New PNG & SI Pastoral Plan launched

By Fr Giorgio Licini – Goroka

The new Pastoral Plan for the Catholic Church in Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands (PNG/SI) was officially launched on Sunday 28 September at the parish of Mary Help of Christians in Goroka. The Apostolic Nuncio to PNG/SI, Abp Michael Banach, said in his homily that “this plan is for everybody”. In fact right after the Mass Bishop Otto Separi of Aitape, one of the main contributors to the text, handed over a copy of it to a local family, to students from the University of Goroka, to parish lay leaders, to the local parish priest Fr Bogdan Cofalik MSF, and to the Auxiliary Bishop of Honiara John Doaninoel.

It is the first time that Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands work out a common Pastoral Plan. It is the fruit of two years of study, sharing and research with its highlight at the General Assembly held in Madang on 5-11 November 2013 and attended by 150 Church representatives from the two countries.

The new evangelization is at the core of the pastoral plan along with the pastoral care of the family, the poor, the youth, the street kids, the media and a wide range of social concerns. “The world and the church are in the midst of a deep and ongoing crisis such as we have never experienced before”, the President of the Bishops’ Conference, Arnold Orowae of Wabag, writes in his presentation of the plan. He underlines the fact that especially the youth live in uncertainty and fear of the future; the family is breaking down; violence and corruption are on the rise and there is also “an identity crisis in the priesthood and religious life”.

The purpose of the pastoral plan and evangelization in general, according to Bishop Arnold is not “simply getting people to become Christians or Catholics, or even necessarily getting people to come to church. It is the whole process of announcing the living Christ. It is about living the consequences of our faith in Jesus Christ by bringing the gospel values of mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation into our lives, our workplace, and all our social, economic, and political responsibilities.” It’s the same old and “new” evangelization: not a matter of doctrines, but of life.


Late Br Bertrand Webster

By Joel Hamago – Canberra, Australia

Acknowledging a wonderful man, an influential Marist Brother and educator who recently passed away after giving almost 40 years of his life to Papua New Guinea. I first met Br. Brian Bertrand Webster over ten years ago and we immediately connected. His gentle sensitive nature allowed me to open up. I felt he understood me. He became a spiritual guide and along with many young men, he instilled not only spiritual growth but also confidence in ourselves. He loved PNG and its people.

Br Bert had a special way of praying. I asked him once what was the best way of prayer and he answered me, “There are many ways to talk to God. You can sometimes sit before the altar and say nothing. Just bask in the glory of God,” he said.

Bertie would visit my mother when she was very sick and would sit and talk with her in an encouraging and healing manner. He himself at that time suffered from a bad fall, but that did not stop him from visiting other sick people. I am sure mum would welcome Bertie home.

When I was in Bougainville, I noticed that the name Bertrand was quite popular. I later learnt that Bertie’s former students have named their sons after him. Br. Bertrand spent 38 of the last 45 years in various locations in PNG and Solomon Islands. The prime of his missionary journey was in Bougainville at St. Joseph’s Rigu where he taught and was the headmaster from 1970s and 1980s. He clearly remembered his former students in Bougainville and would speak of them with fondness if any memory of Bougainville came to him.

I describe Bertrand as a very simple Brother who would put the welfare of others before himself. He was always sensitive in his choice of words as he did not want others to be offended with what he said. He wasn’t very adept with new technological devices such as mobile phones, internet and laptops. Once I offered to buy him a mobile phone when I visited him in Port Moresby on one of my duty travels. He declined to accept the gift, nor the money, despite strong work of persuasion. Br. Bertrand remained very loyal as a Brother, loyal to his religious vows and sharing his Brotherhood among friends and those who came to know him in his ministry.

Br. Bertrand entered the Marist Teaching Brothers’ novitiate in Mittagong, Sydney in 1956; took first religious vows in July 02, 1957 and made final profession in 1963. He arrived on the shores of PNG in 1969. He loved the people and the country so much that with the country receiving independence, in solidarity with the people he loved, he became a naturalised citizen. He was called back to our Maker on the 18th of September, 2014, in Madang.


Bishop prays for victims

By Fr Giorgio Licini

Bishop Rochus Tatamai of Bereina expressed his heartfelt condolences and prayers today for the victims of last Saturday’s Hevilift air crash, which left two crew and two passengers dead near Port Moresby. “Although all the technical aspects of the incident pertain to the air company and the authorities – Bishop Rochus told Catholic Reporter –, it was our parish of Our Lady of Fatima in Woitape, Goilala district that chartered the flight to bring in much needed supplies from the capital; and those who died or were injured on the way back to Port Moresby were people from our Goilala villages”. The seven passengers on board were travelling to Port Moresby for their own purposes – the bishop said. – They were not in a Church sponsored activity.

Fr John Paul Aihi, a 36 year Catholic priest, ordained in 2010 also was on board the ill-fated plane, but escaped with minor injuries. “I was at the back of the 12-seat aircraft – he said in a phone call with Catholic Reporter this morning – and as soon as we came out of the clouds, I saw the trees coming towards us. I spontaneously thought the pilot would immediately lift the plane; instead after a very few seconds we crashed.”

Bishop Rochus confirmed that the passenger who died at the crash site is Joseph Michael from the village of Ononghe and the one who died of his injuries in hospital on Sunday is Pio Mark from Kosipe village. All other passengers but one are now discharged from hospital. The final toll of the incident stands at one Australian casualty (the pilot) and three PNG nationals, including the 25 year old female co-pilot of mixed Eastern Highlands and Manus parentage.


PNG second independence

By Fr Giorgio Licini

In his first letter to the Corinthians, read today in Catholic churches, St Paul reminds the divisive leadership of the community that “one body does not consist of one member but of many”. Indeed this also applies to a nation; especially when as large and diverse as Papua New Guinea.

We may think that the destiny of a country lies on its basic law and the institutions of the state. Actually it lies on personal responsibility and what each member (citizen) is willing to contribute to the common good. Taking care of each other cannot be enforced by law. Many countries that achieved independence from foreign masters soon descended into a vicious circle of internal strife and civil war which brought upon them more misery than centuries of colonization.

Papua New Guinea was spared that horrific fate, but we frequently point at a few weaknesses which are still keeping us slave almost forty years after the mild Australian colonization came to an end. They are easily mentioned: corruption, sorcery, family violence and alcoholism. These ancestral weaknesses seem to have been aggravated by the difficult cultural transition brought about by the world becoming one interconnected reality. Back we do not go; forward only with the new generations achieving a deeper degree of moral and spiritual independence.

We can only suppose that the widow of Nain, whose story is also read today in Catholic churches, was carrying to the cemetery the young victim of sickness or something even more evil. How many young victims of alcohol, drugs, neglect, violence, sorcery and poverty are we still carrying each year to our own Nine Mile cemetery in Port Moresby and elsewhere in the country?

In his short life Jesus refused to violently attack the colonizing Romans. He preferred to point at the change of heart as the condition of true and lasting freedom. The same did the people of Papua New Guinea with the Germans, the British and the Australians. Independence came about in a peaceful, orderly and constructive manner in 1975. Our fathers and grandfathers thought us to have only friends and no enemies; to dialogue rather than to kill.

What a responsibility for today’s generation to eventually defeat at the roots the internal and local causes of slavery and poverty! For a second and lasting independence struggle! (16 September 2014)


The Bible is life and joy

By Bomai D Witne

It was a wonderful day last Sunday at the Mary Help of Christian Parish at Kefamo outside Goroka.

The Catholic parish community came alive to renew and ignite their Christian faith with a range of activities.

It was the culmination of a month that had been planned and developed by the Parish Pastoral Council in consultation with the Parish priest.

In line with the celebration and lived experiences of the Catholic faith, for many years the month of August was dedicated to reading the Bible.

This year the tradition was kept alive, focusing on the gospel of Mathew.

The parishioners at Kefamo began by getting together for prayers within families, extending the spirit of prayer and communion to neighbours within their Liklik Kristen Komuniti (LKK, Small Christian Community).

LKK is a collection of families living within a locality who get together for prayer and sharing their faith and experiences.

These LKKs propose the names of saints that they would like to be their patrons.  The idea is for them to use the saints as a common signpost for the LKK and also for people to read more about the lives of these saints and attempt to emulate their goodness.

Some of the LKKs of Kefamo are Saint Francis of Assisi, Blessed Pita ToRot, Saint Christopher, Saint Joseph, Saint Lazarus, the Holy Family and Saint Paul.

These communities met over the month of August and prepared for the end of month celebratory Mass. As part of the celebration, they donated contributions of K200 each towards replacing the community hall which collapsed a few months ago.

Each LKK also rehearsed creative drama and songs based on the gospel of Mathew, which was part of the Bible quiz competition.

Fr Michele celebrated Mass with the Saint Christopher LKK adding a cultural touch through their drama Katim pik mit (Cutting pork).

This LKK, mostly from the Gembogl area of Simbu Province, used the importance of pork in the Simbu culture to emphasise the importance of the messages in the Bible.

The Bible itself was wrapped in a gently heated young banana leaf, a culturally appropriate way of packing food, and presented by the father of a family with these words to the Parish priest: “I will present the fork to someone who will assist me to cut it and distribute to you equally.”

The priest accepted the Bible wrapped in banana leaf and handed it to the reader.  The youth came alive with a drama of the first Christians of Antioch and their acceptance of the gospel writers and how these Christians helped to keep alive the messages of the gospel writers.

The Parish priest used the drama and the messages from the readings to provide a convincing homily.  At the end of the Mass, the LKK’s organised in their groups to prepare for the Bible quiz competition.

The church came alive with drama, songs and old and young people put their heads together to do their best in the competition. Three Catholic nuns from the Goroka Diocese were available to adjudicate and recommend the best group.

One of the sisters was asked to make the presentation of awards. Each LKK received a prize. The Sunday School children got their gifts and shared them with their teachers. Saint Francis of Assisi LKK took out the winning price for this year’s Bible competition, with Saint Christopher and Saint Joseph bagging second and third places.

The event finished with a beautiful choir from the youth of the Parish. The chair of the day declared the meeting closed and encouraged the LKKs to keep the spirit of competition alive and use it to reach out to others as disciples of Jesus.


Late Dr Jerry Semos

By Bomai Witne

I was approaching my office around 7.30 on Tuesday morning when I heard my wife calling, “Di, Di, Di” and saw her running after me.

She showed me a text message from Father Luke Apa at Divine Word University telling us of the passing of Associate Professor Dr Jerome (Jerry) Semos.

My wife and I looked each other in the eyes and were silent for a few minutes. We did not say a word. Then I emailed some of Jerry’s former colleagues in the Social Sciences and Business Studies Divisions at the University of Goroka.

I came to know Jerry in 2007 when I enrolled for postgraduate studies at the University of Goroka. I was among a few students doing his Conflict Resolution course.

Jerry was handsome and had an admirable physical build – tall and muscular capped with a neat haircut. A bilum was always around his neck; and sometimes he wore a tie underneath it.

He possessed a smile that came from his heart and penetrated my own. He smiled and told me to call him Jerry. I was at ease with him.

The physical and academic differences meant little in our relationship. He encouraged me to excel and reach out to others. He told me to do it for the “common good”.

From time to time, he shared the contents of his bilum with me. He gave me betel nut, saying, “Kaikai taim yu go long haus”. (Chew it on your way home)

He told me how his wife had left for studies and the children were with her in Australia – and paused to hold back his tears. He told me he loved his family and missed them. He was a true Melanesian of his era. These moments with him remain fresh in my memory.

I shared these moments of this special relationship with my family. My wife liked Jerry. Every afternoon, she’d ask, “Papa blong yu, Dr Semos tok wanem long yu long klas.” (What did your father, Dr Semos, tell you in class today?)

In our department meetings, I’d sit quietly and listen. Jerry talked with passion on divisional matters. He saw the division within the framework of the university and country. He was a firm believer of continuity and change. He raised the need for capacity building in the division and encouraged staff, especially young staff, to take up the challenges that bring out potential and goodness.

He talked with emotion and a smile.

Jerry was supervising me in my MA degree program when he left for Divine Word University.

His departure was a blow to me and I emailed him from time to time on the progress of my thesis. He would always take time to assure me that it was OK. He made sure my thesis went through the process efficiently and I graduated.

Associate Professor Jerry Semos was one of a kind. He was a rare Papua New Guinean. Even those who saw him from a distance recognised him as a true giant. I had the privilege of being in contact with this giant with his vast wealth of knowledge, skill, experience, character and humility. All for the common good.

My family will continue to cherish the goodness emanating from this great Bougainvillean.

Nina Jerry, en eranga na Kipri’i wo. (Papa Jerry, I am deeply saddened by your passing)



Church and family

A recent survey by Dr. Fr. Jose Orathinkal, SVD, UOG, Goroka and Dr. Kurian Jose, DWU, Madang, sought the opinion of Catholic lay people on family life in general, on the Church’s teaching on marital spirituality, and on how do they perceive and practice marital/family spirituality in their daily life. One hundred and forty three (143) married adults (79 males and 59 females, 5 un-reported) from 6 dioceses/towns across Papua New Guinea (such as Goroka, Kundiawa, Mt. Hagen, Wewak, Madang and Port Moresby) participated in this study. They were generally well educated, mostly employed, primarily from town area with English speaking background. Their average age was 45 years ranging from 25 to 69 years, duration of married life varied from 2 to 43 years and average number of children was 4. Around 60% of the respondents had grade 12 and above education level, around 11% were postgraduates either with a master’s degree or a PhD.

71% of the 143 respondents are Sunday church goers while around 22% go to church daily and around 6% say they go only a few times in a month or in a year. While 11% say they go to church very few times as a family, about 49% always go to church as a family and 27% very often and 14% sometimes go as a family. Here is a summary of the answers received through the survey questionnaire:




The government should restrict the number of children



The Church helps improve family spirituality



Teaching of the Church on sexuality is good



Teaching of the Church on no-use of condoms for birth control is good



Teaching of the Church on family and marriage is clear



Understanding of Church authorities on marital issue is good



Issues regarding family marriage should be left to lay theologians not the clergy



I always feel I am part of a real and concerned “Catholic family” in my parish



The Church is strongly concerned about myself and my family



I am generally satisfied with my marital life



I am generally satisfied with my life and have no particular problems



Other Comments or Suggestions

The respondents were provided space to make their additional comments or suggestions if they desired. A total of 78 suggestions or recommendations were received. Given below are some of the most repeated suggestions:

  1. organize more family/couple related courses, seminars, programs, gatherings, classes on human sexuality, marital spirituality, couples retreats and enrichment programs (at parish levels or by parish priest).
  2. be stricter on Church teachings and sexual morality
  3. encourage families to pray together
  4. involve educated laity for church programs; if needed train them
  5. explain the roles and responsibilities of Papa’s in family life
  6. have/provide good counseling service for couples and families
  7. train more pastoral workers, lay men and women who could assist the parish priest

 [For the full article and detailed list of suggestions see Catalyst 44/2, a Melanesian Institute publication]