By Bishop Rochus Tatamai MSC – Bereina
I have fond memories of the first pastoral visit of Pope John Paul II to Papua New Guinea in May 1984 in Port Moresby and Mount Hagen, then to Honiara in the Solomon Islands. I sang with the seminarians, who formed the papal choir along with the students of other institutions in Port Moresby and members of the lay faithful, who were all proudly dressed with papal colours of white tops and yellow-gold laplaps. The visit was on the occasion of the centenary celebrations for the foundation of the Catholic Church in PNG. The first Missionaries of the Scared Heart (MSC) in fact arrived in Rabaul on 29 September 1882 and at Yule Island on 4 July 1885.
But that successful pastoral visit was just a spiritual preparation for a second one, even more significant, for the beatification of Blessed Peter ToRot – Catechist and Martyr, eleven years later at the Sir John Guise Stadium – Port Moresby. Such a historical event definitely introduced a new dimension of excitement to the life, contribution and presence of the Catholic Church in Papua New Guinea.
The beatification itself was the culmination of the work of evangelisation that had begun with a first unsuccessful attempt by the French Marists and the Foreign Missions (now PIME) of Milan, Italy in 1847-’55, followed by the arrival of the MSCs and the SVDs (Society of the Divine Word) later in that century. Since then the Religious Congregations have made a significant contribution to the evangelisation and integral human development of the people of PNG and Melanesia, particularly in terms of education, health, pastoral care and infrastructures. The beatification ceremony was also a confirmation of the mutual collaboration between the missionaries and the new indigenous leadership, the time of harvesting of the fruits of a long labour of love. Peter ToRot is the first Melanesian to be beatified, a layman and just a second generation Catholic.
The Holy Father had a special message for everyone on that 17 January 1995. He addressed the Catholic faithful, all the other Christians, those who are suffering, and he made a special reference to the Constitution of the country and appealed to all people of good will. Everywhere he made a continual reference to Blessed Peter ToRot as the model for family life and an outstanding witness in difficult circumstances to the love of God and neighbors. I heard and still remember the following words of Pope St. John Paul II: “As you are aware, the central event of my visit is the beatification of Peter ToRot, Catechist and Martyr. You can be truly proud of your Melanesian brother. He has brought distinction and honor to your people. Peter ToRot is an outstanding example of family man, a Church leader, the person who is prepared to lay down his life for God and neighbor.”