14/12/2013 11:00

Holy Priests for a Holy Church

The PNG rural and traditional set up still exists and accommodates the majority of the people, but it’s being challenged by a growing trend of urbanization. Not only people move and settle in the city, but for those remaining in the village the “city” goes to their place. Investors and researchers, tourists and traders, teachers and nurses, missionaries and adventurists have been around for more than a century. Now the mobile phones and the Internet are connecting everybody to the rest of the world making of every inch of terrain a part of the global village.

With this comes mobility, the end or the weakening of traditional practices, values, family and tribal ties. Boundaries fall. Human behavior is no more as well constrained as in traditional society. In the past you knew of a lot of things that you could not do, that certain people you could not touch, and in some places you could not go. In certain areas only the chief was allowed more than one wife along with respect and wealth, not the common villager. Psychological threats were at hand to enforce tribal order.

With the crumbling of the old way of life nothing has replaced the traditional watchdogs or shown new criteria in a changed situation: not the law and its enforcers, not education, not religion, much less the media which are actually becoming channels of good as much as of bad. It is no surprise, therefore, that violence, corruption, alcoholism and criminality spiral out of control! And the family has become a mere word with no content as far as fidelity, care of children, food and education is concerned. Many young people appear to be without a personal plan in life, let it alone a goal and a dream. No education, job or house is assured as a foundation for a meaningful family project or positive social contribution.

This is the man and the people to whom the Church intends to announce Jesus message today. It is (in theory) a well known message of meaning and purpose, honesty, respect, peace, industriousness and concern for others. It’s a message of love for the poor. It is in no way old-fashioned or outdated. In fact it appears to be what’s most needed nowadays.

It calls, however, not much for spoken or written words, bur for action and consistency in life. The Gospel is made present by the Church and the Church is mostly represented among the people by its priests. The religious also do their part. And in recent times stress has been put on lay people and lay cooperation by means of pastoral councils and all sort of lay groups and initiatives. It is common (and correct) belief, however, that the natural leader in the community is the priest, normally the parish priest, representing the bishop of the larger diocesan community.

It is evident, after 2000 years of Christian faith that Church reform and holiness much more depend on persons and saints than meetings, committees, synods and councils. Therefore it is probably priests’ behavior, stand and commitment that will make a difference and ensure an effective evangelization in modern times as it did in the past.

The new five-year pastoral plan to be born out of the General Assembly of the Catholic Church in Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands (Madang, 5-11 Nov. 2013) will certainly stress a variety of issues and objectives. The family will have central stage. But only the priests and the parishes can really take it up and effectively lead their local communities and especially their youth into a new experience of faith and communion in modern times. (GLadius)