SEVENTEEN years ago, after some soul- searching, several Catholic mothers from Lese Oalai village in Gulf met at a Port Moresby residence and decided to rekindle their faith and get more involved in the activities of the church.
They were followers from the Catholic order of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart (OLSH/MSC).
They resolved to conduct annual pilgrimages throughout dioceses which had the order of OLSH/MSC. Their first pilgrimage in 2002, was to their village of Lese Oalai.
The pilgrimage travelled to parishes in the Bereina Diocese and finally returned to where it all began, Lese Oalai on May 3, 2019, 17 years on.
The pilgrims now were from parishes in the Port Moresby Archdiocese and the Bereina and Kerema Dioceses.
One of the initiators of the movement, Perpertua Haiveta, recalled the humble beginnings.
“There were only a handful of us in our initial gatherings in Moresby. Many times we were disheartened. But we persisted and eventually we were able to get our act together to host our first gathering in our village.”
More than 2,000 pilgrims, mostly women and young people gathered this time to see the associates of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, return the Virgin Mary to Lese Oalai. The whole of Lese Oalai village also participated.
Speaking during the opening ceremony on Saturday, diocesan coordinator of the associates in the Bereina Diocese, Josephine Efi said that it was indeed with utmost joy that they were able to return the Virgin Mary to the place where it all began.
She said that with controversy and criticism confronting the church on the world stage now, the laity (lay followers) needs to stand together to keep the faith alive.
“These women and young people show us that the fire is still burning and that the Catholic Church will be able to pick itself up and maintain its place as a dominant denomination in the world.”
During the celebrations, the statue of the Virgin Mary was carried to nine shrines located throughout the village. Separate parishes carried the statue from shrine to shrine accompanied by recitals of the holy rosary, petitions, prayers and singing.
Young people who were dominant with their singing and role plays were from the St Gerard School of Nursing and the Mainohana Secondary School in the Bereina Diocese.
Children from the local Lese Oalai Parish also made their presence known.
The events culminated with Holy Mass said on Sunday and the announcement of the location of the next pilgrimage, Manus province.
Gulf Governor Chris Haiveta, (a son of Lese Oalai) who attended the pilgrimage from the beginning to the end, said that the churches were an important partner in developing our country.
“It is common knowledge that the churches have contributed immensely in ensuring the vital services such as education and health reach people that cannot be reached by government.”
He said that in Gulf he has recognised the churches as a key player in the development of the province and allocated 5 per cent of his provincial budget to support the work of the churches.
Haiveta also promised to ensure that a contingent from the current pilgrimage attended the Manus pilgrimage next year.
- Story and pictures by JOSEPH KA’AU.