By FRANCIS ULIAU
FRIDAY July 7, 2017, was a special day for Roman Catholics throughout Papua New Guinea.
It was on this day, in 1945, that a well-noted and beloved catechist was imprisoned by the Japanese forces, sentenced to death by lethal injection and struck on the back of his head as he lay dying.
On January 17, 1995, Peter ToRot was beatified and declared a martyr and saint by Pope John Paul II at the Sir John Guise Stadium in Port Moresby.
As is the Catholic custom, ToRot’s liturgical feast is affixed to the date of his death. He is included in the Roman Rite liturgical calendar in PNG, Solomon Islands, Australia as well as for the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart.
Hence, last Friday, hundreds of faithfuls of the Catholic and United Churches throughout the Lihir Group of Islands in Namatanai on New Ireland gathered at the Putput church grounds to celebrate the feast day of Blessed Peter ToRot.
The Lihir celebration followed a weeklong reformation retreat for 27 catechists from throughout Lihir, held from July 3-6.
Speeches, traditional songs, dances and performances marked the feast day. Food, including pork and vegetables, cooked mumus were later distributed to all who attended the celebration.
Retreat facilitator Father Mathias Wol said the retreat was aimed at reuniting, reorganising and rectifying Lihirian catechists in their functions as servants and ministers of God.
“As representatives of their parish priest, they have a duty to play in their Christian Catholic churches,” Fr Wol said.
“Our Lihirian culture is based on the clan and hausboi system; hence, this is the hausboi of God that catechists are tasked to protect and lead with the help of our spiritual and social groups.”
Guest speaker and Lihir Mining Area Landowners Association (LMALA) chairman James Laketan said the weeklong retreat involving catechists, prayer and spiritual leaders and youths was special in nature.
“This only goes to strengthen the work of the Catholic Church in our communities today.”
Laketan said the landowners association had recognised and placed great importance in the work of the Christian churches.
“This is so under the LMALA structure where the Catholic and United churches have been allocated desks as specific issue committees (SICs).
“As such, the churches are also beneficiaries of landowners’ compensation and relocation benefits derived from the giant Lihir gold mine project,” Laketan said.
Church programmes and projects for the next five years were captured in their SICs’ spreadsheets.
Lihir’s St Clement parish priest Father John Aneo said of the Blessed Peter ToRot: “He was a shining example for all Christians. Peter ToRot gave his life for Christianity throughout Papua New Guinea.”
“As Christians, we must remember to pray and ask God to help and guide our catechists in their ministries,” Fr Aneo said.
He also called on young Lihirians to become catechists.
“Today I shed a tear. Why? Because when I look at the group of catechists who are here today, most of them are already old. They have reached their retirement age.
“It is now time for our young Catholics to stand up and take on these roles and responsibilities.”
Nimamar local level government representative Jacklyne Membup challenged women, especially the wives of catechists, to stand by their husbands in the discharge of their duties as servants of God.
“Many changes are taking place in our churches, and wives of catechists must carry the cross with their husbands.”
Peter ToRot was born in 1912 in East New Britain.
He was the third of six children to village chief Angelo Tu Puia and Maria Ia Tumul.
According to church records, both his parents were converted to catholicism in 1898.
ToRot’s father taught him the basics of catechism and sent him to the local mission school in 1919.
In 1930, ToRot began his studies at Saint Paul’s College of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart in Taliligap. He was commissioned as a catechist for the parish of Rakunai in 1933 and awarded a catechist’s cross by the local bishop.
ToRot then returned to his village where he went on to aid Father Laufer at Rakunai.
He was an excellent teacher and an organiser of classes for people. He always had a Bible at all times.
On November 11, 1936, he married Paula Ia Varpit and the couple had three children; one died as an infant and another died soon after the war. His third child lived into old age.
When the German forces landed and forced an Australian garrison out of German New Guinea in March 1942, ToRot was left in charge of his parish. When the Japanese authorities forbade religious services in late 1943, ToRot continued to hold prayer meetings and catechism in secret and kept records of baptisms and weddings.
At that time, Japanese laws allowed for second wives but ToRot opposed this as being the opposite of the church doctrine.
ToRot was finally arrested during Christmas 1944 after a search of his house revealed religious objects.
When questioned at the police station, ToRot admitted to his work of God and was beaten on the face and the back of his neck. He was then imprisoned in a small and windowless cell.
ToRot was sentenced to two months imprisonment in the Vunaiara concentration camp.
On the date of his death, he said to his mother: “The police told me that, this evening, a Japanese doctor will come to give me some medicine. But I am not sick. I suspect this is a trick.”
He told his wife to bring his cross and good clothes so he could go to God dressed in proper attire.
He was given lethal injection and then given something to drink. But the guards saw that the poison was slow so made him lie down while the doctor covered his mouth; he was stricken with convulsions and was held down as he died while being struck on the back of his neck with a beam.
ToRot’s remains were later buried at Rakunai.
By FRANCIS ULIAU