CHRISTIAN churches in PNG are celebrating various landmark anniversaries of late. On Saturday, the Catholic archdiocese of Port Moresby celebrated its 43rd Foundation Day at the Don Bosco Technical Institute in Port Moresby.
The occasion commemorated the arrival of the first bishop in the Bereina district of Central province in 1966. Until recently, Bereina was part of the Port Moresby archdiocese. A diocese in the Catholic tradition is an area that is presided over by a bishop. It would normally comprise a number of smaller communities called parishes each presided over by a priest.
Governor-General Sir Paulias Matane was among believers who turned up to celebrate the special service.
Next Saturday, the United church will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Sir Percy Chatterton Memorial church at Koke with festivities. Last year, the Seventh-Day Adventist Church celebrated 100 years in PNG.
These events appear, to the Government, as “samting bilong ol” (their thing) kind of occasions but the influence of the churches both in the spiritual as well as physical sense is far greater than the Government in many respects. It is very well that the Governor-General makes it his business to attend church functions and ceremonies. Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare also takes time whenever he can and if he is invited to such ceremonies.
As leaders whose own early education was nurtured by churches, both are mindful of the contributions the Christian churches have made in this country. It is the Christian churches that must be credited with much of the positive developments in PNG.
All too often, special commemorative occasions are left to the church hierarchies and the faithful of each denomination to celebrate and are largely ignored by the Government. It is symptomatic of the bigger lack of appreciation for the contributions made by the churches to the development of PNG.
The Catholic church, the oldest Christian church on earth, is easily the biggest in PNG. Its influence both in spreading the Gospel message as well as in the physical well-being of Papua New Guineans in almost all parts of PNG is immeasurable.
The Catholics control and run so many education and health institutions successfully in different parts of PNG, which until recently were, almost totally independent of Government influence or assistance. And it is not just the Catholic church that must receive praise. All major Christian denominations, particularly the mainstream churches, deserve praise and recognition.
The Anglicans, the Lutherans, the United church, the Salvation Army, the Seventh-Day Adventists, the Baptists and the Assemblies of God have planted far more than the Gospel message in the communities they serve.
Today the churches operate two successful universities – the Catholic Divine Word University in Madang and the Pacific Adventist University outside Port Moresby. A further Lutheran University has been legislated for and will commence taking students next year.
Church-run high schools and health institutions crisscross the country and in many instances, the church-run ones are better run. But since the Government decided to offer churches assistance in the 1990s, many of the institutions are suffering because they are suffering the annual dilemma of all Government institutions: they have failed to receive money on time or have not received it at all.
The sickness spread to terms and conditions of church workers, whose responsibility also passed from the individual churches to Government at the same time. The churches require Government assistance as all local churches are now localised. Their sources of funding come from internal PNG activities alone and that is hardly enough to support all their activities.
It is time the Government sit down with churches to review their roles in line with that of the Government. If the churches can do certain activities best, it would be good to leave it entirely up to them and to release money to them to carry on that activity.
If it is decided that all high schools or primary schools ought to be run by churches, then the Government should not duplicate the role by running its own. Turn them over entirely to the churches, give them the funding and don’t interfere at all.
Likewise, health institutions should also be left to churches to run. In this way, the Government frees itself to concentrate on those things it can do and leave other functions to those who have the capacity and the expertise to perform the roles far better.