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Cardinal Seán in PNG

The following is from Cardinal Seán O'Malley's blog in July 2008:

On Monday, my secretary, Father Jonathan Gaspar, and I flew to Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea, to visit the Capuchin mission there.  First, we went to the Capuchin seminary. It was a blistering hot day. The coast of Papua New Guinea is very, very tropical. We celebrated Mass with Father Dom, the superior there and all the brothers. The next day we flew to Mendi in the Southern Highlands, which is one mile above sea level and around one hour and a half flight from Port Moresby.

The Capuchins have been entrusted with the care of the diocese of Mendi. We have other houses outside of the diocese but the principal ministry of the Capuchins of my province — the St. Augustine Province – has been in the diocese of Mendi. We flew there in the morning.

When we arrived, we were welcomed by Bishop Stephen Reichert, some villagers and 800 children from the cathedral school who escorted us to the bishop’s residence.

With Bishop Stephen Reichert

The New Guinea's flag was flying at the airport.

The friars were on retreat. There are about fifty friars there, about half from my province in the U.S. and the other half made up of Papua New Guineans. I participated in preaching at their retreat and I had the opportunity to see the mission there. It is very inspiring to see what has been accomplished in such challenging circumstances, and to see first hand the faith of the people.

With my Capuchin brothers in front of a straw hut

Papua New Guinea is a country where the people have been very isolated from the world and that isolation has kept them for developing the types of infrastructures, language, government, and so forth that are in place in the rest of the world around them.

Father Jonathan with some locals

They are so isolated, even among them, that different languages are spoken in the area although they have a Pidgin language, which is a lingua franca. I celebrated Mass in Pidgin at the cathedral.

Celebrating Mass in Pidgin with Bishop Steve and the friars.
It was a daily Mass but the church was filled.

The cathedral itself was built by an Irish lay missionary who met the Capuchins there. He came from Ireland as a sewing machine repairman and decided to be a missionary. The lay brothers taught him carpentry and he built the cathedral, which is a magnificent structure incorporating many of the native art and artwork.

This man is preparing sweet potatoes,
which is the main food available in the Highlands.  They call it kaukau.

When I was in the seminary, this was a very new mission for us. Our father provincial, seeing that we were blessed with many vocations and our mission in Puerto Rico was flourishing, wrote to Rome asking for the Holy Father to give us another mission, and he asked him to “make it the most difficult mission in the world.” The Vatican immediately gave us this mission in Papua New Guinea!

The superior of the Capuchin College was sent as the vicar apostolic and eventually the bishop. Some brothers followed and the conditions were extremely primitive when they arrived — as they still are. In the nearly sixty years we have been there we have now a diocese of almost one hundred thousand Catholics, many vocations, schools, clinics.

A health clinic run by the Church

There are also Franciscan Sisters working in the diocese.
In the photo, Sister Lucas and Sister Claire

When I was in the seminary, my great heroes were these missionaries who went to Papua New Guinea. In those days, they would come home every five years to visit – now they come every three years – and they would always share with us what was happening in the mission and fill us with great love for the Mission ad Gentes, or as we used to say, the foreign missions. Their spirit of sacrifice and devotion to the people of Papua New Guinea was very inspiring and caused us to be blessed with many vocations and a wonderful church. The founding bishop, who was our superior in Washington, Bishop Schmidt died a couple of years ago. He was replaced by Bishop Stephen Reichert who was at the seminary with me. He has been in Papua New Guinea for 39 years. He is the sort of the “John Wayne” strong type. I think he is probably the tallest person in the diocese. He told me that in the local clinic, the largest baby born ever was named after him!

In the close-up of the previous photo you can see tin shells around the crucifix
which are very typical from the area

At the cathedral, there is an altar to St. Peter To Rot
who was a catechist and was martyred at the time of the Second World War

The cathedral is named for Our Lady Mother of the Devine Shepherd,
which is a Capuchin devotion

It was a wonderful week, particularly to be able to be with the friars, to pray with them and experience their life there and to see first hand the outstanding work that has been done and have a greater understanding of the challenges that faces the Church in a developing nation such as Papua New Guinea.

Leaving Mendi was quite challenging because they kept canceling our flights, but finally we arrived in Port Moresby and made our connection to Brisbane. Over the weekend, we will travel back to Boston. Please pray for the spiritual fruits of World Youth Day and also for the works of so many missionaries who devout their lives to announce the love of Christ to men and women everywhere.

This crucifix which is at the friary chapel is a replica from the original
which the friars brought from Germany to the United States years ago.
It is a few centuries old and it is one of the most beautiful depictions
of the crucifix.  A couple of years ago they made a mold and sent copies of it
to our mission in Puerto Rico and in Papua New Guinea.

In Christ, Cardinal Seán


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