AFTER some years of ill health, much loved Papua New Guinea church leader Archbishop Sir Brian Barnes OFM passed away at 2 am Tuesday morning in a nursing home run by the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary sisters in Sydney.
Sir Brian arrived in Papua New Guinea as a young man. He was to become a citizen, an outstanding figure and was particularly outspoken against the scourge of corruption.
Brian came to the St Anna Friary at Aitape in October 1959 not long after he was ordained. He assisted Fr Dennis Dobson OFM building the new friary and also taught for a while at a little bush school nearby.
He then went to Seleo Island as acting headmaster to replace Fr Martin Schumac OFM. From there, in March 1960, he went into the bush near Nuku to establish the mission station at Monandin and then served in the Nuku-Wati parish for a few years.
Brian travelled to Brisbane to do a Summer Institute of Linguistics course, staying with my mother, Mollie Parer, at East Brisbane. My sister Teresa recalls him helping her out with some assignments.
He returned to PNG serving again at Monadin and later Lumi and Nuku-Wati Parish from 1962-64, moving to Ningil in June of that year until February 1965.
In 1968 Brian was appointed by the Catholic Church to the position of the first police chaplain for all religious denominations in the Royal PNG Constabulary - a full-time, uniformed position based in Port Moresby.
He travelled throughout PNG visiting detachments and delivering pastoral care to police and their families. After serving in this role for 20 years he retired on 10 February 1988 and was ordained Bishop of Aitape.
The various orders of nuns at Aitape all had dogs and, when Brian would turn up with his huge Top - known for causing trouble with any animal more diminutive in size - the Nuns would be furious.
Brian was president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference from 1993-96 until his appointment as Archbishop of Port Moresby in 1997. He was critical of the government when he needed to be, the first PNG religious leader to be so outspoken. His Tok Pisin radio broadcast Katolik Insight each Sunday night was eagerly received throughout PNG.
I’m sure prime minister Bill Skate, notoriously corrupt, would have liked to silence him but Brian had the people (especially the police) behind him and they would have taken to the streets in their thousands if they thought the archbishop’s work was being impaired. In any case, he had become a PNG citizen and could not be deported.
Eventually prime minister Skate, seeking to get the archbishop off his back, went to the Bishop’s Conference in Rabaul to sue for peace, but no avail. Brian would not let up and eventually Skate resigned and Sir Michael Somare returned to the prime ministership.
Sir William Skate KCMG died on 3 January 2006 and Brian presided at the funeral, blessing the coffin as it was lowered into his grave. A wonderful act of Melanesian forgiveness and reconciliation.
But Brian never softened his words against corruption and it said much about Sir Michael that, despite being regularly criticised by Brian, he arranged for him to receive a knighthood in 2003 and then to receive PNGs highest honour – the Grand Companion of Logohu - in 2011, by which time Brian had retired and was living at the Franciscan Friary at Waverley in Sydney.
By this time he was not well enough to travel to Canberra to receive the award, so Charles Lepani, PNG’s high commissioner to Australia, travelled to the Franciscan Friary at Waverley in Sydney to present it.
During his career, Brian represented the Catholic Church on various bodies such as the National Research Institute, the Chaplaincy Advisory Council, the Board of the Holy Spirit Seminary at Bomana, the Catholic Theological Institute Governing Council and the National Capital District Commission.
His honours included the Independence Medal in 1975, Police Long Service and Good Conduct Medal in 1983; MBE in 1983, 10 year Independence Medal in 1985, KBE in 2003 and GCL in 2011.
At the time of writing, no funeral arrangements had been announced but the ceremony is likely to be held on Tuesday.