Greetings from the lovely tropical island nation of Papua New Guinea. It’s been several months since my last blog and much has happened here which has kept me busier than I would want. I will try to recap many of the events here on mission as I can. For starters, since my last blog back in February, I have had the opportunity to accompany Bishop Fey, several seminarians, priests, Sisters of Charity and Danita (fellow LMH also here at Caritas) to a village named Valupai where Bishop Fey confirmed about 100 young men and women on the feast of St. Joseph. The road was very bumpy as many roads are full of large potholes and many others are unpaved. When we arrived at the village we were warmly welcomed by the pastor, a Polish missionary priest. The parish was a buzz with activity as people were there from several surrounding villages (many folks walked for hours to get there). They spent the night camping out in classrooms and many stayed up praying and singing throughout the night. The excitement of this special event to be celebrated the next day was palpable and the faith of the people was inspiring.
The next morning the mass began with a “sum, sum” (traditional processional dance up the main aisle) to usher in the young men and women to be confirmed and Bishop Fey. The church was packed and the choir sang beautifully! The confirmation lasted well over 45 minutes. After the mass, the celebration began with the slaughtering of a pig in honor of Bishop Fey’s visit. (This tradition is of the highest honor in this culture.) Many folks prepared other foods to feed the large number of people present. After the meal several dances were presented to Bishop Fey. All in all, it was a very interesting, inspiring, and exciting experience as I witnessed the faith, joyfulness, excitement, and friendliness of the people.
Then it was time to return to Kimbe. We said our goodbyes, jumped into Bishop Fey’s truck and off we drove. However, as it had been raining most of the previous day and the day we were leaving, the road was muddy and as we reached a steep uphill in the road, the truck began to slip back. After several tries to make it up the road, the truck’s two driver’s side wheels ended up stuck in a ditch. We were instructed to jump out of the truck while several men tried to get the truck back on the road. It took about an hour but finally the truck was back on the road. We were then instructed to walk up the steep hill so that the truck would be lighter and make it up the road.
By this time, it was raining, the road was muddy and slippery. I had left my umbrella in the truck and was wet. I began to walk up with the other folks (locals) who gracefully walked in the muddy conditions as I kept slipping and sliding, taking one step forward and two steps back. I would see elderly women, young adults, and even a pregnant woman effortlessly walking next to me and felt that I was here to be with these people, then I would continue walking with them…struggle or not! When the folks noticed my struggle, some came behind me and would encourage me to step here and there to gain traction under my feet. Finally, one of the seminarians said to me, “Ms. Maria, take my hand and follow me. I will pull you long.” And he did. As I made it up the hill to where the truck was waiting for us, I felt a grace come over me that made me realize what a wonderful sense of community these people have! I felt carried on the wings of their encouragement when I felt I would not make it up the steep hill. Close to the top, I found a beautiful shiny, black rock, formed out of the lava of volcanoes, in the shape of a hill/mountain. I picked it up and now it sits on my prayer area to remind me of how God is always helping me through these beautiful people no matter how hard the road may seem, He is by my side to pull me up from the struggles.
School here at Caritas continues to keep everyone busy as many activities are planned. Back in March we were very busy preparing for the visit of the Korean ambassador to PNG along with the governor of West New Britain (the province/state where Kimbe is located). After days of planning, preparing, and anticipating the visit of such dignitaries, we received word that day as we waited in the gym that the ambassador would not be coming as his flight from Port Moresby was cancelled and there were no more flights into Kimbe. This was very disappointing but there was nothing more to say or do.
Then in early April we were fortunate to welcome the Apostolic Nuncio (representative of Pope Francis) to our diocese and school. He came and offered the school mass and then visited our school and stayed with us for a few hours as our students showcased their technical skills and dancing. We bid him farewell and thanked him for taking time to visit us. The days leading up to his visit again were a whirlwind of preparations, practices and other activities all aimed at providing our honored guest with a very warm PNG welcome. I was amazed at how artistic our girls are and how talented as well!
At the end of April, the end of Term 1 was coming to a close at school and we teachers were extremely busy with preparation of final exams for the term. Then the grading of all our exams and finalizing the students’ grades in the several Excel spreadsheets needed to complete students’ report cards. The staff room (teachers’ work area) was a buzz for days and some late afternoons as we worked to prepare everything. Finally, the day to distribute report cards came. Finally, I felt I could breathe again…but not for long as new activities, lessons to plan, classes to teach, etc. were upon us.
We did get the Triduum off, plus Easter Monday off. This was a much needed break, though short…it was very welcomed. During the break, I was invited to join a friend and co-worker, Brigette, to spend some time at a beach house that her parents rented at a private beach called Dami. We relaxed in the house, watching movies on her laptop, enjoyed tasting the traditional PNG foods prepared by her sister and mother, and spent time on the small beach mostly in the water.
I returned to the Caritas campus on Saturday evening to join he Sisters for the Vigil Mass here in Kimbe. The Vigil celebrations were beautiful and attended by a massive crowd. About 40 people, young and old, were baptized into our Catholic faith. Though the Mass lasted well over 3 hours, it was wonderful to experience the traditions, hear the singing in both English and Tok Pisin and witnessing the simple yet strong faith of the people. Easter here is not about the bunny, candy, baskets, new clothing, etc. It’s a about CHRIST’S RESURRECTION!
On Easter Sunday, early in the morning (5 a.m.) I accompanied the Sisters to the village of Vavua where the Sisters gave vocation talks after Mass to the young women, while myself and a Salesian volunteer from U.S. taught a few Sunday school songs to the children. They in turn sang songs for us as well. It was a beautiful experience. Everywhere one goes, people are so welcoming and genuinely happy and grateful for our visit. Along the way to Vavua, we witnessed a beautiful Easter Sunday sunrise! I find God in so many places, events and people here in a different way than I have before..
Back at school, we are now into the fourth week of Term 2 and the busyness of classes, activities, etc. continues to consume our days (and some evenings with grading and planning). This coming week we will welcome the visit of the Mother General of the Caritas Sisters. Her visit is a great honor for our religious sisters who run the school and for us here at Caritas. We have been very busy preparing dances, sports events, marches, etc. to welcome our special guest. Next week promises to be a whirlwind of activities as we make the final preparations and rehearsals, in addition to teaching and the many other myriad of teacher duties.
As always, know that I keep you all in my daily prayers and thank you for your prayerful support as I continue this journey in a far off land where God continues to bless and surprise me in all I see, hear, and experience. The more I learn about this country and its people, the more I realize just how much we have in common as brothers and sisters in Christ. I look forward to the many more blessings and surprises our Lord has in store for me here! Blessings to you and may God bless you! Stay tuned for more about my time here in PNG, a land blessed with abundant natural resources, where people, animals, insects and lush vegetation commune gracefully day to day!