By OSEAH PHILEMON
HUNDREDS of Catholics in Lae yesterday buried their former bishop, a man they have all come to embrace dearly as their “father” and role model for the last four decades.
They packed St Mary’s Cathedral as early as 7.30am and sang for over two hours before the requiem mass began at 10am.
The late bishop was described as a gentle and humble man, a true shepherd, who never sought public acclamation for his role in the church but always chose to be close to the people attending to their daily spiritual and social needs in a quiet way.
Bishop Henry van Lieshout, a Dutch missionary, died at the age of 77 after leading the diocese of Lae for 40 years bringing it from a membership of 2,000 in 1950 to more than 30,000 when he retired in 2007.
He was appointed bishop of Lae at the age of 34.
At his requiem mass, his successor, Bishop Christian Blouin, described the late Bishop Henry as a man who devoted his whole life to the service of God.
He was loved by the ordinary Catholics because of his humility and love to be close to the ordinary people, said Bishop Christian.
He spent time counselling and instructing Catholic followers to live as Christian families and despite limited resources he managed to achieve much for the people.
Bishop Christian said Bishop Henry always put family life first throughout his reign over the diocese.
This closeness to families was displayed yesterday as men, women and children wept openly for him both inside the church and at the St Joseph’s Pastoral Training Centre where the late bishop was finally buried.
His fellow brother bishops and priests said he would always be remembered for his “casual and simple way of living”.
“He was always able to reduce a problem the size of Mt Wilhelm in Chimbu to the size of the little Mount Lunaman in Lae,” colleague priest, Fr Anthony, said.
Lae MP Bart Philemon said leaders in Papua New Guinea should learn from the example of the late Bishop Henry who was true role model of leadership in the country.
Mr Philemon said it was a great sacrifice for missionaries like Bishop Henry to leave the high standard of living in their own countries and come to least developed countries like PNG to serve God and the people here.
He thanked Bishop Henry on behalf of the Morobe people and government describing him as a truly “very simple and humble man”.
“Thank you for bringing quality education and other services of caring to Lae,” Mr Philemon said.
The funeral service was presided over by the Vatican’s representative to PNG, Archbishop Francisco Padilla, the Apostolic Nuncio, who also read a personal message from the Pope expressing deep regret and sadness at the death of Bishop Henry.
Several prominent archbishops and bishops from throughout PNG also attended the mass.
The chief secretary to government Manasupe Zurenuoc, who operated s provincial administrator for Morobe across the road from St Mary’s Cathedral where Bishop Henry lived and worked, also attended the service with his wife.
Many non-Catholic Morobeans also attended.