An entry in the Crocodile Prize
PNG Chamber of Mines & Petroleum
Award for Essays & Journalism
I have a tendency to cut and keep newspaper clippings, especially photographs of early Europeans and missionaries who spent time in Simbu or have had some influence in the lives of Simbus and myself.
In 1994 I cut a coloured photograph from the PNG Times newspaper supplement on the visit to Papua New Guinea of Cardinal Karol Wojtyła, later St Pope John Paul II, in 1972 when he visited his Polish missionaries in the highlands.
Posing with the cardinal was Fr William Kurtz SVD surrounded by four Highlanders dressed in full traditional attire. The photo was taken by Fr Joseph Jurczyga SVD.
Fr Kurtz was the parish priest of Mai Catholic Mission in the Yongomugl area in the 1970s and 1980s and I remember him as the priest who celebrated the final mass in Kondiu High School during my graduation in 1981.
His homily to us Grade 10s that year (and I remember every word) was “Education is like climbing a mountain and when you reach the top and look back you will see wonderful scenery around you.”
Some years later Fr Kurtz became the Bishop of Kundiawa and much later Archbishop of Madang.
Cardinal Wojtyła was later to become the longest serving pope of the Catholic Church, earning many international awards during his reign including Time’s Person of the Year , the US Congressional Gold Medal , the US Presidential Medal of Freedom  and Germany’s Charlemagne Prize ).
Cardinal Wojtyla was made pope six years later after the photo was taken. The four highlanders posing with the two clergymen are unknown to me, but no one could mistake Simbu dress.
Wherever I went and settled, I travelled with the photo and my other newspaper cuttings - Port Moresby, Madang, Western Province, East New Britain, West New Britain and Western Highlands.
When I finally ended up back in Simbu in 2012, I scanned all my newspaper cuttings into the computer. It was amazing scrolling through my collection on the computer screen.
One chilly morning in May 2014, 20 years after I made the newspaper cutting of the pope, I saw a neatly dressed old man of about 70 in Kundiawa’s main street between the Catholic Church and the International Primary School.
I didn’t know him but every morning between 6 and 7 when I went home to clean up after overnighting in the office, I walked past this same neatly dressed old man at exactly the same spot at about the same time.
So on this morning, curiosity getting the better of me, I waylaid him as he ambled down with his pectoral cross hanging around his neck and swaying from side to side and his walking stick tapping lightly on the bitumen surface.
“Angra (brother), good morning”, I said. And as if he had known me before, he replied with a warm smile across his frail and wrinkled face. Even before I explained why I had stopped him he said he was returning from the Catholic Church after attending morning service.
“We seem to be meeting here at about the same time every morning,” I said, “so that’s why I decided to ask you why I seemed to be meeting you here almost every morning.”
The old man, as if prepared for this dialogue, said: “Son, I am a former Catechist. And that’s why every morning I wake up at 5.30 to attend the 6 o’clock Mass”.
“I see! That’s good,” I said, feeling guilty that I could not give the same commitment to my faith as this old man.
The old man was a good talker. He identified himself as Paulus Teine of the Kikin tribe in the Goglme area of Upper Simbu and, despite the cold, we entered into a long conversation.
Paulus told me of his missionary life and work as a catechist in his young days.
“I established Mai parish and later served under Fr William Kurtz when he was posted there as the first parish priest”, he said, and added, “Whenever you go to Mai Catholic church, visit the sacristy and you’ll find a photo of me and the pope with Fr Kurtz hanging on the wall there.”
The newspaper cutting in my collection flashed into my mind. I studied the old man carefully to recall someone like him in the photo. “Is it the photo of the pope with Fr Kurtz and some Simbu dancers in traditional attire?” I asked.
“Owo (Yes), that’s the one, son. The photo was taken at Kamaliki in Goroka.
It began to dawn on me that I was now talking to one of the unidentified characters in the 1972 photograph.
“When was the photo taken?” I asked to see if Paulus could still recollect the date.
He couldn’t. “I retired from the Church when PNG attained independence. I was never given a printed copy of that photo but Fr Kurtz hung the photo in the sacristy and that is all I can remember of the photo of me with the pope,” he said.
When I told Paulus that I had the photo in my office, he almost dropped his walking stick. He became excited demanded the photo from me.
“I need to show the photo of me with the pope to my children and grandchildren”, he said.
“Don’t you worry, it’s in my computer and I’ll print a copy for you. Also you are lucky to be standing with a Saint in the photo because the late pope was declared a Saint by the current pope last month,” I said.
The old man thanked me wholeheartedly, as if the photo was already in his hands.
“But before I print a copy for you,” I said, “first you’ll have to identify the other three Simbu men in the photo. Can you come to my office later in the day?”
“Oh, I will, I sure will”, he said, and I told him where to find me.
To my surprise I learned that he lived at Hap Wara, only 50 meters away from my office. I had never realised that one of the characters in the historic photo of the future pope was living practically next door.
“I’ll see you later in the day,” I said and we shook hands before heading in our separate directions.
When I entered my office after 8 o’clock, I quickly browsed through the photo collections in my computer and found the photo. The former catechist was right. He was standing beside the future pope, to his left. He had changed tremendously over the years, of course, but I could still figure him out.
When Paulus showed up in my office at around 11, I pulled a chair out and sat him in front of my computer. I opened the folder and browsed through the photos until I came across the photo of him and the pope.
“That’s the photo”, I said, maximising it to full screen before moving aside. The old ex-Catechist starred at the screen, speechless and still.
When Paulus came back to his senses, he asked quietly, “Wan-na (son), can you make a copy for me?”
“Of course” I said. “But first…remember our deal? You have to identify the three other men in the photo.”
And as I stood there, Paulus Teine began identifying them.
“That’s me”; he said, starting from the left as he moved his finger across.
He had trouble with the second person but identified third as John Wamuna, a Kuglkane from Womatne in the Upper Simbu.
Then there was Pope John Paul II and Fr William Kurtz and the final Simbu man, Andrias Yagl-kulu of Yogomugl Mikirma in Mai.
I thanked him, recorded the names and made a colour print copy of the photo. Paulus was excited, thanked me heartily and said he would show it to his children and grandchildren.
“When you show them, tell them that this is a photo of you standing with the latest Saint in the Catholic Church whose feast day comes every 22 October,” I said.
“I will tell them…I sure will,” he responded, admiring the photo in his hands.
Before Paulus left I asked if he could tell me about his early childhood and his missionary life before he retired.
I did not regret asking him for what I discovered in him were treasures of historical information about the establishment of Mai Catholic Mission that, had I not asked, would have left with him to the permanent resting place.
(In my next article, I’ll write of the life and missionary work of Paulus Teine)