It was a great joy and privilege to be able to travel to Mendi in the southern highlands of Papua New Guinea to ordain one of our Friars, Father Don Lippert, to the episcopacy.
In fact, I think the first three priests that I ordained have become bishops – Bishop Elliott Thomas, Bishop Adalberto Martinez and now Bishop Lippert.
Bishop Don worked with me as a seminarian at the Centro Catolico in Washington D.C., during the time he was a deacon. In fact, at my episcopal ordination he was one of the deacons who held the book over my head. After I was ordained a Bishop, he was the first man I ordained to the priesthood.
Bishop Don worked for a long time with the immigrants at the Centro Catolico. He then generously went to Papua New Guinea when they needed a philosophy teacher at their seminary, because the philosophy teacher, Father William Fey, had been elected provincial. So, he went to fill that position for three years, but Father Fey was then made the Bishop of the Diocese of Kimbe, also in Papua New Guinea. Don stayed on and has become Bishop of Mendi, which was the original mission entrusted to the St. Augustine Fathers of the Capuchin Friars.
When our men arrived there was nothing, not even a church. But today there are about 150,000 Catholics. There are 55 capuchins there, half of them native-born.
We arrived at the city of Mount Hagen by plane and travelled to Mendi by car, a five hour trip over dirt roads.
During the drive, as we would come to the villages, the natives would come out of their houses to greet us and sing.
Everywhere we went they would give us flowers and headbands.
In Papua New Guinea there are also native orders of religious women like the Franciscan sisters that were founded by the first Bishop with the help of the Ogdensburg Franciscans from Indiana who acted as mentors for the sisters.
The Cathedral, which you can see in some of the pictures, is a large green building. It was built by a lay missionary from Ireland, who used to make sewing machines.
He built them a beautiful Cathedral. They incorporated a lot of the native features into it.
In the interior picture of the Cathedral you can see the woven mats on the walls in the kina shells around the crucifix. (The kina shell was originally the currency of the local people.)
The tabernacle was inserted into model of a hut of the sort that the native people used to live in.
The statue is Our Lady of the Divine Shepherd, who was the patroness of the Cathedral
Friday, I spent most of the day studying pidgin because I had to celebrate the ordination in pidgin.
There are about 600 languages on the island, so the development of a lingua franca called pidgin was very important for communications. The different tribes have different customs, dress and languages.
One of the Friars commented that just a few years ago it would have been impossible to bring these different tribes together because there would have been mutual fear and hostility. Their entrance into the church has brought about reconciliation and enabled them to live together in peace with each other, in the solidarity of their new family, the Church.
I celebrated in pidgin when I was there after World Youth Day in Sydney to give a retreat. So, this is my second trip to Papua New Guinea and my second time celebrating in pidgin but now I can say I’ve celebrated ordinations in French, Spanish, Portuguese, English and now pidgin!
Saturday was the Mass of ordination. The Mass took place outside the cathedral because there were thousands of people in attendance.
Father Don’s relatives were unable to come from the Pittsburgh area but we were joined by some very dear friends from Portugal, Joao and his daughter Matilda from Lisbon.
There was a Vespers service the night before, in which Father Don made his oath of fidelity and the profession of faith and also blessed the instruments.
That was presided over by the local Metropolitan, Bishop Douglass Young, Bishop of Mount Hagen, who is a Divine Word missionary.
He was very gracious in offering us hospitality as we passed through the city, both as we were arriving and leaving. The Divine Word Missionaries have been working in Papua New Guinea, particularly in the coastal areas of the country, for about 100 years. Like the Capuchins, there was something of a German connection, because it had been a German territory for a time. But after World War II it was given over to the care of the United Nations and made a protectorate of Australia. It is now independent.
A map of Papua New Guinea
On Sunday Bishop Don celebrated his first Mass. I was very pleased to be there for that and then I departed for home the following day.
The week before I arrived, there was a terrible mudslide earthquake in the parish area. They also had a coup and a ferry boat sank coming from Kimbe and a relative of one of our Friars went missing. So it was a very eventful week, but among the tragedies was the great joy of the ordination of the new bishop.
Until my next post.