Visit to PNG

Bishop Chris Prowse
with photographs by Dave Tacon

After clouds blocked his planned visit to missionary stations in the mountains of Kerema diocese in Papua New Guinea, Melbourne Auxiliary Bishop Christopher Prowse in PNGChristopher Prowse was forced to limit his pastoral visit to a lower altitude parish where he found much to impress him in the evangelising work of the Melbourne Overseas Mission.

Writing in the Melbourne diocesan publication Kairos, Bishop Prowse says that he had planned to visit Mgr John Flynn from Melbourne who “has served faithfully in the mountainous missionary stations of the Kerema Diocese in Papua New Guinea for many years, presently as the much loved parish priest of Kanabea”.

According to Bishop Prowse, “Fr John”, as he is known locally, is continuing a tradition of Melbourne Overseas Mission (MOM) contribution to Kanabea pastoral life that started in the late 1960s under former Melbourne Archbishop Cardinal James Knox.

“I was also keen to observe first hand the commitment of MOM to these regions,” Bishop Prowse writes.

“But the mission station had been covered in thick cloud for several months, and no aircraft was able to land at the station’s airstrip,” he added.

John Flynn in Kanabea, PNG Unable to visit Kanabea, Bishop Prowse was nevertheless able to speak to Fr John by radio. “Via others, I sent him some small gifts that included a letter from Archbishop Denis Hart, the Archbishop of Melbourne”.

Meanwhile, Bishop Prowse spent time at the parish of Bema lower down the mountain range.

“Bema also has strong links with the Archdiocese of Melbourne,” Bishop Prowse says.

A Melbourne priest Fr Patrick Harvey was parish priest for several years. Another Melbourne priest, Fr Peter Cullen died in an aircraft crash in the area in 1976, he writes.

“Bema has been the grateful recipient of generosity from Melbourne via MOM – many of the facilities that I inspected – schools, parish buildings, hydro-electrical equipment, tractor, and so forth – are all gifts from the organisation,” Bishop Prowse says.

Bishop Prowse – Kamina, PNG “Wherever we went, the simplicity of lifestyle, the friendliness of the shy parishioners, and the educational opportunities offered to an isolated culture were omnipresent, and so was the practical help of MOM!”

However, Bishop Prowse also noted the uncertain future that Papua New Guinea seems to face.

“Political inaction, corruption, and violence continue there unabated. I found this most evident in Port Moresby. The chilling advice of one local was that at night if one hears the sound of dogs barking and cars arriving at your residence, then you must remain in bed.

Kanabea, above the clouds, PNG “Under no circumstances ought one turn on lights or open doors. ‘Raskols’ roam certain streets with evil intent. Also, malaria and HIV-AIDS are national problems of the highest level,” he writes.

“Yet, the work of evangelisation continues. How happy I was to experience first-hand the Melbourne Archdiocese’s small but significant contribution in the Gulf Province of PNG and beyond!” Bishop Prowse concludes.

Visiting our MOM (Kairos, 1 October 2006)

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Tsunami Aid in Nias

Order of St Lazarus – Asia Disaster Relief
2005 – 2006
Following the disastrous Tsunami on Boxing Day 2004, hundreds of thousands of people from the west coast of the Indian Ocean to the east coast of Africa lost their lives.
Within hours of the disaster, the Grand Masters of the Military and Hospitaller Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem put into motion the Asia Disaster Relief Programme, focusing on the distribution of rice other basic foods, the construction of up to 100 fishing boats as well as reconstruction and repair of 30 schools and the building of Lazarus Module Homes.

This project has focused its efforts on the island of Nias – located off the east coast of Sumatra.

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Ten days after the Tsunami

Everything in the room swayed and moved in different directions for about five minutes. This was our experience of the Tsunami that struck on 26th December 2004. Among the people were one month old babies and young mothers. They did not want to be separated from their families and refused to come into town where we could have given them better care. The crowd did not want to leave the Sisters either, even though the Government offered them their schools. They felt more secure with us.

Sr. Teresa with two Superiors of Karaikal and I went down the coast. We visited a good number of villages, talking to the victims. Some had lost as many as seven members of their families, many of them children or mothers who were trying to save their little ones. The men who were fishing elsewhere were saved. The wave came up so silently that people were hardly aware of the black water that engulfed them, churned them around and took them kilometers forward and then dragged them into the sea. The next wave brought them back on to the land dead or seriously injured. Some had the good fortune of clinging on to a tree or something else that turned out to be their lifeline. We went looking for orphans and found that mostly children had died.

In Nagappattinam, it was horrifying to see huge boats and ships sitting on verandahs, or even on roof tops. These boats can cost between one to 15 lakhs. The different types of nets for various fish cost about one lakh each. Those who have lost all cannot start life again without boats and equipment. Bodies are pinned under debris and the air smells foul. People are huddled together away from the coast.

We went on to Velangani, it was deserted. On 26th, the people had left the church after the Tamil Mass and gone down to the beach. Others entered for the Malayalam Mass. The first wave mixed the people with sheets of roofing, cutting them up. Photos of the dead look terrible and not all are exposed yet – many people are there for those who are searching for their loved ones. The water went up to the Church steps and then divided. Those who were in its way or ran out of the Church were swept out. They found more than 2000 bodies. Even after ten days, they found some bodies that had to be cremated because they were too highly decomposed. The brick shops in front of the church stand silent and empty. Nothing remains of all those on the shore. The water level has risen and there is no beach. We met a priest, an eyewitness who gave us gruesome details. We visited the Diocesan home for the aged – an absolute mess. It reminded me of Cheyur. They were able to save most of the inmates.

This evening there was a meeting with the Social Welfare Board, from Pondicherry. We will take in all the orphans below 10. At least they will be safe with us. We will also accept old people. The Sisters are doing their best to co-operate in the Relief work.

Sr. Bernadette Pinto
Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny

*Note : 1 Lakh =100,000 Rupees = Au$3027.32

Boxes to Port Moreseby

In September 2004, 32 boxes of clothing, books, magazines and computer equipment were transported to Papua New Guinea. Sent to help the underprivileged.

FR. James Joseph Morova Holy Spirit Seminary serves the Kerema Diocese, which covers 12 parishes. So far, five locals have been ordained to the priesthood. Another is to be ordained next year. Paul Gabriel, from Kanabea Parish is a seminarian of the Holy Spirit, whose father, Gabriel Anamada, has been working as a catechist for the past 32 years. Paul is the second of the Kamea people to join the major seminary. He will be ordained in three years time. Fr. James Joseph Morova (pictured) was ordained in May 2003.

Supporting East Timor

A letter from East Timor

Comunidade Edmund Rice or CER as we call it is an initiative of the Christian Brothers to offer an opportunity for Brothers and volunteers from Australia to express their solidarity with the people of East Timor by living and working at this critical time of their history.

If you were to visit East Timor, you would quickly notice that rural communities are experiencing greater underdevelopment than Dili. Inadequate water supply hinders health, hygiene and agriculture. Overcrowding in what is already poor housing is another change the people want. Lack of transport makes it a real struggle for these rural communities to get anything to the markets. Their isolation is worsened by having no electricity and limited access to radio and newspapers and of course there is no television.

Hence our ministry of community development has come to be focussed on five isolated rural villages in the District of Ermera. The 4200 people in them almost totally live a life of subsistence. Only a few people such as teachers receive a wage while most have to grow what they eat and supplement this with a little income from a small crop of coffee.

The funding provided by Melbourne Overseas Mission has allowed CER to commence responding to some of these needs. The generous grant of $25 000 is channelling $12 000 to projects about Food Security (agriculture, animal husbandry and aquaculutre), $6 000 for Community Well-being (health and water) and $7 000 for Community Education (peace, literacy and carpentry).

CER is working with the people to improve their food security. A substantial part of the funding is going to the development of cooperatives that will increase production of crops and livestock. Mr Andrew Sexton, a volunteer from Sydney, has conducted workshops and training for over 50 people across these villages. He primarily works through four local East Timorese men who are being employed as agricultural extensionists to animate and inform the communities about these cooperatives. Small amounts of money are being given to each cooperative to obtain the necessary materials and supplies to get started. Two particularly popular responses are to make small dams for fish farming and coops for raising chickens.

We are giving a lot of emphasis to peace building amongst the people across all villages. Over forty members have been sponsored to attend week long workshops on peace. The training there helps participants to consider alternative ways of resolving conflict without resorting to violence, something well learnt from the oppressive regimes the people have experienced in the past. Over 90 people attended a peace workshop in their villages and now with an employed peace worker, the village peace animators are assisted to continue and develop these initiatives amongst the people.

The health clinic that CER initiated is now functioning with funding from other sources. However, a medical student from Sydney, Tim Gray, is developing 3 day health workshops for the 50 health animators in the villages. Carol Hobson, a nurse from Brisbane is coming for a month to assist in these workshops and be involved in other ways in the village communities. A young East Timorese woman, Sonia Ferreira, is also assisting in a variety of ways: preparing the material in Tetun to conduct the course in this local language, presenting some of the material as well as continuing her main role as office manager. We have been able to send her to Brisbane for training in English, computing and finance. Building the capacity of East Timorese co-workers and village people is a high priority for us.

Carpenters in three villages have been assisted to build furniture and to refurbish some housing along side ex-patriate workers. In time we hope a workshop will be established to train the younger adults in woodwork.

Another major endeavour in this area of community education are the literacy courses in Tetun and English language courses that the people are very enthusiastic to attend. Sr Rita Hayes, a Good Samaritan Sister from Victoria, is the project coordinator for both these programmes. She is ably assisted by a PALMS volunteer, Barry Hinton, from Rockhampton. In time we hope to do other adult education such as civic education, an important matter in a country learning to live in a democratic way with its new found freedom. Much also needs to be achieved in economic development particularly through micro credit schemes. For this we are seeking an East Timorese worker and further funding.

We have also been asked by the people to assist them in improving the well-being of the community through a sanitation project, to improve their housing ( usually made of strips of bamboo with a grass roof and this is cold in mid year so fires are lit inside), to assist the women to teach the girls sewing and other crafts. The youth have also asked us to help them with English, sport, music and with their scout movement. This also requires more funding, something we are seeking from a variety of sources.

As we move to live in the villages this month, we are trying to find funding to obtain another 4WD and an off road motorcycle, ones that will stay up in the mountains while the 4WD we already have will continue to bring supplies and transport volunteers and paid workers to and from Dili. As we and the village people have no system of emergency communication to Dili we urgently need to obtain four Codan Transceivers to link the vehicles and houses.

The list could go on but the important thing is that the funding from the Melbourne Overseas Mission has given us a great start and for this all of us in CER are most grateful.

Br Dan Courtney

A few days in a Bomana Seminary

Rev. Michael McEntee talks about a few days in Bomana.

It’s a cool overcast day here for Easter, but the Lord is as truly risen as anywhere else. We began our Vigil liturgy at 2.45 a.m. finished at 6, had coffee, then some breakfast and have just finished the 8:30 Mass about 10.

The seminary has settled into a routine of study, prayer, pastoral work and relaxation. The students are working well in keeping the grounds attractive and will develop a vegetable garden during the two weeks’ term break which begins next Saturday. Our problems with the “raskols” seems to have dropped off since two policeman came to live at the Franciscan college next door to us. That temporary arrangement will be followed by the construction of four family homes to house four policemen and their families. Their movements to and fro and the fact they will be armed should rid us of the raskol intrusion swhich have dominated the first six weeks of term. Our own college was hit only once when my office – right beneath my bedroom – was ransacked one night at 2.30 a.m. There are currently calls from several quarters as well as politicians and the women’s movement for the death sentence to be introduced. The Archbishop went on TV on Good Friday to say that the Church would not support capital punishment. He called on people to Find the political will to improve education and employment opportunities. I hope that he gets a hearing.

Many of the students will have a week’s holiday in several coastal villages along the Gulf of Papua. I will spend the time preparing classes for next term. As well as teaching four hours each week here, I will fly twice to the Highlands for three days each time to teach in the seminary there. They have 100 students in the first three years of the course (we have only 13 in those classes), after which they come here for the last three years. They are chronically short of teaching staff, so I will present my course in half the usual number of lectures and the Rector there will tutor them while I come back to do my regular teaching here.

Easter celebrations were inspiring and eye-opening. On Good Friday the Veneration of the Cross was done in traditional manner of mourning. As well as some genuflecting and making some sign of affection and respect much as we do in Australia, four big regional groups, decked out in mud and mourning finery, came to the cross, surrounded it as if it were a coffin, and rendered most soulful chants of mourning. This morning, we had the Easter Vigil from 2.45 to 6 a.m, literally walking out of the chapel to see the first rays of the rising sun. I was the presider. It was all in Pidgin – 31 pages of text. It was also my first attempt at preaching in Pidgin, which I managed OK with some help from my priest confrere. About half the homily was my own composition and half was a good story about forgiveness which I found in a book of Pidgin English. There was a spectacular lighting of the fire as we climbed a small hill outside the chapel where a bonfire had been prepared. Higher up the hill a crew had coconut husks ali ght with diesel which they launched on a flying fox into the kerosene soaked bonfire. From there it was one surprise after another. We were piped half a kilometer by the Solomon Islanders bamboo pipe band, the Gospel book was brought in by placard waving Highlanders dressed in traditional feathers and grass skirts, the readings from the Genesis about the creation and from Exodus about the Crossing of the Red Sea were dramatised by students taking the role of an elder of the tribe telling the story of the ancestors etc. There was a very humorous and very cogent retelling of the biblical stories. We had three adults to be baptised. The font was prepared by three regional representatives coming with traditional water-carrying instruments – large diameter bamboo and an excavated coconut husk wrapped in leaves. Finally, at the Words of consecration, we were met by fire eaters from new Britain who “incensed” the Host and Precious Blood with the smoke they were exhaling!

Thursday 4 May: Exam week passed, I received some good answers to my exam questions. Getting 40 people off by 3 tonne truck for a holiday at 5 a.m. last Saturday was interesting. Next Monday, we are going off shore to a research island for a picnic. It is good to have a relaxed timetable for a couple of weeks, later rising, not as much organised time, I think we are all unwinding after a full term. Twice we have received news of the death of a close relative – a sister while giving birth to twin boys, a father – and in both instances the students involved had snuck off without telling me their whereabouts! Talk about tragedy and bad luck rolled into one. I’m always taken aback at the number of students whose parents died when they were infants or at primary school age, and by the few whose mothers died giving them birth. It makes those comparisons of different nations’ mortality rates take on a human face. One of the experienced missionaries said to me that the people live close to earth and they will quickl y sniff out whether or not someone is genuine.

We have been joined by a priest from Belligen NSW to teach moral theology. He is not living here as he is on the staff of the Theological Institute. He is good company and seems to be coping with the transition quite well. Our lay missionary is still struggling with the different culture, but that is not deterring him from making a big contribution. I just hope he can accept the differences.

So it’s time to close. I’ll get this emailed and posted in the next few days. Thanks for all your communications. They are looked forward to by me.

Rev M McEntee

A visit to Kanabea Mission

St Bernadette Gauthier gives us word on the latest activities at Kamea.

Kanabea parish was, as usual, a hive of activity. On the 18th Fr. Maurice Adams was remembered at the Eucharist. On the 19th the silver Jubilee of the latest arrival Sr. Dorothy David was celebrated both privately and publicly with a beautiful Eucharist and shared meal. It was an opportunity to speak about Religious life and the Cluny Sisters in particular, which Fr. John invited me to do.

The saw mill is functioning well. Workers are being paid local wages, but all timber (very good timber apparently) is donated by land owners for both the church and the school. This is very significant, a sign that the missionaries patient invitations to participate are bearing fruit. Fr. John was particularly patient over this need to wait for the people to really own the church and school as theirs.

The School ‘reform’ is proceeding with difficulties. Kanabea ‘top up’ has taken scores of youngsters who have missed out doing grade six. This year, however, these were declared illegal and were suspended which led to much heartache and even an attempted suicide. The top up books arrived only this year. (i.e. Grades 7 and 9 attached to a primary school). The government set up only 4 elementary schools (grades 1-3) in the parish which left scores of villages without teachers, the intention being to set up new ones in 2003. The Bishop moved and set up 19 Bible schools in Kanabea Parish alone, so that all Christian communities have their own, led by Grade ten leavers. Many of these came through Bema High School and then the CODE centre. St. Tresa takes a special interest in the ‘teachers.’ The teachers receive a modest Diocesan stipend, and to all intents and purposes these schools serve as elementary schools. Their name saves them from being illegal. A brother of Fr. David Kamau, Martin, has been named inspect or of these elementary schools, a good move, as in isolated places, children are completely at the mercy of their teachers conscience. Another good teacher has been named inspector of mountain schools, and this is already bearing fruit. He is trying to remedy the fact that some quite large areas have been without teachers for a number of years.

There are now 67 catechists and prayer leaders over the mountain parishes, 30 of these in Kanabea parish. Fr. John supervises them and gives them in-services. As in many activities, the Kamina parish is also included, otherwise the whole fabric of that parish would have collapsed.

The sisters have convened a women’s gathering for this weekend and are expecting 300. They remained undaunted; undertaking all manner of activities on the station and radiating out to the most remote villages, including of course the Kamina, Ivandu and M’Bauia areas. A systematic training of five women per village in the skills of cutting and sewing has been undertaken; they stay one week, several hours per day. Modest projects have been started; nutrition, chickens screen printing, helping in the hospital. Sr. Rachel continues the family life program throughout the Diocese in spite of many difficulties, distances, transport and the fact that often only women come.

Anne Fogarty, a lay missionary from Melbourne, has taken part in all these activities and acts as a secretary to everybody. She has so settled her soul into Kanabea that she has requested staying another six months. She lives with the sisters and relates really well to the national staff, the people and expatriates.

Fr. John Flynn and David Kamau patrol extensively, the latter comes from Hawabango and patrols all through Kanabea. He recently gave the Catechists’ retreat. On going formation still takes place; e.g. A course to village recorders whose task is to map their village and record deaths births etc.

Bishop Marx is planning some pilgrimages to Bema for the year of Jubilee; the logistics of accommodation and the possibility of two thousand Kamea attending, is providing somewhat of a challenge.

My visit to Kanabea was inspirational, the harmonious relations between expatriates among themselves and with nationals, the level of apostolic energy and inventiveness, the prayer life, would, I believe be very contagious to anyone who truly opened themselves to it.

Sr Bernadette Gauthier