ACTIONS speak louder than words in Papua New Guinea culture. It is customary that when a person does something good, words do not fully express the appreciation. One has to reciprocate with action.
A common practice is the idea of saying thank you with action rather than words. Accordingly, the Catholic Archdiocese of Mt Hagen organised a pilgrimage to say thank you for the 80 years of the Gospel in the Highlands.
This year is a special year for the Catholic Archdiocese of Mt Hagen, which includes both Jiwaka and Western Highlands provinces. The Archdiocese is celebrating 80 years of the Catholic faith in the two provinces and the rest of the Highlands.
In 1934 the first Catholic SVD missionaries led by Fr William Ross, Fr Alfonse Schafer and Br Frank Eugene with 72 carriers from Rempi in Madang, entered the highlands from the north.
Fr Schafer settled in Chimbu to evangelise and Fr Ross and Br Eugene moved on to the Western Highlands.
The first missionaries’ sole purpose was to evangelise the people but services like education and health seemed necessary in order to evangelise meaningfully. So schools and health services were established and contributed a lot to the development of the region. Today about 40% of the health and education services in the highlands is provided by the Catholic Church.
After 80 years, the Catholic faithful in the Archdiocese of Mt Hagen felt it is timely to say thank you and acknowledge all the blessings from God through the missionaries. An appropriate action was a pilgrimage from Madang to Mt Hagen, following the route of the first missionaries.
More than 500 Catholics including three local priests and nine seminarians travelled to Madang on 28 March. After two days in Rempi, on the north coast of Madang, the pilgrims travelled by PMV to Yakumbu along the Ramu to Madang highway to start their two weeks pilgrimage.
Sixteen young men from Rempi also joined the group, some of them the descendants of the 72 carriers of the first missionaries.
The first week was a test of faith and physical strength. They walked from Yakumbu across the Ramu valley to Brahaman, a Catholic parish, then continued up the rugged terrain of the Bismarck range to Bundi Catholic Mission, the last parish of the Madang Archdiocese.
The pilgrims then crossed the steep ridges of the Bismarck and continued their journey on the western side of the Mt Wilhelm through Mondia Pass on the border of Madang and Chimbu.
Travelling south along the Chimbu gorge, the pilgrims visited Denglagu, Golgme and the Ombondo parishes. They also had a chance to visit the memorial sites to two of the first missionaries, Fr Carl Morschheuser at Womatne and Br Eugene Frank at Anganere, where the local people attacked and killed them.
Leaving the Chimbu gorge at Ombondo parish, the pilgrims travelled west up the steep hills of the Gena mountains and arrived at Mingende, ending the first week of the pilgrimage. Physically most pilgrims had body aches and blisters on their feet but their spiritual strength motivated them to continue.
The second week of the pilgrimage from Mingende to Mt Hagen followed the old highway and was the route that Fr Ross and Br Eugene took to travel to Mt. Hagen.
Continuing west along the Waghi valley, they passed Kerawagi the last parish of Kundiawa diocese, then on to Nondugl, Banz and Fatima parishes in the Jiwaka province and entering the Western Highlands through Mun Parish in the Dei district.
Finally on Palm Sunday, the pilgrimage ended at Rebiamul, the Catholic Archdiocese headquarters with many of the pilgrims shedding tears of joy. The Archbishop of Mt Hagen, Archbishop Douglas Young, welcoming them back said the pilgrimage was a sign of a family walking together and sharing the Gospel, as a Church alive in Christ.
Most of the pilgrims reflected that the long walk had been a perfect spiritual exercise to strengthen their Catholic faith during the Lenten season. And it was a good experience to feel the similar pain and sufferings of the first missionaries, 80 years ago, as they entered the highlands region.