By Dr KEVIN PAMBA
WHILE Madang may have received unrelenting bad press in recent times with wanton killings, cult activities, armed robberies, bad roads and lack of street lights in the provincial capital, things are not all that bad as the Alemo community demonstrated recently.
The hardworking Catholic community of Alemo, a 30-minute drive south of Madang town in the Astrolabe Bay Local Level Government in Rai Coast District came alive in celebration with a joyful Holy Mass.
The occasion was the blessing and opening of a church building and the statue of Holy Mary, mother of Jesus Christ.
Alemo is on the border of Madang and Rai Coast districts but is in Astrolabe Bay LLG of Rai Coast. It is two minutes’ drive-in from the Madang Ramu-Highway along the Erima road.
For this Catholic community the event happened at an important day in the Catholic calendar – it was the Feast Day of Our Lady of the Rosary (Mary, mother of Jesus Christ).
Archbishop of Madang Stephen Reichert was the main celebrant in the Mass and blessed the two facilities. After unveiling and blessing the statue of Holy Mary, Archbishop Reichert named it “Our Lady of Alemo” much to the surprise, yet joy of the locals and visiting Catholics alike.
Catechist Canesius Nembe said that the idea of building a local church in Alemo started around 2006. He said this was when he used to visit his stepparents there while working in the Church in town.
Nembe said the south coast of Madang is historically a Lutheran heartland due to the early German missionary arrivals there from the original landing place down the coast at Finchaffen in Morobe. Therefore, there is no Catholic church nearby and families at Alemo had to take a K3 PMV ride (one way) into town for Mass at the Holy Spirit Cathedral on Sundays and during feast days like Easter and Christmas. Nembe said it was a costly exercise catching a PMV into town for Mass.
He said one day, several Catholic families in Alemo agreed to worship together back home instead of taking the PMV trip to town.
Nembe said the families initially used buildings of friends nearby to conduct the Mass each Sunday.
Then one day the families decided to build their own church out of materials from the bush. Land was an issue but a Catholic couple who retired from work in Port Moresby to Alemo, the late Michael Aiyula and the late Fabiana Aiyula, came to their rescue. The late Aiyulas offered a space in their block for the bush material church to be built. Michael and Fabianna Aiyula were thanked and acknowledged during the festivities on Monday.
“We took three days to build the bush material church.
“The desire to have our own church building was great that we built it in three days and it was a miracle in itself,” said Catechist Nembe.
Originally from Bogia, Nembe worked in the Church in town and permanently moved to Alemo where his step-parents live in a block there to support the growth of the church.
He said he was moved by the need of the people in Alemo so remained with them ever since.
A priest from the Holy Spirit Cathedral parish used to visit them from time to time to conduct Mass. Nembe said one day the community members convinced one of the priests to formally bless and recognise Alemo as a local church site. He said Alemo was one of 14 such local churches south of Madang town under the jurisdiction of Holy Spirit Cathedral parish.
Few years ago, the Alemo community decided to build a permanent church building. Nembe said all families in this small congregation of about 100 Catholics contributed roofing iron sheets and all the materials they could.
He said one young woman working in town also contributed a brand new lawnmower they use to keep the lawn at the church ground cut.
One of the mothers donated a large tree that had fallen in her garden to be cut into logs and ripped with a chainsaw for timber. Someone else donated the chainsaw that lopped and ripped the logs into timber.
“Every one of the families here and those they knew made a contribution towards the church building,” said Nembe.
Nembe said one day some of the men in the community went to cut up the trunk of the fallen tree into logs to be ripped into timber.
Catechist Nembe said after the trunk of the fallen tree was lopped into several logs, the next day they found out that the base of the fallen tree stood up right on the location where it once grew on.
“This was very strange to us because the tree had fallen down and had laid drying for many months.
“But somehow, the base of the tree stood up in its original place.
“People were shocked and some commented that this was a sign that the church they were planting would stand up and grow.”
As the church was being built, well-known PNG artist Larry Santana and his family came into the Alemo community with their talents.
Catechist Nembe said Santana’s son Andrew spoke of his talent as a builder and constructing statues that he learnt from a priest at Tokarara in Port Moresby.
Young Andrew was then asked to construct a statue of Holy Mary to be placed in the church yard. Again, the Alemo Catholic community donated materials for the project. Andrew designed a three-metre high statue and built it from scratch out of the donated materials.
As the day of the unveiling neared, young Andrew and his helpers worked tirelessly to get the statue completed. Two weeks ago I visited the site with Fr Anton Gambu and SVD Seminarian Jacob Ipam from the Holy Spirit Cathedral and the statue was completed but painting was not done along with completion of the tiling on the base.
It took Andrew and his helpers the rest of Saturday and well into the early hours of Monday to complete everything before Archbishop Reichert could unveil the statue and bless it, and name it as “Our Lady of Alemo”. Worn out with the work, young Andrew went to rest and was unable to join the celebrations on the day.
However, his parents and sister Maureen were on hand to help with the celebrations and witness the momentous occasion of the Catholic faith in Alemo and the South coast area. Santana Senior also has his handiwork in painting gracing this small church.
He has painted several posters for Catholic feast days that have been used by the Alemo church.
On Monday, the Alemo community presented a gift to Archbishop Reichert and surprise, surprise ….it was a portrait of Archbishop Reichert done by Santana Snr.
The archbishop was visibly moved when he opened the wrapper and saw the painting.
He said the bishop’s garb shown in the portrait painting was what he wore in 1995 during his installation as the Bishop of the Diocese of Mendi when he took over from the pioneer bishop of Mendi, the late Bishop Firmin Schmidt. Archbishop Reichert said he wore this garb when installing new priests.
Santana Snr said the painting depicted Archbishop Reichert first arriving in Southern Highlands from the United States of America in the early 1970s as a young priest and working there before eventually moving to Madang as archbishop in 2011 and becoming a significant leader in the church.
In his speech, Archbishop Reichert praised all the Catholic families in Alemo who had contributed to plant the church and support it to grow.
He said it was a wonderful thing that the community of Alemo had done and he was so pleased as the Archbishop of Madang.
Archbishop Reichert said the Catholic Bishops Conference of PNG and Solomon Islands have marked 2019 as the “Year of Laity” and the work of lay people in the church such as what was demonstrated by the Alemo community was so crucial in evangelisation.
He said the theme was for laity to be holy because God is holy and do things that a godly and extend his work on earth. The archbishop also informed the community that the bishops also extended the year of laity to next year (2020) and 2021.
He said it was not a mistake for the families in Alemo to make their contributions to build the church during the special year of the laity.
He also said the archdiocese would consider the request of the Alemo local church for the tabernacle to be installed in the church building.
In the Catholic church set up, the tabernacle is the place where the Holy Eucharist (Communion) or Body of Christ is kept and is considered the holiest place in the set of a church building in addition to the altar.
When the tabernacle is installed and a priest visits here regularly, it would further strengthen this hardworking Catholic community to go even the extra mile from the journey they have to date.
- Dr Kevin Pamba PhD is based in Divine Word University, Madang