05/05/2000 11:17

The Catholic Church in Papua New Guinea

Written by: Bp. Rochus Joseph Tatamai msc
September 29, 2000

Geographical Background:

It was the time when the explorers were discovering new lands, traders and planters were opening new markets, administrators were governing new colonies, and Missionaries were evangelizing entire populations and cultures. Off course it was also the time of western civilization and Christianization.

Melanesia was only a name on the map of West Pacific, north of Australia. Just under the equator, a scatter of islands and archipelagoes recalling the memory of their discoverers who merely passed through, haphazardly pinning labels according to similarities or sentiments: the likes of Bougainville and the Solomons, d'entrecasteaux, the Louisiades, New Britain, New Ireland and New Guinea.

It had an enormous expanse of land and water, mainly water with unclear boundaries. The landmass is about the size of Australia and is washed by the Coral Sea, the Bismarck and the Solomon Seas.

A sparse population highly depended on a subsistence economy based on sago, yams, sweet potatoes and bananas, taro and tapioka, pork and fish and the rest that Mother Nature provides.

The local inhabitants had developed their own coping skills that best suit them in their very ancient and yet beautiful environment. They had an ages old consciousness and know-how of sustainable living, utilizing their resources as well as cultivating and maintaining a deep respect for their environment.

They are scattered over the high mountain ridges or in their villages along the coastlines, some in the deep valleys and interior jungles or along the hillsides. These divisions usually come handy for their identity as inhabitants along the coasts and highlanders. In one respect, some inhabitants had thick and frizzy-hair which gave rise to the name "Papuans."

Another notable factor is a real tower of Babel experience and reality, where more than 700 different languages are spoken amongst the different tribes and ethnic grouping, boasting a record quarter of the world's spoken languages, here in Papua New Guinea alone.



Explorers, traders and missionaries were very adventurous and determined personalities and intermingled with each other as they set off for far distant Lands. They were equal to the task in taking risks while on the same token for very obvious different motivations and convictions.

Missionaries, on the one hand, were men and women inspired by the Lord's command to go out to all the ends of the earth and teach the good news and baptize people in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. They were sent forth with a mission to venture into new lands and proclaim to the indigenous peoples and their cultures an alternative message of universal salvation in Jesus Christ and a commandment based on the logic of love God and neighbor.

This particular outlook was the motivation that drove the Catholic Missionaries during the 19th Century to set their eyes on the vast Pacific Ocean and bore its people at heart. Rome being the home of Christianity, through its authorities responsible for the evangelization of all peoples requested a number of new missionary congregations to take up the task of evangelization among the islands of the Pacific.

In 1844, Pope Gregory XVI erected the Vicariate Apostolic of Micronesia and Melanesia entrusting it to the Missionary congregation of the Society of Mary. A vicariate Apostolic is a mission territory under the pastoral care of a Bishop. The vicariate of Melanesia included the present Independent State of Papua New Guinea. Jean-Claude Collin, founder and superior of the Marist Fathers was in close negotiations with his agent in Rome, Bishop Jean Baptiste Epalle as regard the newly proposed missionary endeavors. The proposals for the twin vicariates were launched on 16th July 1844. Bishop Epalle, together with 7 priests and 6 lay brothers, immediately set sailed from Europe, in the beginning of February 1845, their eyes and hearts were set on the Pacific Islands.


The Solomons, Woodlark and Rooke Islands.

Bishop Epalle and his party arrived in Sydney on the 21st June, 1845 and remained there for four months recouping from their long journey, organizing supplies as well as conferring with the new Sydney mission centre set up for the Pacific region.

Their eventual destination was still uncertain; in any case, they chartered their own boat. After a week's stay in New Caledonia, the party proceeded to the Solomons where on 1st December 1845 they sighted the most southeastern island, San Cristobal. For 2 weeks they surveyed the waters, islands and shores by the missionary ship. Epalle had hoped to build the mission centre on the central island of Santa Isabel. On 16th December 1845, Epalle led a party ashore.

Four hours later the party returned carrying their dying bishop, his head smashed by repeated blows of a native club. He died three days later so the missionaries returned to San Cristobal where they temporarily settled down.

In the meantime a new Bishop designate, Jean Georges Collomb as replacement for bishop Epalle had already left Europe in mid-November 1845 and was on his way to the Pacific when Epalle was killed.

Ever since the Marist had arrived in San Cristobal, they had all to a greater or less extent, suffered attacks of Malaria. With the double disaster of New Caledonia and the Solomons, and with a new leadership, Bishop Collomb and his surviving missionaries (3 priests and 3 brothers) did not hesitate any longer to leave San Cristobal to begin afresh in another spot - hopefully healthier and less hostile.

Their first destination was Woodlark Island, halfway between the Solomons and New Guinea. They all arrived at Woodlark on 15th September 1847. It wasn't long before it became evident that Woodlark was also Malaria-ridden.

The arrival of Father Villien made it possible for Bp. Collomb to press on with his original plan of creating a new station. He departed in 1848 with Fathers Fremond and Villien and a brother for Rooke Island, strategically placed between New Guinea and New Britain, and within sight of both.

A week after of their arrival Bp. Collomb died of fever and 4 months later Father Villien also died of Malaria. Before the middle of 1849 the two survivors were evacuated back to Woodlark Island and the mission at Rooke Island also came to its end. Unfortunately, matters at Woodlark had also deteriorated.

After unsuccessful attempts in the Solomon Islands and on the New Guinean Islands of Woodlark and Umbon (Rook), the Marists were forced to withdraw in 1848. Ten of the first missionaries had died, half of them violently.


Foreign Missionaries of Milan (PIME)

Another group, the foreign missionaries of Milan (or commonly known as PIME s) re-establish the mission at Woodlark Islands. The party of seven under the leadership of Paolo Reina arrived at Woodlark in October 1852. They also attempted to return to Rooke Island but they too were forced to withdraw in 1855, on account of sickness, lack of food and the general indifference of the people.

In January 1855 John Mazzuconni a member of the PIME s was sent back to Sydney to recover his health. His heath was restored so he left Sydney en-route Woodlark in August 1855. Near Woodlark John Mazzuconni's ship ran on to a reef, and the locals massacred all on board. John Mazzuconni was also killed and has since been beatified.

To this point in history one fact remains that the Catholic faith reached the shores of Melanesian but its continual presence had to be discontinued and disrupted due to the reasons already sighted, sickness, poor logistic support and the general indifference by the indigenous.


Missionaries of the Sacred Heart

In 1881, Pope Leo XIII turned to another congregation, the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart (MSC) to undertake the difficult task of the evangelization of New Guinea. The Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, a French congregation, founded in 1854 was growing through new members joining with keen interest in foreign mission.

None of the colonial powers had officially shown any interest in New Guinea. However on location were already European traders and planters and some Protestant Missionaries already fairly established in the islands.

The new mission was to be established in conjunction with an agricultural settlement scheme, sponsored by a French noblemen; the Marquis de Ray. The plan, which ultimately proved disastrous at the end, was to establish a colony at Port Breton, located on the southern end of the islands of New Ireland. By the time the new wave of Missionaries arrived the colony had failed.

The three Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, Frs. Andre Navarra, Theophile Crammaille and Br. Mesmin Fromm sailed from Barcelona on the 1st September 1881, on board the Barcelona on transit in the Manila in the Philippines.

They landed at Matupit Island near Rabaul on the September 29th 1882. This date marks both the beginning and the continual presence of the Catholic Church in Papua New Guinea up till the present day.

A French diocesan priest, the Abbe Lannuzel who had been the Chaplain to the failed Marquis De Ray settlement, prepared the arrival of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart. He had already baptized a number of children in the local village. The new missionaries received good welcome from the local Tolai people and also by the big man "Tolitur" of Nodup village. The missionaries needed a suitable central mission site so eventually settled down at Vlavolo.

By 1884, the colonial powers; Germany and Great Britain; were already talking about the annexation of the whole eastern New Guinea. Cardinal Moran of Sydney was aware this political arrangement was soon to take place, He urged Fr. Navarra to quickly establish a mission in what was to become British New Guinea or Papua.

A second mission was established on the 4th July1885 on Yule Island under the leadership of Fr. Henry Verius another Missionary of the Sacred Heart.

Rabaul and Yule Island strategically located establishments became the nerve centres for the evangelization of the entire Northern and Southern coastal regions of New Guinea.

The division of New Guinea between the new colonial administrations (Germany and Great Britain) demanded a restructuring of missionary activity to cater for the political boundaries.

Fr. Andre Navarra was appointed Vicar Apostolic for British New Guinea with his headquarters at Yule Island while Fr.Henri Verius was appointed Vicar Apostolic for German New Guinea but at Navarra's request he remained in Papua as the Assistance bishop. In 1889, Fr. Louis Couppe was appointed Vicar Apostolic for the German colonial area with its centre at Kokopo.

Bishop Couppe immediately pursued an overall missionary action-plan known today as an Integral Human Development Approach. This policy proposed initiatives like transforming the local people into a responsible people of God, fully aware of their own dignity, with qualities of self-responsibility and initiative, a people educated to independence and the notion of self-reliance.

This approach certainly ruined the German colonial administration that wanted docile and cooperative workers only for their plantations.

Bishop Couppe transferred the mission center to Kininigunan, not far from the colonial administrative centre at Kokopo and renamed it Vunapope, the local dialect for "the place of the Pope".
Vunapope became the thriving mission center with hostels for the boys and girls, elementary and vocational schools, workshops for various trades, institutions for training of catechists and teachers as well as model farm for agriculture and the breeding of cattle.


Great emphasis was given to the formation of indigenous lay catechists who later became an important component and forerunners in the task of evangelization. Considering the small number of the missionaries, as well as the long time required to train many indigenous clergymen it was necessary and important in the mission field that there was ready help from a large army of catechists.

There can be no doubt about the great importance of the local catechist in the mission field. At home in firmly established parishes pastoral care is dependent on the co-operation the priests received from the teachers and other lay people.

The catechists, trained in their own schools, headed the different Basic Christian Communities. The catechist is a true missionary in his own sphere, the explorer, and the personnel on the outstation, teacher, and the guardian. Due to their vast experience and local knowledge of the people and the context, catechists were able to achieve more ground in the field of pastoral care.

In the field of activity entrusted to the catechists, they call together the newly converted Christians for morning and evening prayer, teach them their domestic and religious duties, and warn them when they do an injustice. They instruct the children in the faith, teach the elementary subjects and promote general good conduct. In the absence of the priest they assisted the dying, pray with them and prepare them for a holy death. They bury the dead by performing the final rites and support the grieving families and relatives. On occasion of conflicts and fights in the community, they use their influence and authority to achieve peace and ring about reconciliation.

From among their number came the martyr
Blessed Peter ToRot.

Bishop' Couppe's policy of total evangelization or integral human development encountered strong opposition from the German colonial authorities. The colonial authorities saw the various missions as useful for pacifying the locals and providing good, obedient workers for their plantations. The colonial authorities sponsored a policy for promoting mission "zones" or "spheres of influence" that is, the various Church missions were restricted in their work to specified areas of the country around Rabaul. Such a policy saw Catholic missionary activity confined to a small area of the Gazelle Peninsula.

Bishop Couppe vigorously opposed such a policy fighting it both in the Kokopo and directly with the masters in Berlin. He argued that such restrictions served only to suppress the religious rights and freedoms of the people was well as those of the Church. He also argued that the people had the right to choose the kind of education they wanted for their children.

Bishop Couppe's position received overwhelming support from the locals; the number of converts to Catholicism grew and after 1895, he was accepted as the spokesman for the local people. He successfully secured the abandonment of the policy of "spheres of influence" on the part of the German colonial government.

Once the policy of "separate mission districts" was abandonment in principle, the Congregation responsible missionary activity in Rome extended the invitation to other congregations to join the missionary work in New Guinea. It was obvious that the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart alone could not carry out such an enormous task. After ten years their work was restricted to the area around the two centres of Yule Island and Vunapope.


Divine Word Missionaries

1896 saw a new congregation, the Society of the Divine Word (SVD). They were founded in 1875 at Style in Holland. Rome entrusted them with the newly erected Prefecture Apostolic of Wilhelmsland, that part of New Guinea mainland (Momase and Highlands), which were under German control. A Prefecture Apostolic is a mission territory under the control of a priest. The first Divine Word Missionaries under the leadership of Father Eberhard Limbrock, arrived in Madang on the 13th August 1896. The Pope appointed him the first Prefect Apostolic while his General Superior appointed him priest-in-charge of the other Divine Word Missionaries working with him.

They wanted to began mission work in Madang the capital of Kaisar-Wilhelmsland but since the Lutherans had already established themselves around Madang, the Divine Word Missionaries first established themselves further to the West, away from any direct colonial influence, on the remote island of Tumleo near Aitape.

Father Limbrock's historic vision of laying a solid foundation of the Church among the people of mainland New Guinea. It was obvious to the first missionaries that they could not immediately evangelize the adults. They studied the local culture and discovered the practice allows for some children to be given to allied tribes so they could learn their language and customs. Such practice help consolidate inter-tribal communication and relationships. This was the opening for the missionaries to began with the children.


The Marists

The Society of Mary resumed their long interrupted mission in Melanesia in 1897. They started in the British Solomons Protectorate, which today the Solomon Islands. In the following years they established themselves in German Solomons, which is Bougainville Island. In the 1900, the Marist purchased land for a mission in Kieta that later became the centre for work in North Solomons.

By 1901, the Catholic Church in Papua New Guinea had established four nerve centres for its missionary activity. Yule Island in the British Papua territory, administered by Australia while Vunapope, Alexishafen and Kieta were in the German administered territories.

These main centres play this vital role for the next 40 years of missionary activities while at the same time retaining their autonomy and independence. Bishop Couppe's missionary plan and methodology was adopted with some modifications.

Bishop Couppe pursued an overall missionary plan based on the policy of transforming the local people into a responsible Christian people of God, fully aware of their own dignity, with qualities of self-responsibility and initiative, a people educated to independence and the idea of self-support. We would today call this a policy of integral human development. But such a policy ran counter to that of the German colonial administration, which wanted docile and cooperative workers for their plantations. They insisted on "education for work" not "education for independence"!

Couppe transferred the mission centre to Kininigunan, not far from the colonial administrative centre at Kokopo: he renamed it "Vunapope", the place of the pope. Here the bishop developed a thriving mission centre with hostels both for boys and girls, elementary and vocational schools, workshops for various trades, institutions for the training of catechists and teachers as well as a model farm for horticulture and the breeding of cattle. It should be noted that great importance was given to the formation of indigenous lay catechists. These, became a strong feature of Church development in New Guinea. From among their number came the martyr, Peter ToRot, who is to be beatified by Pope John Paul 11. Within a few years Vunapope came to resemble a model Christian settlement or town.

As has already been stated, in the carrying out of his policy of total evangelization Bishop Couppe encountered strong opposition from the German colonial authorities. They saw the various missions as mainly useful for pacifying the "locals" and providing good, obedient workers. They pursued a policy of promoting mission "zones" or "spheres of influence", i.e., the various Church missions were restricted in their work to specified areas of the Country around Rabaul. Catholic missionary activity was confined to a small area of the Gazelle Peninsula. Bishop Couppe vigorously opposed such a policy, fighting it both in the colony and with the authorities in Berlin itself. He argued that such restrictions served to suppress the religious rights and freedoms of the people as well as those of the Church. The people lie said the right to select the kind of education they wanted for their children. The local people supported Couppe's stand, the numbers of converts to Catholicism grew and after 1895, Couppe was accepted as their spokesman for the local people. He also secured the abandonment of the policy of "spheres of influence" on the part of the German colonial government.

Once the policy of "separate mission districts" had been abandoned in principle, the Propaganda Congregation in Rome, which was responsible for missionary activity, invited other congregations to join the missionary work in New Guinea. It was clear the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart alone could not carry out such an immense task. After ten years their work was restricted to the area around the two centres of Yule Island and Vunapope.

In 1896 a new congregation, the Society of the Divine Word (SVD) took up the work of evangelization on the New Guinea mainland. Since the Lutherans were already well established around Madang, the SVD first established them, further to the west on the remote island of Tumleo (near Aitape), under the leadership of Father Eberhard Limbrock SVD.

In 1897 the Marists also resumed their long interrupted work in Melanesia, initially in the British Solomons Protectorate and then in the following years established themselves in the German Solomons (on Bougainville Islands). In 1900, the Marists purchased land for a mission at Kieta, which would become the centre of their work in the North Solomons.

Thus by 1901, four centres of Catholic missionary activity had been established in what was to become Papua New Guinea; one in British Papua (now administered by Australia) and three in German administered territories. For the next forty years these would remain the main centres of missionary activity; each more or less independent of the others. The new missionaries in German New Guinea adopted, with a few modifications, Couppe's methodology. As a result there were notable similarities between the missions despite their independence. In agreement with the German government, the Congregation of Propaganda insisted missionaries should be German nationals. This initially posed some problems for the MSC who were French foundation. Congregations of religious Sisters sharing the same founder and traditions also assisted their priests. To serve the Vunapope mission a new group of MSC Sisters was established in Germany.

In Papua, the British (and later Australian) Colonial Administration also pursued a similar policy of separate spheres of missionary influence. Bishop Navarre rejected this policy for the same reason as Couppe had done. But thanks to the diplomacy of Navarre's assistant, de Boismenu, major clashes with non-Catholic missionaries and the colonial authorities were generally avoided. After a period of consolidation on Yule Island and on the nearby coastal area, the missionaries pushed into the hinterland, into the wild and well-populated regions of the Owen Stanley Ranges, far from any Protestant missionary activity. Such expansion was physically very difficult. The missionaries, for example, had to establish roads in the days before airplanes. But the Church flourished among the mountain peoples.

We turn now to consider the further development of the PNG Church. The story can be broken into four periods: [1] Up to World War 1; [2] The period between the two wars; [3] World War 11 and its aftermath; [4 Since Independence.


Before World War I

After more than twenty years during which all efforts were concentrated on promoting the parish system in the Gazelle Peninsula area of New Britain, in 1902, the Catholic Mission centered on Vunapope, began the work of evangelization on the island of New Ireland at Namatanai. Lay catechists had already prepared the way. In 1913, the mission extended its activities to Manus Islands, establishing a centre first at Papitalai. Once again catechists had prepared the way.

In 1902 the Vunapope Mission suffered its first major-tragedy. For a number of years missionaries had been working in the Baining Mountains of New Britain, trying to reconcile the Tolai and Baining peoples, who were traditional enemies. On 13th August 1904, at the St. Paul Mission, ten missionaries were killed (priests, brothers and sisters) along with seven Christian Bainings. These became known as the "Baining Martyrs".

As we have already noted, the second centre at Yule Island had also begun to expand its missionary activity away from coastal area into the mountainous region of Papua. Such expansion was only made possible by the laborious construction of roads by the missionaries, as well as through the cultivation of gardens for food supplies for the missionaries. Communications were much more difficult in the Papuan Region than in the coastal areas of the new Guinea Islands and the northern mainland. The growth of missionary activities among the tribes of the Goilala region in the Papuan mountains had a strong pacifying and unifying effect on the numerous and quite distinct mountain and coastal peoples who joined the Catholic Church in increasing numbers. Today the Diocese of Bereina (the old Vicariate of Yule Island) is among the most Catholic in the country.

On the north coast of the New Guinea mainland, in 1905, the SVD mission moved its headquarters from the remote island of Tumleo to Alexishafen, near the colonial administrative centre of Madang. The work of education was intensified, missions spread along the coast together with extensive plantations, which served to support the mission financially. After the news of the Baining massacres and the discovery of a similar plot in the Madang area, Father Limbrock was hesitant for the mission to push further inland, up the rivers and mountain valleys.

In the North Solomons (Bougainville) the Marists established their centre at Kieta in 1904 and from there expanded along the coast east and south. They concentrated their attention on the education of the children, gathering them at the main stations. From these "mission" children they drew schools within a radius of about a two-day walk from the main station.

Generally speaking this period of foundation, centered as it was on main mission stations, was marked by consolidation of the missionary structure, the establishment of a developed missionary plan, the study of local languages and of the customary life of the people. Some of the missionaries produced major anthropological and ethnological studies. Having established basic relationships with the local people all efforts were then made to make the four mission centres self-supporting. This was achieved by developing the resources of the area; in particular through the establishment of plantations.

But the missions also tried to develop human resources, to promote active and apostolic laity who could participate in missionary work. Thus effort was devoted to the promotion and training of catechists and teachers (religious instruction and teaching in the elementary schools was in the local "tok ples" - vernacular). The mission relied heavily on local people for the basic religious education of Catholics.

The hope was that from these Catholic families and from the catechists and teachers, one day, local religious and priestly vocations would come. In 1912, Bishop Couppe founded a local congregation of religious sisters, who would work among their own peoples and be a sign of religious commitment to them. This was the foundation of the Daughters of Mary Immaculate (FMI), today a thriving congregation which has spread to other areas of the country. After the First World War, other indigenous, religious congregations were established, first among these being Bishop de Boismenu's foundation (1918), the Handmaids of the Lord (AD). This bishop also began in 1920 a male congregation of the Brothers of the Scared Heart. Among the early members of such groups was a young Mekeo, Louis Vengeke who, having been abandoned by his family had been brought up by the mission. Louis was later to become the first indigenous priest (1937), the first indigenous member of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart (1941) and to be ordained as the first Papua New Guinean bishop by Pope Paul VI in 1970. We will return to the story of the promotion of priestly vocations later but while speaking of indigenous vocations, mention should also be made of another of the earliest indigenous priests: Herman To Paivu, who later became Archbishop of Port Moresby. Herman was born into one of the first Christian families at Tapo in New Britain in 1911 and before entering the seminary had been a catechist. These two men can serve as good examples of the enduring effects of the policies pursued by these early missionaries.

Finally, it needs to be stressed; the success of missionary work would have been impossible without the generous assistance and labour of the religious brothers and sisters, together with that of the indigenous lay Christian leaders. The important role of the laity in the development of the PNG Church needs to be clearly acknowledged. Peter ToRot is a symbol of their fidelity and hard work in deepening the faith life in their people and proclaiming the Gospel.

World War 1 directly touched New Guinea -especially the German territory -. Although there was no damage to the mission (as in World War 11), the missionary work was seriously impaired by the War. Most of the missionaries were German. The sources for financial aid and missionary personnel from Europe dried up. The French missionaries were equally affected (because of the war in Europe).


Between the Wars:

After the War the subsequent change in sovereignty over New Guinea also affected the missions in the former German territories. In 1920 the Territory of New Guinea was handed over to Australia, to be administered as a Mandated Territory on behalf of the League of Nations. Thus both Papua and New Guinea were now under Australian administration. Initially the Australians had ordered the immediate expulsion of all German missionaries from the Territory. If this policy had been successfully carried out, it would have spelt disaster for the well-established missions, which were so heavily dependent on German personnel. The Apostolic Delegate and Australian Church authorities succeeded in having the policy changed. The German missionaries were allowed to remain until 1928. But by that date circumstances had altered considerably, Germany had become a member of the League of Nations: the missionaries remained, many of them to be later imprisoned by the Japanese allies of Nazi Germany. But Germany was no longer in a position to offer much support to the far-off missions in the South Seas. Nor was there any more the insistence, on the part of the Congregation of Propaganda, that missionaries be selected on the basis of the nationality of the governing power. The missions of Papua and New Guinea began to become more internationalized. The new colonial authorities did little either to support or to hamper the work of the missionaries; Australia was not very involved in its new colonies. This meant that the main agents of social change and development (especially in the fields of education and health) continued to be the missions. This remained more or less the general condition in the period between the two wars.

In 1922 the Vicariate of New Pommerania had become the Vicariate Apostolic of Rabaul. In 1924, Bishop Vesters MSC replaced Bishop Couppe and continued the policy of missionary expansion of his predecessor. Systematically new mission areas were opened up in New Britain along the coasts as Far West as Kilenge, across the strait from the earlier Marist mission on Umbon Island. Catechists continued to be active in the consolidation of the Church. Especially on the south coast, former mission plantations workers who had become Catholics, employed the skills they had acquired to start small plantations in their villages and on the various plots of land that Couppe had purchased as sites for future mission stations and parishes. Thus the foundations were laid for self-supporting parishes and the development of a modern village economy. Mission work also continued to make progress on New Ireland and on Manus. By the time the War came to New Guinea the Catholic Church was well established throughout the region and the numbers of Catholics had grown considerable and rapidly.

In Papua, the Yule Island ' mission, newly named the Vicariate of Papua (1922), continued to spread among the mountain tribes. Many new districts were established. The missionaries generally lived in community on the central stations, and from there looked after surrounding smaller sub-stations. Work along the coastal areas - and in Port Moresby - continued to expand but was always hampered by the shortage of missionaries. Moreover there was a growing need for English speaking priests (especially in the capital, Port Moresby). In 1929 Bishop de Boismenu invited the Australian MSC Province to supply men for missionary work in Papua. Initially they worked in Port Moresby and then in 1932 a mission was established on Sideia Island in Milne Bay by Father Francis Lyons MSC.

The young congregation of the Handmaids of the Lord established by Bishop de Boismenu experienced solid growth tinder the direction of Mother Marie Therese Noblet. Priestly vocations also appeared; the first was a Motuan, Joseph Turino. The Bishop sent him to Europe directly the war had ended in 1918, but unfortunately he died in Switzerland in 1922. The second student - Louis Vangeke - made his studies for the priesthood in Madagascar and was ordained in 1937. In 1935, at the instigation of Bishop de Boismenu, five Carmelite sisters arrived from France to establish a contemplative convent at Kubuna. Later this monastery was moved to the site of the National Seminary at Bomana National Capital District.

In the northeast New Guinea mainland missions, the Australian authorities during the War had closed down all the mission schools. The missionaries, being Germans, were regarded "enemies". After the War the work of reopening began and was carried out despite the threat of expulsion hanging over the German Divine Word Missionaries and the Sisters of the Holy Spirit. In 1922 the new Vicariate of East New Guinea (Madang) was established with Francis Wolf SVD as first bishop of the area. Along with many of his fellow missionaries he was later to perish under the Japanese occupation. In 1932 the expansion of the New Guinea Church necessitated the establishment of a second Vicariate, that of Central New Guinea (centered on Wewak) under the leadership of Bishop Joseph Loerks SVD who was also to be a victim of the Japanese occupation. The dividing line between the two vicariates was the great Sepik River. The missionaries of the Divine Word now began to move inland, establishing new mission areas along the rivers and valleys.

Then came a new "discovery": the opening up of the Highlands and the recognition of the vast numbers of people inhabiting this formerly unknown area. Soon the SVD missionaries obtained permission from the colonial authorities to enter this area. In 1933, after crossing the Bismark Mountains, the first Catholic missionaries entered the Simbu and the Wahgi Valley and began to establish the Church in the Highlands. The first stations were established at Mingende and Mount Hagen the following year. From 1935 airplanes became the ordinary means of transportation and vastly assisted in the work in the Highlands, making isolated mission stations less remote. However this work was soon to be interrupted by the Second World War and only began to flourish extensively at the end of that conflict.

The events of World War I and the change of government over the North Solomons from Germany to Australia posed unexpected challenges for the Marists working in those islands. Up till that time the Marists had been the only Christian missionaries working in the region, but with the change of administration came new missions: first the Methodist Mission arrived in 1916, to be followed in 1924 by the Seventh Day Adventist Mission. Both Protestant missions began to work in already Catholic areas; this inevitably led to tensions. In response the Prefect Apostolic, Maurice Boch SM, broke up the religious communities - despite the Marist rule - and doubled the number of mission stations on Buka and Bougainville. Each station was in turn divided into smaller sectors each under the direction of a head catechist. As a result the number of catechists also underwent a dramatic increase to 356 in 1935. This increase was made possible through the educational work encouraged by Father Thomas Wade SM, who had arrived in 1924. In 1930 the new Vicariate of the North Solomons was established with Wade as its first bishop. When World War 11 broke out, most of the missionaries were forced to leave or were interned, yet they left behind a remarkably strong Catholic community, able to survive the turmoil of the Pacific War.

During this inter-war period, although the government of the Church in the Territory of Papua New Guinea was divided among the four (later five) separate mission regions entrusted to three different missionary societies, there were the regions. There were meetings and consultations on matters of common interest. The central Australian administration also helped make common decisions advisable and possible. One major area of consultation focused on matters of education since the Australian administration showed little interest in this and left the main work to the missions. Another result of interregional cooperation was that Neo-Melanesian "pidgin" became the common language for prayers, hymns and religious instruction in all regions except Papua (where it was not commonly spoken).

Education remained a high priority of the Catholic Church. It formed an essential and integral part of the missionary program. The educational development had stabilized around elementary, vocational and catechist training schools. As well the need was now being felt for the establishment of secondary education, especially with the development of teacher training and seminary formation programs for future local priests. The Vicars were also looking towards the promotion of a local clergy. A number of young men had already indicated a desire to become priests. The example of the indigenous women religious had demonstrated that Melanesians could pursue a celibate way of life.

The first major regional seminary was established at Vunapope in. 1937 and included among its first intake (of 24) seminarians from the Vicariates of Rabaul, North Solomons and Papua. Five of these students - although their studies were interrupted by the Pacific War - were later ordained, among their number the future bishops Herman To Paivu and George Bata (both of Rabaul). A minor seminary was also established, for the East New Guinea region, at Alexishafen in 1938.

However, despite such examples of joint action, another trend also emerged during this period, which could be characterized as "distinctions". The different religious societies, which had responsibility for the various Missions tended to identify their areas with themselves to the detriment of the "catholic" ideal. A common trend seems to emerge in the story of each mission, that of the formation of a "state within the state"; Each were self-sufficient in themselves, in areas of education, economy, transportation and health services. However they still remained heavily dependent on foreign missionary personnel and were far from being self-sufficient regarding local clergy and religious. These missions demonstrated little interest in working with the colonial government in the interests of all the people of the Territory. Ecumenical relations - to the extent that they existed at all - were strained, even at times hostile. At best they were marked by a restrained politeness. The devastation and tragedy of the Second World War was to change all this.


The Second World War and its Aftermath:

With the outbreak of war in the Pacific, the Territory - and the missions - soon became directly involved as a major theatre of war. Rabaul was the first casualty, bombed by the Japanese on January 21st 1942 and by the end of that month the Japanese forces had landed. During the year Port Moresby and other parts of the country experienced bombing raids. In April the Japanese landed at Lae. Soon they were along much of the North coast of New Guinea. Now began a time of great and severe trial for the missions and the Missionaries as well as the local people.

The Divine Word missionaries (priests, brothers and sisters) from the Vicariate of Central New Guinea (Wewak), with their bishop, Joseph Loerks, were first interned on Kairiru Island and then sent by sea to Rabaul. On their way more missionaries (both Catholic and Protestant) were picked up from Kavieng and Rabaul, the Japanese murdered all. The date was March 17th 1943. Then in February 1944 tragedy struck the New Guinea missions a further blow. All the missionaries from the Vicariate of East New Guinea along with Bishop Wolff (7 priests, 16 brothers and 30 sisters) were being transported by sea to a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp when the Americans bombed their boat. Many of the missionaries, including the bishop, were killed. The missions of mainland New Guinea had paid a terrible price during the war, as had those of the New Guinea Islands. As well as the serious interruption to missionary work, almost 90%, of the mission plant had been destroyed, the Japanese had tried to wipe out the Christian faith of the people and many mission personnel, both expatriate and local, had been killed.

And yet these like Peter ToRot had kept the faith alive in the hearts of the people. When the war ended it became clear that not only did the Church face an immense task of reconstruction, but it was also evident that the old days of the great mission centres were finished. A new missionary style was needed. Moreover, because of the terrible devastation in Europe, little help could be looked for from that quarter. New missionaries from the newer parts of the Catholic world like America and Australia now came to help re-build the shattered Church.

Within a few years of the end of the War in the almost totally destroyed Vicariate of Rabaul a reconstruction program involving buildings and plantations had been successfully completed. New Missionaries of the Sacred Heart had come from Australia, the United States and Ireland to supplement depleted mission personnel. This lead in 1957 to the establishment of the separate Vicariate of Kavieng (New Ireland) entrusted to the USA Province of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart. With the coming of new blood extensive mission work became intensified.

It was, however, the New Guinea mainland missions that experienced the greatest boost to mission work. As we have seen their losses of personnel during the war had been catastrophic. In 1946 Australian Franciscans (OFM) came to assist in the work around Aitape; in 1952 they accepted complete responsibility for the area and in 1956 the Vicariate of Aitape was established. In 1959, the mission work was further reorganized when the Lae area was entrusted to the Marianhill Society (CMM). After the war, work had intensified in the Highlands so much so that in 1959 two new vicariates were established there: Goroka and Mount Hagen, both entrusted to the care of the SVD. It was in the densely populated Highlands area that the Catholic Mission in PNG had its greatest success after World War 11 in respect to conversions. The pioneer of this work was the American Father William Ross SVD.

The challenge of reconstruction after the War was also immense in the Vicariate of the North Solomons where mission resources were inadequate. Like the SVD on the mainland and the MSC in the New Guinea Islands, the work of reconstruction was greatly assisted by the internationalization of the Marist missionary personnel: priests and brothers came front Australia, Holland, New Zealand and America. After the initial period of material reconstruction, mission work became more intensive. An improvement in the standards of education at all levels and more successful efforts to secure a better share in temporal benefits for the local people were notable achievements.

The Papuan Church had been less affected by the depravations of the War, but it had suffered few material losses, lacked of personnel and support from Europe.

A program of expansion was began and in 1951, a separate Prefecture Apostolic was established at Samarai and entrusted to the Australian MSC under the leadership of Father John Doyle, who became bishop in 1956. The inland missions were extended into the Southern Highlands region centered on Mendi. In 1954 American Capuchins (OFM Cap) accepted responsibility for the Southern Highlands area.

Expansion had also taken place in the West and in 1959 a new Prefecture Apostolic of Daru was entrusted to the Candian Montfort Fathers (SMM) under the leadership of Father Gerard Deschamps. Australian Missionaries of the Sacred Heart took over parish and mission work in Port Moresby. In 1946 the Vicariate of Yule Islands became the Vicariate of Port Moresby. On the death of Bishop Sorin MSC, in 1959, the vicariate was divided. The vicariate Apostolic of Yule Island was detached from Port Moresby and the Australian Bishop Virgil Copas MSC was appointed Vicar Apostolic of Port Moresby. By this stage it had become clear that the French MSC Province would no longer be able to ensure adequate staffing for the Papuan mission.

Besides this rapid re-development of the original mission areas and the entrance of new missionary communities of priests to supplement the work of the founding congregations, there was also a widespread influx of new communities of sisters and teaching brothers, along with lay missionaries. It was their presence, especially, which assisted the great post-war missionary growth and expansion. The new congregations and orders brought not only new personnel but also new ideas and resources, further internationalizing the mission.

Lay missionaries had been part of the mission before the war, but numbers greatly increased in the post-war years. The lay missionaries gave a very important contribution in re-construction and expansion

The face of the Catholic Church in the Territory of Papua New Guinea changed rapidly after World War 11: new missions were opened, new religious communities and more nationalities became involved in the mission work. This enabled the further expansion of the missionary work, the opening up of new areas and the development of new projects.

At the same time, conscious of the help they had received from the local population in the defense of the Territory against the Japanese, the Australian government began to take a greater and more practical interest in the country. They found the Churches helpful associates in the work of development especially in the areas of education and health. Papua New Guinea was beginning to move towards political independence and this fact affected, in turn the character and direction of missionary work.


Beginning in the sixties the basic infrastructure of the modern PNG Church was gradually taking shape. Local candidates began to join the international as well as local religious congregations; novitiates and training programs were established. The promotion of local clergy was also encouraged on a much more organized basis. Local indigenous congregations began to give their recruits a higher standard of education and specialization in areas like health education and social services. One needs to acknowledge here the role of religious women in improving the general status of women in the country.

In 1966 the local hierarchy was established, almost 10 years before the achievement of political independence. The establishment of the hierarchy and the Organization of the Church into archdioceses and dioceses also signaled the increasing maturity of the PNG Church. The pre-war mission churches were moving towards becoming one national Church.

As the process of de-colonization accelerated, the pattern of national life and society underwent significant change: there was increasing internal migration of peoples, spiritual unrest together with materialistic expectations, sometimes given expression in the form of "cargo cults". The War had brought wealth and technology of modern Western industrialized society. A greater sense of national consciousness became evident particularly in the field of education. Under pressure from the United Nations the Australian colonial Administration increasingly took over educational matters, complying with the UN requirement to help the local people acquire the necessary educational abilities for self-government. So the Administration promoted a policy of uniform development throughout the Territory: education was to be spread evenly throughout the indigenous community so that the whole population might share the benefits of development and so be enabled to participate in the political progress. This plan also meant that the government broke into a domain that various Catholic Missions, directly after the War had begun to promote high school education and teacher training. A complete takeover of the education system operated by the church was avoided by cooperation. Because of the strong presence of the Church in the field of education, not only at elementary and secondary levels but also at tertiary level (especially the seminary), graduates frown Catholic educational institutions played an essential and significant role in the movement towards self-government and independence.

But within the Church structure itself, the process of "localization" was very slow, lagging well behind other signs of development. At the time the national hierarchy was established in 1966 there were only nine indigenous priests and no indigenous bishops. Efforts had been taken to re-institute the program of formation for local priests immediately the war had ended. In 1947, the surviving seven students resumed their theological studies at Torokina on Bougainville. In fact, despite the wartime conditions, some of them had continued their studies with the missionaries who had been interned in the Ramale Valley near Rabaul. In 1953 five local men were ordained priests. Other students from the initial seminary program would play leading roles in the early stages of PNG independence.

A new beginning was made with the establishment, by the bishops of Papua New Guinea, the British Solomon Islands and the Gilbert Islands, with the opening of St. Peter Chanel Minor Seminary near Rabaul in 1955. As the first group of minor seminarians completed their secondary studies the major seminary, Holy Spirit Regional Seminary, was established at Kap, near Madang, in 1963. In 1968 Holy Spirit Seminary was transferred to Bomana near Port Moresby and combined with De Boismenu College, the seminary established in 1962 by the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart for the training of their own candidates. This move also opened up the possibility of closer cooperation with the newly established University of Papua New Guinea. The first priests to complete their formation in the Holy Spirit Seminary were ordained in 1966. It was also hoped that a central national seminary where future diocesan and religious priests would study together would help promote the sense and spirit of being a united national Church.

The establishment of the hierarchy in 1966 was not so much the conclusion of a long process of development but rather marked the beginning of new stage of the process. The time when the various missionary congregations could narrowly identify themselves with specific areas had passed, although all did not acknowledge this fact. Cooperation at the national level became the dominant theme for much activity within the Church. The Church also worked to help prepare the consciousness of the nation for Independence in 1975. In 1972 the Catholic Church undertook a lengthy and intensive "Self-Study", one focus of which was on the need for localization.

After Independence:

The process of localization continues today. With many local Church workers both lay and religious who play Church's mission. Indigenous superiors now lead a number of the international, as well as local religious orders. Today more than 150 local priests work with expatriate missionaries in the pastoral care of their people. Of these local priests, 7 are bishops. The Church in PNG faces great challenges at the present time especially in view of the rapidly changing face of society and the many social problems that currently confront the developing nation.

The Church, especially in such areas as education, health and human development, works closely with authorities at the National and Provincial levels. One example is the role the local church authorities played in the response to the recent volcanic eruptions in Rabaul. The Church is also deeply involved in ecumenical cooperation and is a full time member of the Melanesian Council of Churches. In so many ways contributes in a spirit of cooperation and generosity, to the development of the material, intellectual, cultural and spiritual life of the people of the Independent State of Papua New Guinea.

In May 1984, Pope John Paul II visited PNG in tribute to the 100 years life of the Church. In his homily in Port Moresby he praised the growth of the Church and those who had contributed to this, not only the early missionaries but the increasing numbers of indigenous fellow-workers who had joined them in pastoral ministry.

Much has happened in both Church and nation since that visit. The challenge of establishing a truly national and local Church is also the challenge connected with the struggle of the various regions of the nation to forge a sense of national identity and working together in the face of the profound social and political changes this country is currently experiencing. The Catholic Church is still a major participant in the provision of education and health care to the people, especially in the rural areas, and in the journey towards national identity and integrity.

One very important recent development within life has been the promotion of basic Christian communities in the various dioceses through such movements as Lumko and the New Image of the Parish. These movements have given the people a lively and greater sense of their responsibility for the Church. Throughout the country various types of prayer and study groups have been formed, often at the initiative of the grassroots people themselves. There is a growing sense amongst the faithful of being the church, the People of God, and so simply dependent on expatriate missionaries whose numbers are steadily declining as Papua New Guineans accept more and more responsibility for the leadership and development of their Church. What was 100 years ago a mission Church is not only in the process of becoming a mature local Church, a vital part of the universal Catholic Church, but also a Church in mission. Indigenous religious are not only serving their own Church but also starting to go out as missionaries to others.