In early October, we (sisters and lay missioners) were invited to participate in the celebration the 100th anniversary of the Gospel being brought to the village of Bitokara by a missionary. We arrived in Bitokara in time for the beginning of the celebration. There were many people gathered at the parish and priests from throughout the province of West New Britain were also there. We were warmly welcomed by Fr. Gregory, the Missionary of Charities (sisters) who live and work in that parish/village.
Soon after the celebration began. We joined the procession which was led by two men carrying on their shoulders a small replica of the canoe used by the first missionary to transport the Gospel to Bitokara. Sr. Florentina, Caritas sister, was asked to carry the book of Gospels following the small canoe. Then religious sisters, us, and priests, and the village folks followed in the procession making our way into the church. At one point, the procession stopped and Sr. Florentina was asked to place the Gospel on a special small stand placed on the small canoe. Then we proceeded with the procession. Along the way, there were chants and songs and the excitement of the day was palpable!
Once in the church, which was already packed, we took our seats and then the Gospel was taken from the canoe and placed on the altar. The church exploded with the sound of spontaneous applause! Then the mass continued, concelebrated by all the priests present. It was a magical moment for me to be a part of this celebration and this was just the beginning.
After mass, we went to Fr. Gregory’s house to have lunch. After we had eaten, we were asked to join the parishioners on the lawn of the church for a special ceremony in honor of us missionaries (priests, religious sisters, and lay persons). We sat under a special tent of honor and speeches were given by several men of the parish.
Next, we were honored with special gifts from the village folks. Starting with us, lay missionaries, we were called forth and presented with three gifts, no not gold, frankincense, nor myrrh, but just as special to the people of Bitokara (and PNG). We each received a floor mat, hand woven from palm leaves, often used to sleep on. Also, we were presented with three taros (vegetable) which grows here in WNB, and finally with a portion of a pig ready for cooking.
The pig had been slaughtered in honor of us this day (great honor here in PNG). I was humbled and very touched as I felt the kindness, faith and respect from the people. The religious sisters were honored next and finally the priests, all received the same three gifts. Then we were honored with local dances. The dancers were brightly adorned with beautiful, bright colored costumes.
Soon after that, we headed back to Kimbe. This was an awesome and humbling experience. One that I will hold dear to my heart.