IN MAY 1984, Pope John Paul II visited Port Moresby and Mt Hagen, celebrating mass in Hagen before a huge crowd in the place now called Pope’s Oval.
Naturally a lot of preparation went into the Eucharistic celebration: choirs, procession groups, dancers, readers and altar servers spent many hours readying for this important occasion.
Holy Trinity Teachers College was asked to provide two students for the second reading at the Mass.
Susan Kenga was chosen as the main reader with the other student standing by in case Susan became ill or could not be there.
Susan was from Kamaga in the Western Highlands, on the highway from Hagen to Tomba and Enga Province.
It had been decided by church authorities that local participants in the liturgy would be in traditional dress for the occasion. This meant that several of the female dancers and readers would be bare-breasted.
From a Hagen viewpoint there was nothing unusual about this. The annual Mt Hagen show had thousands of bare-breasted women dancing and marching. Cultural days at schools and colleges would have similar scenes, although on a smaller scale. Processions at some religious celebrations also included bare-breasted dancers.
Time magazine of 21 May 1984, reporting on the Port Moresby section of the Papal visit stated, “At the local sports field he [the Pope] watched benignly as bare-breasted women in grass skirts chanted hymns.”
Massive crowds gathered on the great day the Pope came to Hagen. A Tolai group from Hagen town parish had a splendid entrance procession. When Susan Kenga got up for the second reading, foreign journalists turned their cameras from the Pope to bare-breasted Susan.
Susan read calmly, distinctly and confidently.
The Pope stayed only a few hours in Hagen. He arrived from Port Moresby in the morning and returned there in the early afternoon.
In the week after the Pope’s visit Susan was informed by authorities at Holy Trinity Teachers College that she would have to withdraw from studies or be suspended.
At that time, the College rules stated that any female student who got pregnant would have to temporarily leave. These students could return the following year.
After Susan’s public bare-breasted appearance, it was apparent to knowledgeable observers that she was pregnant, even though in the early stages.
Pregnancy can cause changes to the breasts and the shape of the nipples. The nipples grow and become more defined. The areolas, the skin surrounding the nipples, grow with the nipples and gets darker. Keen-eyed observers could tell that Susan was pregnant.
In retrospect, the rule that demanded that pregnant students should withdraw from studies may seem harsh. But, at that time, parents generally supported the rule because they wanted their daughters to complete their studies.
College authorities also argued that withdrawal from studies was best for the health of the pregnant female and the child she was carrying. However, it is possible some students may have resorted to abortion to avoid withdrawal or suspension.
Nowadays one could question the legality of such a rule. In those times almost all female students were single but the rule did not allow for the fact that a student might be married. It also did not take into account when the baby was due, and that there might be no danger to mother or child for several months.
Susan Kenga did leave the Teachers College as requested. She gave birth to a baby girl and called her Pauline in honour of Pope John Paul. She also married the father of her child, a fellow student named Leslie Ranja from the Southern Highlands.
While some female students are reluctant to return to college after being suspended for being pregnant, Susan courageously returned a year later and successfully completed her studies.
Susan Kenga Ranja took up her teaching career and was for many years headmistress of the community school at Kamaga in the Western Highlands. She recently retired.