churches forbid their members from wearing their traditional attire and singing their traditional chants...  The Catholic Church sees in these forms opportunities to inculturate and incarnate the Gospel in a faithful and profound way.

Young and old find meaning and identity in these cultural expressions and are happy to bring them celebrate our one Catholic faith.  (Our young friend is not giving a muscle-man pose... He is actually dancing, (which is usually done in a straight line and in place.)

Saint Joseph's Parish, Margarima is in the Hela Province of PNG.  It is the largest parish in the diocese.  (Actually, it should probably be two parishes!) It has over twenty outstations.  There are two major cultural groups in the parish, the Huli and the Obene.  They have completely different languages and traditions.  The territory of the diocese is still plagued by tribal fighting.  Here, members of different tribes show the unity that is the prayer of Jesus Himself and the mission of the Church.

After the Mass, the procession was led once again by our youthful drummers to the nearby Youth Center, which we blessed and inaugurated.  Please pray for the young people of PNG.  They have  many challenges not faced by the youth of other places.  Still, they have the same hopes and dreams for themselves and their families.

In words directed to them I said something like this: "Many say that 'young people are the future' and that is true.  However, I would like to say that here in the Diocese of Mendi, we cannot wait for the future, we need you today!  We need your joy, your talents, your strength, your initiative, your light... and we need them now, today!  We need you today!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Hela's Angels

Huli Wigmen preparing to lead the procession to the church.
Just got back from a ‘patrol’ through the Western Deanery of the Diocese of Mendi, which is made up of the Hela Province.  The predominant tribal group there are the Huli’s.  They are a strong and faithful people who are proud of their cultural heritage.  I would invite you to walk with me through the various steps of this journey… The limits and expense of our IT capabilities prevents me from sharing all of the pictures that I would like to… but I hope that the few that I am able to upload will give you a sense of our trip.  I was accompanined on this journey by Deacon Elias Zambra and lay missionary Anne Katrin Gleske from Germany.

Confirmation Class at Saint Francis Church, Tari
We set out from Mendi for the five hour roadtrip to Tari.  In Tari we joined in the celebration of the 60th Anniversary of the first Holy Mass ever celebrated in the Tari side  of the diocese.  The first Mass was celebrated by Fr. Michelot, MSC who had come from the coast to explore the possibility of establishing the Church in the Highlands.  He was surprised to discover that there were large populations of people living in the Highlands and he determined that the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart (MSC) would not be able to take on the additional mission.  It was then, after less than two years after the first Mass, that the mission of the Southern Highlands was entrusted to the Capuchin-Franciscan Friars of the Saint Augustine Province, Pittsburgh, PA  USA.  The Capuchins have been in Tari ever since.  They have served tirelessly for almost 60 years in the Southern Highlands and now in the Hela Province to announce the Good News of Jesus.

Confirmation Class at Tari Secondary School

We then set out for Saint Joseph Tari Secondary School (TSS) to celebrate the Sacrament of Confirmation.  The faculty and students warmly welcomed us and participated in a Spirit-filled liturgy. Mr Clive Yemini is the principal.  The FCC Sisters (Sr. Jasmine and Sr Sophy) also serve at the school.  The Mass was celebrated on Saint Francis Day, which provided an extra layer of joy and meaning to the celebration.

Confirmation Class at Saint Conrad Parish, Pureni

After Tari Secondary School we headed to Saint Conrad Parish in Pureni for the Sacrament of Confirmation.  Parish is also served by the Capuchin Franciscans of the Custody of PNG/SI.  We were privileged to have Father Jonathan Williams, OFM Cap., Custodian of the Capuchins present for the celebration.  At the Mass, Fr Jonathan proposed Capuchin Fr. Maneesh Mathew, OFM Cap., to serve as as the new parish priest and I, as bishop joyfully appointed him to that very important ministry.  The people were very happy with the appointment.

 Father Jonathan Williams, OFM Cap., congratulates Fr Maneesh Mathew, OFM Cap.,
at having been named parish priest of Saint Conrad Parish, Pureni.

Lay Missionary Anne Katrin Gleske (Anna) with Robert (l) and Peter (r) who were the altar servers at the Confirmation Mass.  Anna is not in many photos, because she was usually the one taking the pictures.

After Pureni we took the road toward Hungi, which is a pastoral area served by the Capuchins.  At present there is not a full-time priest assigned, but Father Paul Patlo, OFM Cap., is looking after the pastoral area until a full-time priest will be assigned there.  We went to celebrate the Sacrament of Confirmation at a mountaintop outstation named after PNG’s own Blessed Peter ToRot – and at the Hungi mainstation named after Saint Anthony.  We arrived and were greeted by an enthusiastic group of parishioners who had gathered.  We celebrated Holy Mass with the people and then had a peaceful evening.  

Entrance procession for opening Mass in Hungi

Early the next morning we were off on foot (though wings would have been more appropriate) as we climbed the mountain bushtrack to Timugu.  The climb was VERY steep and a bit strenuous for those of us who were not used to it.  However, the  local people ascended with ease.  I was amazed to see people of every age making the climb appear to be a ‘walk in the park’.  I needed to stop a few times to catch my breath – but my companions were very understanding.  At Timugu we also celebrated the Sacrament of Confirmation with the young people.

Do I look like I just climbed a mountain?
Leading the way to the Church.

Speaking to the people after Mass.  Catechist Thomas must translate.
I was touched by our trip to Hungi and Timugu.  In each place the leaders pleaded with me to help them.  There are no schools in the area and no adequate health care.  The government has forgotten them.  Here, the people speak only Huli, their Mother-tongue.  They have no way of learning Pidgin ... and so, my homily and any words that I speak to them must be translated into Huli by the catechist. Pray that I can work with the 'powers that be' to help bring needed services to these wonderful people.

Long dispela mak hia, kisim Holi Spirit God Papa i givim long yu!
(Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit!)
After the Confirmation, and a traditional meal (mumu) we began our descent again toward Hungi.  I was thankful that the rain held off until the end of the journey.  The path would have been treacherous for us trying to deal with running water and mud!  There were faithful guides to help us every step of the way.

After a good night's rest, we got up and prepared for the Sacrament of Confirmation with the people of the main station at Hungi.

Confirmation class at Hungi.
As you can see from this trip, an important part of the ministry of a bishop is celebrating the Sacrament of Confirmation with the young people of the diocese.  I have to confess, it is among the most enjoyable things that I do.  It has also given me the opportunity to reflect more on the profound work of the Holy Spirit who continues building up the Church in every age with a marvellous outpouring of gifts and charisms.

After the Holy Mass we packed up the car and hit the dusty and bumpy road toward Hedmari... where once again, we were greeted by the enthusiastic parishioners.

Parishioners of Hedmari welcoming us.
Fr Joice Packel, CST is the parish priest of the Hedmari Pastoral Area.  He is from Kerala, India.  He belongs to the Congregation of Saint Therese.  We were invited to come and bless a new grotto of the Blessed Virgin Mary which the parishioners had built.  The devotion to ‘Mama Maria’ among the Catholics in Papua New Guinea is very strong and inspiring.

After the blessing of the grotto, we prepared to head back to Tari where I had a meeting of the TSS Board of Governors... after which we began our trip back to Mendi.  It was a journey that brought graces and blessings at every turn.  Thanks for coming along!  See you next time.