IT took a week to confirm the death of Fr Gerry Inao and several other victims of a pay-back killing spree in the Goilala mountains of Papua New Guinea’s Central Province last week.
I received a report by telephone on Wednesday 7 May at around 10 in the morning from our Guarimeipa primary school head teacher, John Hoviai, that Fr Gerry Inao and the communion minister, Benedict, were shot dead at Kamulai on the preceding Sunday.
John had walked down from Guarimeipa to Zania, where there is a hotspot for Digicel mobile reception.
The report was brief and sketchy: Fr Gerry's body was still on the ground at Kamulai where they shot him as was Benedict's, whom they had cut to pieces.
Fr Gerry, a native of the area and a member of the Kunimeipa tribe, was in his early forties and ordained a priest only in August 2013. He had been shot through the heart at close range.
This cycle of pay-back killings has been going on in the Kunimeipa area for more than four years. Reports coming into the main Goilala government station of Tapini since Fr Gerry's death say that seven other people have been killed since Sunday.
The police and government have been slow to address this law and order problem, however these most recent killings prompted action, and a police contingent was mobilised to move to Kamulai by helicopter as soon as possible.
Goilala District Adminstrator Jimmy Aniau arranged for me and the Vicar General of the diocese of Bereina, Fr Paul Guy, to travel with the police to confirm whether or not Fr Gerry's body had been buried.
We travelled for Bereina on Wednesday night departing Port Moresby at around 3.30am to get there by first light when we were told the helicopters were arriving to ferry police and us up to Olivi and Kamulai.
Two helicopters arrived at Bereina around 8 am and Fr Paul and I travelled to Olivi on the first flight with the police photographer.
We eventually found Olivi, nestled behind Mt Yule and landed. We were greeted by the villagers who told us Fr Gerry's body had been buried the day before inside the Olivi church.
They had carried the body from Kamulai where it had been left on the ground and waited with it at Olivi until they couldn't wait any longer as it needed to be buried due to the state of decomposition.
They had lovingly buried him inside the church where he had celebrated Easter with them.
Fr Paul Guy proceeded to bless the grave, and together with the local villagers gathered, recited prayers for the dead. Afterwards the catechist gave the police a thorough report on what had happened and we listened in.
We thanked the people for what they had done and assured them that it was proper that they had buried Fr Gerry's body in this place amongst the people he loved and served so well as a priest.
We told them that the Bishop would be pleased to know this as well as Fr Gerry's family. We left Olivi after about one hour on the ground.
We went on to Kamulai Catholic Mission, where the police were dropped off to begin a one month police operation throughout the upper and lower Kunimeipa.
The mission is over grown and unkempt. The buildings have been entered into by outsiders and are run-down. It was sad to see Kamulai in this state, given what it was like just 10 years ago.
After about 30 minutes on the ground the helicopter returned, and Fr Paul and I got on to return to Bereina.