Sunday, December 8, 2013

Gold in Mendi

It's been a while since I posted and I have much to share with you, but I couldn't let this go without getting it out to you right away.  December 7 - 8 marked the celebration of the Golden Jubilee of Religious Profession of five religious men and women who have consecrated their lives to God and to the service of God's People.  The Jubilarians are Sister Lukas Suess, FSDP; Brother Ray Ronan, OFM Cap.; Sister Gaudentia Meier, FSDP (pictured below), also celebrating are Bishop Bill Fey, OFM Cap., and Father Allan Wasiecko, OFM Cap.

The celebration began with a traditional SingSing.  People dressed in traditional attire marched the Jubilarians from the cathedral (background) to the grandstand where a program of traditional and contemporary song and dance took place.  The people, young and old were happy to express their appreciation to these dedicated  missionaries for their 50 years of consecrated religious life - most of those years spent in the Diocese of Mendi.  Sister Lukas is currently the Director of the Diocesan Pastoral Center.  Brother Ray has served in many ministries, including Vocation Director for the Capuchins and for the Diocese.  Sister Gaudentia is considered the 'mother' of Catholic Health Services in the diocese - a vast network of clinics and health centers serving the medical needs of people in the remotest areas.  Father Allan is currently the pastor of Saint Felix of Cantalice Parish in Pangia.  Bishop Bill served for 20 years as formation director of the Capuchins and lecturer in philosophy at the Catholic Theological Institute in Port Moresby.  He now serves as the Bishop of Kimbe in the West New Britain Province of PNG.

Old and new joined together in the praise and thanks to God for the life and example of these dedicated religious.  Even the perennial Mendi rain didn't dampen the spirits of those who came to take part in the celebration.  As you can see above... who needs an umbrella when you have a banana leaf to share with a friend!

The culmination of the celebration came the next day at the celebration of Sunday Mass in the Cathedral of Mary, Mother of the Good Shepherd.  Bishop Bill (far right) arrived in time for the celebration and added to the joy of the day...

Consecrated Religious life is a gift and blessing to the Universal Church, but it has been a true blessing to the local Church of Mendi... Many religious men and women have served and continue to serve in this diocese and it is not an exaggeration to say that the diocese would not be the same if it wasn't for the self-giving love and service of these dedicated men and women from across the globe and from PNG itself.

Happy 50th Jubilee!  You're all Golden!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Earthshaking Ground-breaking

A small but enthusiastic crowd gathered in Mendi to witness the blessing and ground-breaking for the new residence for Diocesan priests.  It was a beautiful celebration of faith and culture in this remote, mountain diocese of Papua New Guinea.  It is a strong witness of trust in God’s generosity and Providence and a challenge for the Catholic community of the Southern Highlands and Hela Provinces of PNG (and beyond) to respond to God’s constant call to build-up the Kingdom of love among all peoples.  The project is made possible with the help of the Capuchin Mission Office in Pittsburgh, PA  USA.  We pray daily for our benefactors who through their generosity and sacrifice are helping to make this dream come true.  “If the Lord does not build the vain do its builders labor.” (Ps 127)

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Mission Sunday in Mendi

Today the Church celebrates Mission Sunday.  As you might imagine, in a traditional 'mission' country this takes on a special significance.  Today, in the Cathedral of Mary, Mother of the Good Shepherd, we also celebrated the commissioning of catechists... Men and women who carry the Good News of Jesus to every corner of the diocese.  The Diocese of Mendi has 33 parishes and almost 350 rural outstations.  If you consider that there are only 32 priests and only one bishop, you can see how important is the ministry of these (and other) lay men and women who take their baptismal call seriously.  Every Catholic, by his or her baptism is commissioned as a missionary, sharing in the very mission of Jesus Christ.  Jesus counts on all of us to do our part to spread the Good News of His love and salvation for all people.  We all have a part to play.  Next time you look in the mirror you can say: "Hey, there's a missionary!" As you can imagine, being a missionary in this day and age is not easy.  But we are not alone.  In Confirmation, we receive the power of the Holy Spirit who helps us be faithful to our mission.  And in the Holy Eucharist, we have food to strengthen us for this important work.  God bless our new catechists - and help us not to be afraid to take our part in the mission of your Son Jesus, with the help of the Spirit of Love.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Mama María

In the Catholic world, the month of October is traditionally dedicated to renewed devotion to praying the rosary.  The rosary is a contemplative prayer that helps us to focus on the mysteries of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus - as well as Mary's singular role in life of Jesus and in our life too.
During this month, the faithful of the mission station here in Mendi are processing with the image of Mary around the families of the area and spending time praying the rosary and reflecting on the Scriptures.  Yesterday, the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, the group came to the Bishop's House... undaunted by the usual Mendi afternoon rain.  The Catholics of Papua New Guinea love Mary and accept her into their homes as did Saint John the Apostle - at the request of Jesus Himself.  They know, as we all know, that Mary is our Mother, but she is also the first and best disciple of her Son, Jesus - and can help us come close to Him and to follow in His footsteps.

Gracias a todos mis amigos de habla española.  Aprecio muchos sus comentarios y su apoyo.

María ven, llévame de la mano a Jesús.  Enseñame a amarle, cómo lo amaste tú.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

A Bishop's Happiest Day

I've not been a bishop for very long... but I think that I would be right in saying that the happiest day in the life of a bishop is when he has the privilege of ordaining a priest who will be serving the People of God in his diocese.

Recently, I had that privilege, when I traveled to Irawi, in the Hela Province region of the Diocese of Mendi to ordain Father Isaiah Timba.

It was a joyful and inspiring celebration of Faith and culture.  Father Isaiah comes from among the Huli people.  Above you can see some young people and some elders who led the entrance procession of the ordination Mass.  The celebration had to take place outdoors to accommodate the great numbers of people who came to participate in the celebration.

Father Isaiah completed his theological studies at the Catholic Theological Institute in Bomana suburb of Port Moresby.  He served his diaconate internship at Saint Francis Parish in Tari.  He will serve as parish priest in the Sumi Pastoral Area - a very challenging assignment for this zealous young priest.  Above, he is showing the people that his hands have been anointed for serving them and helping them to become the holy People of God.

Please pray for Father Isaiah as he begins his ministry.  Please also pray for vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated religious life.  Two-thirds of the priests serving in the Diocese of Mendi are missionary priests who come from other countries (Korean, India, the USA, Poland).   Please pray that there will always be young men and women open to "Go out to all the world and tell the Good News."

On a personal note:  Due to a very hectic schedule and to some tech problems we have been experiencing, it has been too long since I last posted.  I feel that I have neglected my blog fans!  Sorry about that.  I have had many good experiences and travels.. which I would like to share with you. Thanks for following, it's good to have you aboard.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

That's the Spirit!

I just returned to Mendi after a Spirit-filled journey through the Western Deanery of the diocese.  (The civil jurisdiction which comprises the Western Deanery was recently separated from the Southern Highlands Province and became the Hela Province.) I would like to invite you to walk with me as I retell the story of this missionary journey (or "patrol") as some of the veteran missionaries would have called it.

It started with a grueling 6 hour car ride to Kupari (Tari) on Saturday, 27 April.  Grueling because of the condition of the road. Tari is about 120 km (75 miles) from Mendi.  We went first to St Joseph Secondary School in Tari for a farewell dinner for Father Dominic McGuinness, OFM Cap., who was leaving the school for another assignment in Madang.  Father Dominic is in his youthful mid-80's.  He's a saintly priest and will be dearly missed by students and staff of the school.  Fr Dominic has been serving in PNG for almost all of his  priestly life.  He is from the Capuchin Province of Great Britain.

The next day, we traveled to Paijaka - one of the pastoral areas associated with Saint Francis Parish, Tari.  We were greeted warmly by the pastor, Fr. Antony Kattupparra, OFM Cap. (from the Capuchin Province of Saint Joseph, Kerala, India) and his parishioners.  It is a rather remote area, but the Land Cruiser that we borrowed from the pastor of St Francis Parish, got us there safely.  There we celebrated the Sacrament of Baptism with a number of children and the Sacrament of Confirmation with some young people and adults.  It was a joyful celebration.  Afterward we joined in a simple traditional mumu - which includes pork, sweet potatoes, greens, etc, all buried in a pit and cooked by hot stones.

The next day we traveled to Tolapu for the blessing of a new church.  Tolapu is an outstation of Saint Paul's Parish in Komo.  We were greeted on the road and then accompanied to the church by a multitude of people, many in their traditional attire.  It is wonderful to see how the people are proud of their heritage and culture and happy to share and express it.  (Fr John Paulose, HGN is the pastor of the Komo parish and has the pastoral care of Tolapu and all of the outstations of Komo.)  After the mass, I had the opportunity to speak to the leaders of the parish community (and other interested parishioners).  I always try to spend some time listening to the people and sharing with them some of my priorities for the diocese.  After sharing with the people, we headed toward Saint Paul's Parish in Komo...

Before we made it to the parish grounds we were met by hundreds of Catholic school children and other parishioners who were there to welcome us.  They sang welcome songs and clapped their hands.  They surrounded Fr John and I with an honor guard of youngsters dressed in traditional attire and escorted us to the parish.  (That evening, before the blessing of the church the next day, we asked God's blessing on a new pastoral center that was built by the parishioners.  Here in Papua New Guinea, or at least in the Diocese of Mendi, a pastoral center is simply a building with a big room for meetings and activities... In other places, it might be called a parish hall.)

We were on our way to Komo to celebrate the blessing of their new beautiful new parish church and to celebrate the Sacrament of Confirmation.  The church was built by Brother Michael Thom, OFM Cap., with the help of his crew of tradesmen.  It was a dream come true for the pastor, Fr John and for the parishioners of Saint Paul Parish.  Komo is where they are building an airstrip large enough to land huge cargo transport planes carrying equipment for the Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) Project.  Fr John was able to enlist the help from some of the contractors and companies with some materials and logistical assistance.... however, there were no huge machines, e.g. cranes, used in the construction!

There are still some minor details that need to be attended to, but the church, both inside and out, is beautiful and a testament to the deep faith of the people.  It is one of the largest church buildings in the diocese.  (It is almost as big as the cathedral in Mendi!)  The majority of churches in the diocese are much smaller... and most of the church's in the 350 outstations of the diocese are built of bush materials.

It is always a joy to bless a new church building ... it shows the growth of the Church....

...But the growth of the Church cannot be measured in buildings, but in the spread of the Gospel and the faith of the people.  For that reason, I was very happy to celebrate the Sacrament of Confirmation at the same celebration.  In my homily, I tried to stress the idea that we, the People of God are the Household of God.  We are the Spirit-filled, Body of Christ.  We are the Church.  The Sacraments strengthen us on our way to the Kingdom and help us be true witnesses of the Lord.

Fifty-one pigs and many other food items were shared in the celebration.  (There were 52 of them, but one managed to escape!)  Some of them were prepared for the mumu.  Some were given as appreciation to many people who assisted in the project of building the church.  In traditional PNG society, and especially in the Highlands, and more especially among the Huli people, the pig serves as a sign of wealth and prosperity... and as an instrument of exchange.

After the grand celebration in Komo we returned to Tari.  The next morning I celebrated mass at Saint Francis Church and then we prepared for the next stop....Saint Joseph Parish, Margarima.

As we approached Margarima, I left the car behind, so that I could walk to the parish with all the people who gathered for the welcome.  I cannot express my feelings at the exuberant welcome that I so often receive.  I am always humbled by it... But then I remember, they are not so much welcoming Donald Lippert, but rather their bishop, their shepherd, one who represents Jesus to them... 

There were hundreds of school children and other parishioners who came for the welcome.  They even performed a traditional Bamboo Dance, which I had never seen before.  The joy that comes from the depths of our Catholic faith is pure and true.  I often thing of the words of Jesus in the Gospel of St John, "I have come... that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete!"

 The Margarima parish is the largest in the diocese.  It consists of three major areas:  Upper Wagi, Lower Wagi and the central parish station at Homaria.  There are a total of 19 stations in the parish.  At present Father Matthew Panachipuram, CST is covering all of the stations.  He is able to get to all of them for Holy Mass and Confessions once a month.  We traveled the next day to Lower Wagi about an hour and a half from the main station - where again, there was a wonderful welcome.  I was presented with a typical headband.  (I think it looks better on the local folks than it does on me... But I was happy to wear it and the people were thrilled to see my joy.)

 In the course of this 'missionary journey' I had the great joy of celebrating the Sacrament of Confirmation with over 400 people in six different celebrations.  Many  young people dressed in their traditional attire for the celebration.  Others dressed in western clothing.  Papua New Guinea is a country and a society in transition... struggling to keep the best of tradition, while adapting to the modern world.  It is not always easy.  Less than 60 years ago, the people in this region were living literally in the Stone Age.  They had traditions and customs to guide and protect them.  The confrontation with the modern world presents many challenges to the people.  I believe that the Catholic faith is a great support and guide to the people as they face these challenges.  (Our faith is a great support to all of us, as we face the challenges of our lives too!)

 Specific to the Huli culture, there is a traditional Rite of Passage whereby the young initiates are struck by a stick to show that they are ready to face the hardships of adult life.  It is important, in that context that the young person does not flinch, but shows strength and valor.  That tradition has made itself into the Rite of Confirmation.  After the anointing with Holy Chrism, the newly confirmed are struck with a stick to show that  they are ready and willing to carry the Cross with Jesus.  (In the past, the universal Rite of Confirmation suggested that the bishop give the newly confirmed a gentle slap on the cheek to show more or less the same thing.)  I was hesitant to do it at first, but the candidates themselves said that it was important to them.  All of them, show a great bravery and strength and the people are there to cheer them on.  (I would not recommend this for other contexts, but it is very meaningful, given the tradition and customs of the Huli people.)

 After the Confirmation Mass at the main station, the people made a very special presentation to very own pig!  In the language and custom of the people, it was suggested that I would take it back to Mendi and breed it and then give the little ones to any people who would come to me in need.  I was touched by their generosity in sharing this very valuable gift with me.

The people had to walk, some of them a great distance from some of the more remote outstations to attend the Confirmation mass.  One group met with some 'enemies' on the road who drove them into hiding in the bush.  They made their way to another Catholic outstation.  They were frustrated and saddened that they would not make it for their Confirmation... So, after the celebration at the main station of St Joseph's Parish, we traveled to the outstation and celebrated the Confirmation Mass with this last group of young people.  They were very appreciative, but not more than I for having this opportunity for sharing the blessings of God's Spirit with His people.

 Pictured above are John and Max.  They received the Sacrament of Confirmation at the main station...and they assisted at serving the Holy Mass.... Both of them told me that they would like to be priests someday.  They asked for my prayers for them... and so I close by asking you, dear reader, to remember to pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life.  God's Spirit is alive and active in the Church today as it was 2000 years ago.  We pray that all God's people, especially the young will be open and docile to the movements of that Spirit in their lives.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Youth Crusade in Mendi Draws Thousands

Recently, with the help of the Catholic Evangelization Ministry of the Diocese of Kimbe, thousands of young people from across the Diocese of Mendi gathered for a week of catechesis, prayer, praise, reflection and fellowship.  The days began with the celebration of the Holy Mass in the cathedral and then a procession to the local sports oval for singing, witnessing and preaching on the basic truths of our Catholic Faith.  It was an uplifting and inspiring experience for all.

At the closing Mass of Thanksgiving (pictured above), young people shared typical liturgical processions from the various cultures represented in the diocese.  In my homily, I noted that Papua New Guinea is a country rich in natural resources: gold, copper, gas, timber....  but the greatest resource of the country is the young people themselves.... And in the Sacraments are even great supernatural resources to strengthen us to follow the Good News of Jesus.  In Him can we all find meaning, peace and true and lasting happiness.

Despite all the bad news that is all too often reported... I came away from this inspiring gathering of young people believing that there is hope for the future for PNG and for the Church here in this part of the world.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

What 'marriage' really means

(I would like to share this article with you.  It's a thoughtful and respectful presentation of this controversial subject.  The truth and reasonableness of Fr Earl's argument shines forth brightly.)
What 'marriage' really means
Saturday, April 06, 2013 6:22 AM
The Salina Journal (
G.K. Chesterton, fond of paradoxes, said that the more we make a word mean the less it means. When we say that we love people and pizza, that we love God and golf, we dilute the meaning of the word love. We devalue the currency.

A recent victim of such overuse is the word "marriage." It is now proposed that "marriage" be used legally for same-sex relationships.

Sympathy for recognizing same-sex relationships as marriage is understandable. The appeal is to freedom and love, rightly cherished values. But marriage is about more than freedom and love. It is also about truth. It is not just about the choice of individuals. It is about the fabric of society. It is about a unique male-female expression of love by physically complementary persons that in proper, natural conditions brings a new human life. Even in arbitrary social contracts, civil rights have limits. If boys can join the Girl Scouts, what does "Girl Scouts" mean?

 In "Through the Looking Glass," Humpty Dumpty said, "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less."
"The question is," Alice said, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

 "The question is," Humpty Dumpty said, "which is to be master -- that's all."
The master is truth, conforming to objective reality. Marriage is about a truth of human nature, the reality of human life and love in the form of male and female.

 The uniqueness of the unity of husband and wife is a communion of love which, by its very nature, can create an entirely new human life with the world-altering responsibility to nurture that life with the same complementary form of love. If some such marriages do not or cannot generate a new life, the union is still of a natural design that does.
When a baseball player does not get a hit, the batter is still playing baseball, not badminton. The male-female complement is of the essence of marriage. No other relationship, no matter how loving or committed, can have the unique form of commitment and communion which exists in the potentially fruitful bond of husband and wife.

 This union alone can bring a new human life and continue the human race.
For those committed to the Judeo-Christian heritage, the proper meaning of marriage is imperative. Scripture presents the covenant between God and his people in the image of husband and wife. The teachings of Christ on the nature of marriage are unambiguous.

 To hold that marriage is a union of a man and a woman is not to deny a freedom to those who desire to make a same-sex commitment. It is, rather, to assert a freedom from legal coercion to endorse as marriage what is not the marital union found in nature and confirmed as such by many religious faiths. Freedom of conscience is paramount, both ways.
Those who choose a same-sex relationship would do well to find a new word for their commitment. "Marriage" is taken.

 -- Father Earl Meyer is with the Capuchin Center for Spiritual Life in Victoria.



Monday, March 11, 2013

Remote, but close to the heart!

A few days ago, I had the opportunity of going to our most remote parish, located in Kopiago in the far western part of the diocese.  Father Jerome Im of the Korean Mission Society is the hardworking pastor of the parish.

The roads are so poor that we had to take a small Twin-Otter plane to get there.  The 'airport' consisted of a grass runway a short walk from the parish.  Many local people came to greet us and walk us to the parish.  A special honor was to be welcomed by a group of men and women in traditional dress.

I came to Kopiago for my first pastoral visit to this remote beacon of light in the mountains of PNG.  With us was Sister Gaudentia Meier, a Franciscan Sister from Switzerland who has been serving in PNG as a nurse for forty years!  Sister Gaudentia and some local nurses took advantage of the situation to do some training and to see many patients.  I also had the joy of blessing some newly built health care facilities.

After the spiritual festivities, we all gathered for a traditional 'mumu' - a way of cooking pork and sometime chicken buried together with sweet potatoes, greens, on hot stones.  The flavor is delicious and the company makes it taste even better.

The next day, we all joined together again, under the beautiful PNG sky to celebrate the Sacrament of Confirmation and for the First Communion of some young people.  It was a joyful, reverent and meaningful celebration for all involved.  I never cease to be moved and inspired by the simple yet strong faith of the people of Papua New Guinea.

Even here, so far from Rome, the people are very much united with the rest of the Church in praying for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the College of Cardinals as they gather to choose a successor to His Holiness Benedict XVI.  The new  pope is the shepherd and spiritual father of the whole household of God.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Transfiguration through Self-giving

On Sunday, 24 February at the Cathedral of the Mother of the Divine Shepherd, Mendi the church received a new deacon through the invocation of the Holy Spirit and the imposition of hands.  Pictured above are Deacon Eric Ankamah, SVD, Deacon Harry Mawoi - the new deacon, the happy bishop and Deacon Isaiah Timba.  It was a beautiful Lenten liturgy incorporating the rich traditions of the people of Papua New Guinea.

The Gospel for the Second Sunday of Lent is the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus - when he took Peter, James and John up a high mountain and was transfigured in their sight.  He allowed them a glimpse of his heavenly glory - to strengthen them for the coming scandal of the cross.

In my homily I said that we are all called to share the transfigured glory of Christ in heaven... and that the process of our own transfiguration begins with our Baptism where we enter into the mystery of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus as adopted sons and daughters of God.  This process of transfiguration continues in us in many ways, but especially when we follow in the footsteps of the Transfigured One - Jesus - through a life of self-giving.

Peter wanted to build three booths and stay on the Mount of the Transfiguration for ever.  But Jesus knew that in order to be able to share his glory with all of us for ever... that there was another mountain he had to climb - Mount Calvary.  Through this total act of self-giving love, Jesus passed from death to the ever-lasting transfigured glory of heaven.

This Lenten season helps us to remember that our path to transfiguration is on the same road... the road of self-giving love.

Congratulations Deacon Harry!  May your new ministry help us all walk this way of self-giving love following the footsteps of Jesus.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Happy Birthday Mother Trinidad

Today, 10 February 2013 is the birthday of Mother Trinidad de la Santa Madre Iglesia.  I have not written much about Madre Trinidad before, but I did want to take the opportunity of her birthday to ask you for your prayers for this holy woman wholly dedicated to God and the Church.  Mother Trinidad is from Seville, Spain but has spent many years in Rocca di Papa, close to Rome - so that she could be closer to the Holy Father.  Mother Trinidad is the foundress of The Work of the Church - an Ecclesial Institution of Pontifical Right - recognized and approved by the authority of the Pope.

Recently, I had the singular grace of visiting Seville, Spain and the birthplace of Mother Trinidad... and in a very real way, the birthplace of the Work of the Church.  At that time, I received the medal of the Work of the Church from the hands of Don Francisco Javier, minister general of the priests of the Work of the Church.  (There are also consecrated men and women, together with lay men and women who make up the growing family of the Work of the Church.)  It was an unspeakable joy to become more closely associated with this wonderful family which continues to be guided and inspired by the life, witness, testimony, suffering and example of Mother Trinidad.

As a fruit of her intimate commuion with God, Mother Trinidad has published many works in various areas of theology and spirituality.  I have been very inspired in the way that the members of the Work of the Church live joyful, holy lives in the heart of the Church.  They reflect the beauty and profound mystery of the Church, that oftentimes can be lost in our contemporary times.

After the solemn mass in the chapel that has been constructed in what was before the family home of Mother Trinidad, members of the Work of the Church adjourned to a small auditorium where various members gave testimony of their experience of the Work of the Church.  In between the speeches, the children presented some traditional Andalusian song and dance.  It was an evening filled with goodness and joy.

So, today, 10 February 2013, I ask you to join me in wishing a very Happy Birthday to Mother Trinidad de la Santa Madre Iglesia - and to continue to remember her and all the members of the Work of the Church in your prayers.

In all of her messages, especially in these latter years, Mother Trinidad invites all people to remember to give Glory to God - because that is all that really matters!  The last photo is of the tabernacle in the chapel and a beautiful sculpture depicting the Holy Trinity.  Giving Glory to God fulfills our reason for being in this world and will lead us surely to the life to come.