Last Wiru Catholics celebrate

Fr Thomas Piopo, the first Catholic Priest from South Wiru and the whole of Pangia, during the celebrations on the closing day.

FESTIVE season celebrations in the South Wiru area of Pangia, Southern Highlands, went into overdrive in the last four days of December, 2019.
Dec 28 to 31 were the most momentous days for the Last Wiru, the last bastion of Catholicism in the Southern Highlands.
The centre of activity marking 50 years of Catholic presence in South Wiru or Last Wiru, was at Wiliame where Catholic missionaries first set foot in the 60s and where the only Catholic parish in Last Wiru is situated.
The singing and dancing went on for four days and three nights, each night intermittently disturbed by festive mood fireworks that lit up the Wiru night sky and their deafening blasts that posed a short challenge to the songs of praise and worship sung by Catholic faithful from different parishes.
Catholics from as far as Mt Hagen in Western Highlands, Komakul in Imbongu, Muli in Ialibu, Kuare in Kagua, Erave in Kagua-Erave and Yaraporoi in Pangia had joined their Catholic community in South Wiru to celebrate the golden jubilee of Wiliame Parish.
Fr Gary Stakem, OFM Cap (Order of the Friars Minor – Capuchins) from USA was the first missionary to set foot at Wiliame in 1961.
Fr Gary went past Wiliame to the next village, Timbari, but the Lutherans had already been there. The people of Wiliame welcomed the missionary to their village.
“In 1962, Fr Dunstan (Jones) came to the Wiru people. He settled at Wiliame because it was the centre of the Wiru people and they gave a good portion of their land to the church, a swampy and heavily forested area,” reveals current parish priest of Wiliame, Fr Francy Thomas.
When Fr Albert Alexandumas was in charge (1967-1970), Wiliame Community School was opened in 1970. Two years later, a clinic was opened and so the church had established a firm footing in Wiru land and amongst the Wiru.
Fifty years on, the 11th priest of the parish, Fr Francy Thomas, his parishioners from Wiliame and 16 outstations, visiting Catholics from around Southern Highlands and the Diocese of Mendi which covers SHP and Hela, had more than a festive season reason to celebrate the Good News of Jesus Christ first introduced to the Wiru by the missionaries.
Wiliame became the first parish throughout out Mendi Diocese to observe 50 years of maturity since the diocese celebrated its golden Jubilee in 2016.

Bishop of Mendi, Donald Lippert, with priests from various parishes throughout the diocese after the closing service on Dec 31, 2019.

The presence of the Bishop of Mendi, Donald Lippert, made the four-day event more meaningful.
Bishop Donald spent those four-days at Wiliame and as one Catechist said at the end of the Thanksgiving Mass on Monday, Dec 30, “Mendi Daiosis i kam stap long Wiliame, ino long Mendi, bikos Bisop ikam stap long hia fopela de nau.” (Mendi Diocese had come and stayed at Wiliame, not Mendi, because the Bishop had come and stayed here for four days.”
For Bishop Donald, this made sense because as he said: “The diocese, in some sense, exists in the parish.”
Bishop Donald sees the 50th anniversary of Wiliame St Pius 10 Parish as significant to the diocese.
“The celebration at Wiliame is a celebration of the Gospel and Christian faith in South Wiru,” says Bishop Donald.
“We thank God first of all for all these happening, but it’s also for the people like Fr Francy and all those (priests) who had come before him. Evangelisation is not easy and spreading the Good News is not easy.”
According to Bishop Donald, the Wiru people had accepted the faith and embraced Christianity and the Catholic faith.
“What’s happening here is serious and is bearing fruit.”
Bishop Donald concedes God was behind all the work that had taken place and the developments both physical and spiritual that have made Wiliame the centre of activity in for the South Wiru people.
“There’s a different spirit, different motivation behind the work we are doing. Something is going right when you see all these things being built over 50 years and it’s not all human effort but God is there doing it all.”
“It (work) never stops. As is said in Tok Pisin: ‘Wok mas go yet. Misin wok mas go yet tu,’ said Bishop Donald. (Work must go on, mission work must go on too.)
The Wiru had embraced Christianity and the Catholic faith well and have made it their religion, have had a good relationship with the missionary priests and the 50 years of celebration was indeed evidence of their faith.
The greatest evidence of the strength of their faith and ever so growing Christian belief was the presence of Fr Thomas Piopo at the golden jubilee celebration.
Fr Thomas became the first person from South Wiru and the whole of Pangia to become a priest, ordained on June 9, 2018 as a priest for Goroka Diocese.
Ironically (but not so considering God’s miraculous ways), Fr Thomas hails from Timbari village, the first place in Last Wiru where Fr Gary had set foot before settling at Wiliame.
Fr Thomas commenced his education at Wiliame Primary School, went to Pangia High School, Mongol Secondary in Mendi and onwards towards his priestly vocation.
“When I was in primary school, I was attracted by the habit, the dressing of the Franciscans,” he recalls.
As early as grade 6, he expressed his interest to join them (Franciscans – Capuchins) but his letters were unsuccessful.
Never giving up he joined the SVDs (Divine Word missionaries) and finally became a diocesan priest for Goroka Diocese.
“That’s all God’s plan and I thank God for my priesthood work. I’m proud to be here (Wiliame) for this celebration.”
“As I reflect on my own life, if there were no missionaries who didn’t bring the Word of God and built schools, I wouldn’t be educated and I wouldn’t be who I am now. So I thank God for this light that was brought to us (the Wiru).”

Wiliame Parish Priest, Fr Francy Thomas (left) dressed in Wiru traditional face wear oversees the smooth flow of events during celebrations.

The light was indeed the subject of the Bible readings on the closing day of celebrations and in his homily, Bishop Donald told the Catholics of South Wiru to shine the Light of Jesus in them to everyone in PNG.
“Fr Francy isn’t the light. The Bishop isn’t the light. They came to show the light. Jesus is the light.
“We must be happy because the light of Jesus has shone at Wiliame, in South Wiru and throughout the 16 outstations.
“Jesus said ‘I am the Light of the world’ and somewhere else in the Gospel he said; ‘You are the light of the world.’
“So I want to tell you, Wiliame Parish, that you yourselves are the light of Jesus. So the light of Jesus in you must shine everywhere and that’s the work of each one of us, individually, to get this light and shine out to everyone starting in the next 50 years which begins tomorrow (Jan 1, 2020).”
That was the most appropriate message that concluded the four-day event – 50 years of Catholic presence in South Wiru.
And thus, the festive mood fireworks that lit up the Wiru night sky over three nights were short-lived lights. Over the next 50 years, the real light, Jesus, would most certainly shine in the life of every South Wiru believer.

  • Francis Tekei is a freelance writer.