Blessed "Petro ToRot" - a television documentary
"Petro ToRot" is an outsdanding television documentary about the life and martyrdom of Blessed Peter ToRot.
Produced by: Fr. Zdzislaw Mlak svd, Bp. Rochus Tatamai msc, Robin Brown.
Released on: 15th January 1995.
While Mother nature focused world attention on Rabaul and its people when the volcanoes erupted on 19th September, 1994; we rewind the historical clock and focused on the Japanese occupation of Rabaul during the Second Word War and unfold one untold story until very recently.
Our attention will focus on one man to be recognised as the first indigenous saint in the South Pacific Region.
12 kilometres outside of the Provincial Capital, Rabaul, this is Rakunai village on the 3rd day of the Rabaul volcano eruptions in 1994. It doesn't look it, but "Rakunai" means "grassland" in the local Kuanua language. It was here that the history of the first Papua New Guinean saint began in 1912, when Peter ToRot was born as the 3rd child to Angelo ToPuia and Maria IaTumul.
In his recorded testimonies, Parish Priest of Rakunai from the late 1920's to late 1940's, and also close friend of the family, Fr.Karl Lauffer recalls thus:
"In 1898, there was a spectacular baptism ceremony at Malagunan. The first adults from Rakunai were received into the church at this time and received their spiritual rebirth through the sacrament. One of the chiefs to be baptised was ToPuia, the father of ToRot".
A more explicity testimony came for John ToVarto, a local, who knew the family well.
"Peter ToRot's father was one of the big important persons in the village, In local language he was a "patuana" or "Luluai". That is a local chief. At the time of Peter ToRot's birth, his father ToPuia was also a mayor of Rakunai. ToRot's mother was a quiet, gentle woman committed to the eduaction and general good of the family. They were a good Catholic family".
As a child growing up, Peter ToRot underwent some transformation in the practices within the Traditional Tolai culture and the Christian values.
Over the rise is the Rakunai community school. Off course it wasn't big as it is today, when Peter ToRot enroled as a child. Classrooms then were built of bush material and the school ground much smaller. His teacher was the Parish Priest of Rakunai Fr.Karl Lauffer who was assisted by the catechists.
Peter ToRot was exceptionally a good boy and the father's favourite. Even though he being the younger son, his father noticed Peter ToRot showing alot of leadership qualities, obedient, responsible and well mannered. Even during the school year Peter ToRot frequented class every day and his father did encouraged him a lot.
In school ToRot stood out as a bright lad with good conduct. Outside school he was the boys leader at work and games. So it was, that he was admitted early to received his first communion and was a regular alter boy during the daily Eucharist. Impressed with ToRot Fr.Karl Lauffer asked Angelo ToPuia if his son could become a priest. To that ToPuia replied thus:
"No, Father, I don't believe that one of our generation is ready to be a priest. It is too nearly for that, perhaps one of my grandchildren or great grand children will be that lucky- but if you want ToRot to be a catechist - please sent him to the catechist school at Taliligap".
And so ToRot was enrolled at Taliligap Catechist School in 1930. Records of his achievements show yet again that he was of outstanding character. All these were summed up by none other than his class-mate, Simon ToPalauva:
"We stayed together at school. I know the fashion of Peter ToRot. He was a very good man. He never engaged in any quarrels or anything like that. He was very compassionate towards others - He never got angry with another man. That was his ways and we stayed together with him".
The St.Paul' s Catechist Training College at Taliligap was a big centre. It was also known as a double school because it had a primary school where the trainee catechists did their practical.
Peter ToRot did not remain long at the catechist school. Beacuse his Parish Priest at Rakunai needed him. He called him back before the end of his third year. He obeyed and returned home at the beginning of 1933 and was installed as the youngest catechist. His main occupation was to teach at the mission school where he was once a pupil.
"That classroom that is now there is known as standard six. we were there with Lemius, Gabriel ToKova. We were classmates."
John ToKeleto is the nephew of Peter ToRot, the first born of ToRot's sister Theresa IaVarpilak.
"At that time before the war, our school was not in English. It was only in the Bible and
Catechism with questions and answer."
Peter ToRot became popular amongst his own people right from the start when he began his commission as a catechist. In his spare time he would visit the people and especially the sick. Eyewitness accounts states that ToRot was often seen praying alone in the farm and in the Church. Attended every divine service and received Holy Communion daily.
People that were dear to Peter ToRot were, the widows,/widowers, the orphans, the sick, the poor, lonely, rejects, I still meet people at home today who came out from those situations. They felt encouraged by Peter ToRot and his approach to them.
Paula IaVarpit was born on the 27th of June1920 at Ramalmal village. When she was 14 years of age, she left her parents and went to live in her mother's village, Rakunai. There she was enrolled in the primary school and became one of Peter ToRot's pupils. One morning it was announced that the bride price (50 coils of mushel shells - had been paid for Paula IaVarpit to be promised in Marriage to Peter ToRot. On the 11th of November 1936, Peter ToRot married Paula LaVarpit in a wedding ceremony -witness by the community at Rakunai Parish.
Rufina IaMama: "My mother, she was a good woman. She never got angry. It's true whenever I misbehave or annoyed her, she will say very little, otherwise, if there is really nothing, she would not talk too much. She'll remain silent."
Rufina IaMama is Peter ToRot's second of 3 children. She was 3 years old when her father was killed. She is the only survivor of the family.
"My mother use to tell me that my father was a very good man. He welcomes visitors to our house. He would never, hold back anything from others. He was always generous and on the look out for those in need. He never engaged in quarrels with other. His main work was for God".
The Japanese landed in Rabaul, on January the 23rd, 1942. Two days later they arrived at the Catholic Mission headquarters at Vunapope. The work of the Missionaries continued regardless but by October of the same year, all Missionaries were ordered to strict internment.
When heavy shelling by the Allied forces destroyed the Stations, the Japanese then moved the Missionaries to Ramale. There they were to remain for more than a year. Their status had changed from being Missionaries to Prisoners.
Now in her late 70's Sr.Monica is still in the Order of the FMI Sisters at Vunapope.
She was a young sister and lived at Takabur when the war broke out. She still remembers
the priests and sisters at Ramale concentration camp.
Ramale is a big valley and we use to walk on the top of it to bring the food and some belonging to the priests. They never come out to get anything. So we the FMI sisters used to bring their food and anything they want.
Fr.Willie Schumann msc: "And in this valley here, they started to dig the tunnels- There are six big tunnels here, for the Fathers, Brothers, Sisters and for the seminarians, besides that we have quite a few tunnels her for the mixed raced people who were living here at that time. There were nearly between three hundred and four hundred people living here in this area":
The priests and sisters were all bunched up together at Ramale with a group of mixed-race students. In his book "This crowd beat us all" by the late Bishop of Rabaul, Leo Schammach, he recalled his images of Ramale when he was a prisoner there.
"In the beginning there was nothing - except virgin forest at Ramale camp, a real jungle, wonderful giant tree - formed a dense canopy over the whole compound. It was impossible for us to be seen form the air. The undergrowth had been cut away to make room for the different residences.
Before we were allowed to descend into the deep gorge. We have to be counted again. Some of us for whom it was the first experience in jungle life - gazed despondently into the gloomy depths of the chasm".
"Peter ToRot organised food from our people and brought them to the missionaries at Ramale concentration camp. Bananas, taros, pawpaws, mainly fresh fruits and vegetables. Some live chicken and eggs. In fact the Japanese were quite helpful to him. He even succeeded with their cooperation and delivered the food supplies to the missionaries in prison. He also took this chance to inform and update the Parish Priest about the happenings in the Parish. He also collected from the Missionaries consecrated hosts for the communion services and visitation of the sick".
One of the priests held prisoner at Ramale was Fr.Karl Laufar, Parish Priest of Rakunai.
As far away as from Rakunai, It was not bother for Peter ToRot. The testimonies of
Fr.Lauffer about those meetings with Peter ToRot were recorded.
George ToVaninara and his elder brother John ToKeleto are nephews of ToRot. Their mother Theresa IaVarpilak was the elder sister of Peter ToRot. In August 1994. They called their wives and children and together they made a pilgrim to Taogo the camp where Peter ToRot and his family lived during the war. ToKeleto was a young lad at that time and had not forgotten the layout of his childhood playground.
"When the Japanese were heavy into the fight, we came down here now. This place where I am sitting down. There is his tunnel, his house was here, two rooms, one had a wall, the other did not."
ToKeleto led us into the dugout tunnel on the hill side used by Peter ToRot. It is still intact. Inside one of the tunnels is a shelf - dugout into the wall of the tunnel. As ToKeleto explained, ToRot kept the Blessed Sacrament there. He also kept a lamp glowing beside it day and night.
The tunnels, there are others were his brothers and relatives, were their shelter against air attacks. ToRot kept his Holy Communion - hidden inside his tunnel, especially when the Japanese tighten their grip on the freedom of the people and particularly the activities of the church.
As a catechist, ToRot was alone at Rakunai. One of his most testing trial was when he singled-handedly confronted the Japanese advance on the school and the mission station. Fr.Karl Lauffer referred to these confrontations in his testimony.
"Courageously, he met the incoming Japanese. When guard and pleaded that the station be spared. But while he still spoke, a shot ran the air, and in the same moment -machine guns were directed on the evacuated station. The church, the house, and the school were damaged. It was to ToRot's luck that in the confusion that followed he slipped away. From this point on, he felt himself, solely responsible for the Parish at Rakunai"
This did not discourage him though, all evidence illustrate that if anything- he was all the more inspired to carry on the work of the church. He conducted many of his treaching in open air setting at Taogo his family camp, he also venture to other camps where people live to continue his work.
It was the beginning of 1945, and it was the beginning of the Trial of Peter ToRot.
"ToRot led prayers amongst the people and assisted them in the sacrament of marriage.
He also baptized the infants. The Japanese saw him and restricted him, but he did not obey them."
Like Ruffina IaMama, Rochus Tirupia could not remember the face of his uncle - Peter ToRot. He was five years old when ToRot was killed. Tirupia's father was ToRot's elder brother, Joseph Tatamai.
Everytime ToRot was surmoned to the Japanese, the matter was religion. The very first time was in Rabaul, Lieutenant -General Hitose Imamura cautioned him to restrict church work, given the excuse that, not only was it frustrating his forces from winning the war, but also causing heavy causalties at the hands of the Allied Air raids. The leading enemies of the Rakunai territories were two Japanese officers Meshida and Gunto.
To win local support they encouraged polygamy; that is to permit men to take more than one wife. At the same time they tried to recruit local girls to become prostitutes.
"The Japanese decided to gather the young girls to start brothers. Immediately he urged the parents of young boys and girls to arrange the payment of bride price- otherwise the Japanese will pull them away".
The most popular and key personality in the whole story of the arrest, the trial and eventual killing of Peter ToRot was a local Japanese police-spy. His name was, ToMetapa. He wanted to take IaMentil the wife of another man, but ToRot went to him and reminded him that it was against the way of Christ. To Metapa was very bitter and began to look for ways to report Peter ToRot to he Japanese. And occassion came one fine morning when he met two young couples walking on the road. He pretended to be curious about where they have been that early morning and asked where they were coming back from. Innocently the young couple told him that they have just return from Peter ToRot's Tunnel-Chapel where they had received the Sacrament of Marriage.
On hearing this ToMetapa immediately went straight to the Japanese and reported that ToRot was still holding prayers with people on Sundays and that he had even seen him performed a Christian marriage ceremony.
So they arrested him and put him back in prison. According to the document - ToRot was asked if he had officiated at the marriage and prayed with the people. To this ToRot answered, Yes, I did what was my duty... After he was beaten, he was sentenced to 2 months imprisonment.
When his uncle came to visit him, Peter ToRot told him. "I am here in jail because of my work for God. I am not afraid and I will not give up God, and my work for him, I will not follow man's decision. It is better to die for the faith then to die with the bullets. Even now I know that the Japanese will not let me out to live. I know they will kill me".
Sr.Andriana was a young girl when ToRot called her to be a nurse to his wife IaPaula who was expecting their 3rd child. At that time she was simply known as Louisa.
Privately, Peter ToRot put her in charge of her Religious Books, with these specific instructions.
"You look after my house and the books. Look after them otherwise they will spoil them. Bible, Baptism records, and IaPaula must not see you when you hide them. Go away alone and hide them. So I dug a hole and put the books in a box and buried them".
She was a great comfort to IaPaula and ToRot's mother Marie IaTumul. She remained with them and would accompany IaTumul to Vunaiara to bring food to Peter ToRot.
"Another time again I went back, sent by his mother to the prison camp to bring him food. I brought him food then we sat down and talked. This was the last time - that night they would kill him. While we talked he said, Louisa, you go down and tell the people - you have to be strong in prayer. I don't know but the big doctors are coming to see me. I don't know what they will do to me - They will kill me or, I don't know. Also tell my brother, Telo to being my cross, belt, scissors, and razor, for a hair-cut. So I came back and told his brother who went and attend to him".
The proper inquiry into the cause for the beatification for Peter ToRot was commission in 1985 by the late Archbishop of Rabaul, Albert Bundervoet.
Fr.Lucio de Stephano was the Postulator - the man appointed to head the Inquiry.
"The Church inquiry wishes to establish in case of the confessor that he lived a holy life. The Church inquiry in case of a martyr has to establish with clear full evidence that this man or that woman has been martyred, has been killed because of his faith. This is what had happened to Peter ToRot. And the Tribunal between January and March of 1987 questioned 16 people, many people from Rakunai village including Peter ToRot's family members of Rakunai village, 3 fellow catechist of Peter ToRot and in particular 3 fellow prisoners of Peter ToRot, 3 people were detained with Peter ToRot in Vunaiara prison by the Japanese, and among this three, I have to mention one in particular, a certain ToBinabat.
Arap ToBinabak: When I was in prison, there were not many prisoners, three only: two others with ToRot.
Arap ToBinabak was about 20 years of age when he was in prison. He was accused of stealing Cassava. He is currently a Pastor in Rakunai United Church.
"I use to go the gardens, I work in the garden Peter ToRot was working in the kitchen. When he felt a bit sick. They got me to take over his work in the kitchen. So I began to work in the kitchen until then, the Japanese were ready to see ToRot. One afternoon 2 Japanese were arrived, that time when ToRot was a little sick. One of the Japanese, the boss said to me to go and fetch Peter ToRot from the tunnel he was staying".
It was late afternoon that day when ToBinabak returned with ToRot and together they waited in the kitchen situated down here on the flat.
"They came and one Japanese saw me, and said, Hey! didn't you go with the others to the others place? Didn't you hear? And I said no, but as he was talking- the other Japanese were right behind him and stop short of him. So they insisted that I have to go out - so as I got up to come out, all the men were already there at the door. So they gave some medicine to ToRot,. They insisted so I went up. I walked the ladder and I looked back down to them".
Arap ToBinabat was the last prisoner to leave the camp - slowly walked up this hill and kept looking back to see what would happened to Peter ToRot.
"They blocked his ears with cotton wool, and his nose, and told him to sleep. All right, so he slept, as he lay down he drew back his legs up and crosed them, and folded his hands under his head. They the power of the medicine worked in his stomach and he wanted to vomit. Everyone was ready to block his mouth, then he died".
Peter ToRot was injected with a lethal drug after which he never re-gain consciousness. He passed away quietly late on a certain Friday afternoon in July 1945. News of his death was not broken until the next day, when then the Vunaiara police camp was awoken with whispers that ToRot was dead.
"In the morning, all right the Japanese, heard the men were telling each other that the catechist had died, then they came out, they looked at us. They asked me, hey, what caused the catechist to die. I knew the reason but did not want to say that" you killed him, No, I just said, I know nothing."
The people at Taogo, Peter ToRot' s farmstead were the last to be told- the news sent shockwaves:
"Everyone, everywhere cried, there was no talking, all were just crying - It wasn't even 10 minutes and everyone had packed our little home. Everywhere, here and up there, when we dressed him up- the people were just here, no one was talking".
ToRot was buried at Tavulabung, the church cemetery at Rakunai. His remains were exhumed for the purpose of his beatification and now finally rest in peace in a shrine in his Memorial Church at Rakunai.
"We buried him and sat together at his home at Taogo. And the people performed the mortuary ceremony, they distributed shell-money, to farewell him".
The son of a chief - ToRot's fame and reputation grew and spread far and wide. Not because he was the son of a chief - but rather because of his faith and gallantry for what he believed to be right.
In 1993- the Holy See accepted the fact and the Pope Declared Peter ToRot Venerable and Martyr.
While the people of Papua New Guinea and the South Pacific region rejoice that one of their sons, an indigenous, and a fellow-countrymen had been accorded recognition and raised by the universal church to be amongst the Blessed in Heaven, and while Blessed Peter ToRot will be long remembered as a Catechist and Martyr, his killers, the two Japanese Officers will remain secluded in the folds of the history books.
Inserts of arrival at Airport:
This is Papua New Guineas' Television Service, EMTV, providing life service, on the arrival of His Holiness, Pope John Paul II to Port Moresby. The stage appears to be set, the people have arrived numbering about 5000 to Jackson's airport to see the arrival of the Philippine airline plane, flying in the Pope in a few minutes time. It will be anytime before his holiness appears from the door And the moment of true is now about to happen. Pope John Paul II.
In his welcome speech to the Holy Father, The Governor General of Papua New Guinea, Sir Wiwa Korowi acknowledged the contribution of the Catholic Church towards the advancement of the nation and commends the church's recognition of Peter ToRot.
The beatification during your visit of Peter ToRot one of Papua New Guinea's most distinguished sons, signifies both the importance and recognition of the role and contribution he and others have made in laying the foundation for the extension of the catholic church in Papua new Guinea, as well as the development of Christian values and aspirations and general Christian life for our people. The late Peter ToRot displayed immense courage and dedication in the worse in the teaching of the catholic teaching in Papua New Guinea, makes him a perfect model for all Papua New Guineas.
The Holy Father had a special message for each and everyone: 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 circumstance to a life of loving God and neighbor.
Dear 'Brother Priests, your ministerial priesthood is at the service of the common priesthood of the faithful. I urge you never to loose sight of the great spiritual dignity and gift, which you have received.
Dear man and woman religious, Blessed Peter ToRot is for all religious a challenging model of fidelity. He is a man who sincere gift of self was like that of his lord who loved to the end Like his lord he was a faithful witness, I urge you to live your Religious consecration with generosity and unfailing fidelity to the renounce of perfect charity.
Dear members of the Laity. It is a very special significance of the fact that, the first Blessed of Papua New Guinea was a laymen and catechist. I hope that Peter ToRot will be come a source of inspiration throughout the church for all work in the lay apostolate especially for catechists who represents the basic strength of Christian Communities especially the young churches. The villages of Rakunai were ground to Christ and earth for him by the radiance charity and zeal of Peter ToRot. His spiritual maturity shows his apostolic maturity. He paid particular attention to those who have become lukewarm in the practice of the faith or who have abandoned it. As a catechist, devoted to the spiritual welfare of the others even in situation where he risks arrest and imprisonment. He went in search of the sheep, who had gone astray and did not rest until he had found it. Our young churches of this part of the world needs men and women of Peter ToRot' s calibre.
Pope 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 had brought distinction and honour 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 neighbour.
....Peter ToRot be proclaimed blessed..Karl Hesse, archbishop of Rabaul and other brothers of the episcopate and already of the faithful, after consultation with the congregations for causes of saint, by our apostolic authority, we declare that the venerable servant of God Peter ToRot shall be routed as Blessed that his feast, shall be celebrated every year, on the 7th day of July, in the places, and according to the norms established by the church law.