FR GIORGIO LICINI | Catholic Reporter
IT is one month since the killing of Fr Jerry Maria Inau and church worker Benedict at Kamulai in the Goilala mountains of Central Province but information is still sketchy and the diocese of Bereina is still waiting for a final police report.
We have able to talk to local Bishop Rochus Tatamai and diocesan Pastoral Vicar Fr Rey Caigoy who confirmed that Fr Jerry felt at risk in the area and was invited several times to leave for Bereina or for his final parish assignment in Fane.
“He was in his village because he wanted to go back there just before Christmas last year”, Fr Rey said. “He wanted to spend the festivities with his people and thank them for what they had done on the occasion of his ordination in August.”
Fr Jerry had been ordained aged almost 51 in August last year after decades of intermittent pastoral work and studies, which he never really completed.
“Our benevolent comments were that Fr Jerry was our St John Vianney”, the bishop said, referring to the famous French priest of the early 19th century, who was about to be discarded by Church authorities as too poor in academics and turned out to be a person who could talk directly to the heart of the people by his example and simple words.
“Fr Jerry was particularly concerned about the youth and the way he could bring about the end of the killings and stable peace in his home place,” Fr Rey said.
It seems likely Fr Jerry found himself embroiled in the same feud that has claimed several lives over the past few years.
At Easter 2011, Bishop Rochus and then seminarian Jerry were prevented from entering the mission station of Kamulai because of a fresh killing in the area just before their landing at the nearby airstrip.
It takes four days for the people to walk from Kamulai to the government and diocesan centre of Bereina. Conflicts in the remote areas easily arise over real or perceived benefits of small scale mining, erection of mobile phone towers or land ownership.
When a person is killed it becomes hard to stop a spiralling retaliation.
Initial but still unconfirmed reports suggest that on Sunday 4 May communion minister Benedict was killed first in Kamulai and may have been the real target of the payback.
Fr Jerry may have fallen victim to an angry reaction to the first killing. The young perpetrators may have been on drugs. Marijuana spontaneously grows in the area and is heavily consumed.
Bishop Rochus understands that, while Benedict’s killing apparently had no witnesses except the perpetrators, Fr Jerry was reportedly accompanied by two women and a young girl as he was leaving the area.
The perpetrators who ran after them were divided and fighting among themselves about the plan to kill the priest. Eventually a shot was fired straight into Fr Jerry’s heart.
Before dying he was able to recommend that his family refrain from any payback for his death and gave his rosary and other religious articles to the small girl who had fainted but recovered at the scene. The two women had run for cover.
“Fr Jerry would withdraw rather than engage in a confrontation”, Fr Rey said.
“He only harboured sentiments of reconciliation and peace, which was probably his impossible dream among the warring families of Kamulai.
“Further information is still needed, but the chance he may have died in hatred to what he stood for is very high.”