SVD missionaries in PNG add two more local ‘soldiers of gospel’ to their ranks
By SHEILA MAY CARLOS
WHEN the Divine Word missionaries came to Papua New Guinea, they have over time established parishes and outstations in Madang, the Sepik and Highlands region.
And in the course of going from one village to another, they have baptised local people that have been converted to the Catholic faith.
In Aronis village, Madang, a couple named Herman Aihi and Christina Tameq were the first to be baptised. Up in the highlands, at Kaiap village, Wabag, a local paramount chieftain, Joseph Kurai, was among the first to be baptised by Divine Word missionaries there.
This faith was passed on from one generation to another and finally in the third generation, two men from the lineage of these first baptised Catholics came up to be Divine Word missionaries themselves and each have his own vocation journey and story.
Fr Herman Kunow, SVD of Aronis Village in Megiar parish, Madang is the grandson of Herman Aihi and Christina Tameq. His parents, Joseph Marai Kunow and Maria Sawan Bisai were active Catholics in their parish.
Fr Herman was educated in the schools started by the SVD missionaries. He was a bookworm and it is not surprising that he took teaching as a profession.
He turned out to be like a missionary educator and for 14 years was teaching in the remote places of Madang. You can imagine how many young lives he had influenced and touched and even changed because of his dedication to his profession.
Fr Heman’s uncle, the late Fr Caspar Didol, whom Herman looked up to so much, was the first local man to be ordained as a diocesan priest of the Archdiocese of Madang.
In his years of teaching, Herman felt that there was always something missing in his life despite the fact that he had everything he needed. He wanted something more. After 14 years of being a teacher, he applied and was accepted to the SVD postulancy. The teacher had become a student again, training to become a priest and a missionary.
On Sept 11, 2021, the Catholic Community in Megiar witnessed another wantok ordained to priesthood in the order of the Society of the Divine Word.
The ordaining bishop was Archbishop Anton Bal of the Archdiocese of Madang. It was also a great honour that two retired archbishopss, Archbishop Emeritus William Kurtz, SVD, and Archbishop Emeritus Stephen Riechart, OFM Cap, were present during the occasion.
Many other SVD, diocesan and religious priests attended as well. The sisters and some church groups were there as well. The Yomba parish in Madang town was well represented as it was the parish where Fr Herman Kunow had spent his diaconate.
It was a joyful occasion started with a fluvial programme as a boat with traditionally decorated platform carrying Fr Herman was conveyed by small dinghies, with excited local people dancing like seagulls as they travelled from west to east seeking the direction of the sunlight towards Megiar side of the island where the ordination was to take place.
It signified that they were ready to offer Fr Herman to the “Big Man” so that he could become a full-fledged priest.
Groups from different communities where he served as a teacher did participate in the liturgy and a full band choir leading the songs with Fr Herman’s great friend Demas Saul in the lead.
His father, even though in wheelchair, did have the great privilege to see the fulfilment of the dream of his son and of course it could not be denied that Fr Heman’s late mother, looking down from heaven, was smiling, being truly proud of him.
After the ordination mass, there were different singsings and of course the bung kaikai. Food for guests which was prepared by his former co-teachers and their families were shared with everyone who attended, so that no one would go home with an empty stomach after the ordination.
Fr Jerry Kurai
Fr Jerry Kurai, SVD, the grandson of Chief Joseph Kurai, a paramount chief during those days and regarded as a notable and influential leader during the colonial times.
His father, James, a primary school teacher and mother Ledwina, were very active in different church organisations. Jerry was the third born of two sisters and one brother.
His desire to become and a missionary and a priest developed when he heard the story of St Dominic Savio in religious education lessons. St Dominic Savio, was a young Salesian saint and being a student of St John Bosco was noted for his piety and devotion to the Catholic faith.
The young Jerry was in Grade 5 at that time. He only shared this desire with his family when he was already in Grade 9. By this time, Fr Norbert Koima, SVD was still a seminarian and was on his pastoral exposure in Sari parish.
The seminarian Norbert and Fr Tony Somhorst SVD, made a very good vocation promotion and that prompted the young Jerry to write his first letter about interest to join the Society of the Divine Word.
With the exchange of correspondence to the SVD vocation director, he slowly began to know more about the society that was first known by his grandfather years before. His love for the congregation grew and finally after completing Grade 12, he was immediately accepted to begin the religious formation in the postulancy programme in Rebiamul, Mt Hagen.
He was ordained on Nov 12, 2021 by Auxiliary Bishop of Wabag Justin Ain at Sari parish. Father Jerry is the fourth SVD priest from Enga and 34th SVD PNG national in final vows.
Also present at the ordination at Sari were the Bishop of Wabag Arnold Orowae and Fr Valentine Gryk SVD, representative of the SVD provincial superior.
Priests, religious and laity from Mt Hagen, Mendi and Wabag also came for the ordination.
In his homily, Bishop Justine said: “Priesthood is a gift; God gives it to individual person whom He has chosen.” He quoted 2 Corinthians 4:7 and explained that “Priesthood is a treasure and priests are like sospen graun’ (earthenware jars) that hold this treasure. He encouraged his brother priests to rely on the power that comes from God (to protect this treasure) and not from us.”
Originally, the date for ordination should have been on the feast day of St John Paul II, but because of the Covid-19 outbreak in the highlands it was put off.
As Fr Jerry puts it: “Faith is like a mustard seed. It takes time to grow and bear fruit. And also, God does everything in His own time and no man can alternate that plan.”
The “Disciples 12”
Both Fr Jerry and Fr Herman, were in the same batch of formation together. Fr Jerry joined straight out of Grade 12 and Fr Herman after being a seasoned teacher. Their original batch started as 12 SVD candidates in the Postulancy programme in Mt Hagen and they called themselves the “Disciples 12”.
As the formation progressed and all of them experienced both the highs and lows in the chosen life and career path, some began re-aligning their faith and one even transferred to a diocesan seminary while another died. Another batch-mate, Raphael Goimba, had become an SVD brother making his final religious vows on May 30, 2020 while another one is still in formation, seminarian Dominic Passi.
As if written in the stars, Fr Herman and Fr Jerry, two of the “Disciples 12”, in this 125th year of SVD missionaries in PNG, have reached their dream of becoming SVD priests themselves.
- Sheila May Carlos is a freelance writer.