FATHER PHILIP GIBB’s article about Sunday Mass in Mount Hagen after the horrific events over the past few weeks reveals a good man unafraid to admit that he has no answer to a situation and who is not prepared to indulge in platitudes to cover his dilemma.
Fr Gibbs mentioned Bishop Douglas Young at Wabag, who is also dealing with a similar challenge. I’ve had some dealings with Doug and I know he is a good man too. In fact, the churches in Papua New Guinea are full of good people and always have been.
I had some contact with Pastor Harold Freund, a pioneering missionary among the Kukukuku at Menyamya, who helped rescue the survivors from Rabaul during the Pacific War. Harold and his wife, Dorothea, were both fine people and very devout.
Images of Harold with his bible under one arm and his Winchester 30/30 under the other always amused me. I knew him when he was nursing his dying wife in Adelaide - a hard man who was also extraordinarily gentle.
Another missionary gunslinger was Father William Ross in Mount Hagen. He’d be rolling in his grave and probably strapping on his old holster and .38 revolver right now.
And I remember the good sisters at Bolobip, a couple quite elderly, slogging in their habits and matching white Wellington boots up the muddy track to Golgubip taking rice to villagers whose kaukau and taro crops had failed in a drought.
And let’s not forget the dedicated Papua New Guinean missionaries who went into strange areas to do their good work with a good prospect of being killed and eaten.
When I was at Olsobip there was a catechist called Noah who used to come down from Bolobip. He was a mountain of a man with a heart of gold and fought alongside the locals to prevent the rabid Baptist fundamentalists from destroying centuries old spirit houses. Noah, I believe, still roams those high mountains.
These are the people who have the spirit of Saint Francis of Assisi flowing in their veins. And who could be so mean as to deny them their faith.
They believe in a munificent and benign God and this gives them their reason for their good work and, most importantly, a personal rationale for why they do it.
They are good people in exactly the same way that many non-Christians, people of other faiths and people who believe in no god at all, like Leo Igwe, are good people.
Altogether they are a chosen bunch and I suspect that their gods are quite different from the gods of those conceited and arrogant church leaders like Sydney’s Archbishop Pell and that old man in the Vatican.
Human beings seem to have an innate ability, even need, to eventually subvert everything and religion is no exception. At the root of this subversion are greed and the thirst for power.
Like most human organisations the megalomaniacs that have risen to the top in the established churches feed off their humble, hard-working and dedicated fellows out there in the real world.
If Christ does come back to earth one day, and I can’t think why he should bother, those megalomaniacs will be the first ones he strikes down.
After that I imagine he will gather to his fold all those humble people out there, be they believers or not, labouring under incredible odds to make the world, including Papua New Guinea, a better place