missionaries

The history of Catholicism

Faith

THE Catholic faith in Papua New Guinea began about 130 years ago.
It was around the late 1800s that the first missionaries came to New Guinea by boat.
Yule Island Catholic secretary and coordinator Gabriel Aisi recounted the start of the Catholic faith that began in one of the first locations in Central.
“It all began 131 years ago when the first Catholic missionaries arrived on Yule Island,” he said.
The island is a small village that lies about 160km from Port Moresby.
In 1885, the first priest, Fr Henry Varius, and brothers Nicholas and Salvatori arrived on the island.
“They came from France to Australia, to New South Wales and then to Thursday Island and from there, they came to Yule Island on June 30,” Aisi said.
He said when they first arrived, the villagers were very friendly and peaceful.
“Nothing happened to Fr Varius and the two brothers because they came with a good heart, knowing that Christ would bring peace to the hearts of the people,” Aisi said.
Two days after their arrival, Fr Varius went up a hill, erected a small hut and celebrated the first mass.
“When the priest was performing a consecration, a wild pig ran out from the bushes and knocked the table over and everything spilt onto the land,” Aisi said.
Catholics believed that because the wine was consecrated, it transformed into the blood of Christ.
When it spilt, the place became sacred.
The hill top is now recognised as holy grounds by Catholics.
It is where many people go on pilgrimages and spiritual journeys to seek healing, redemption and reconciliation.
A monument was built on that very spot on the hill to  commemorate the first mass celebrated on the island.
After the arrival of Fr Varius and the two brothers, other missionaries began arriving some years later.
On Aug 7, 1887, other missionaries, including Our Lady of the Sacred Heart sisters and brothers from the De La Salle order, arrived too.
When they came, they set up schools, health centres and provided other important services to the villagers.
“The sisters were the ones to set up a girls’ high school that saw young women from Kerema, Central and Milne Bay come to have an education here,” Aisi said.
“The De La Salle brothers set up a teachers’ college which is now a primary school.”
Many of the first missionaries who went to the island died at a very early age and where buried on the island.
“They sacrificed a lot while doing their work. They suffered hunger, malaria, black fever and other related health conditions just so our people could know God,” Aisi said.
“The remains of the first sisters’ convent, the father’s house and the brothers’ house are still there.”
He said the brothers had a printing machine which they used to print materials for the church.
“They sent the materials to all other places in the diocese of Bereina, including Port Moresby,” Aisi said.
He told a group of 47 youths from different parishes in the archdiocese of Port Moresby who visited Yule Island recently that the people on the island never saw it as sacred.
“But when people like you come on pilgrimages to visit the place, it encourages us to see the significance of the place and recall its history,” Aisi said.
He said the church today depended on the involvement of young people.
The pilgrimage was organised by the archdiocese of Port Moresby and was led by youth coordinator Sister Rebecca Fernandez.
“The pilgrimage is about contemplating important decisions in life, laying our shortcomings and struggles to God and a time of special graces,” she said.
“The purpose of the pilgrimage was to give an opportunity for youths to appreciate their church history, and draw some insights from the life of the early missionaries and the beautiful work they left behind for them to take on into the future.”

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