DUBLIN – Contributor Ross Howard, writing recently in PNG Attitude, has eloquently provided us with an historical background to the debate about science and the church.
Perhaps it’s worthwhile, in commenting on the role of the churches in the development of Papua New Guinea, to look very briefly at the contribution of the churches in the fields of education and health.
Bishop George Bernarding, former Bishop of Mt Hagen, once told me that in the period after World War II the Catholic mission wanted to start an English-speaking school at Kondiu in Simbu but the Australian administration was not in favour saying Pidgin schools would be quite adequate.
The Diocese of Mt Hagen eventually established two high schools, Fatima and Notre Dame, and numerous community schools in what was then Western Highlands District. To the best of my knowledge the District Commissioner, Tom Ellis, was most supportive.
Back in 1963 the Catholic Church had already established Holy Spirit Seminary as a tertiary education institute.
Initially developed in the Madang area, it later moved to Bomana and is now known as the Catholic Theological Institute.
At that time Archbishop Noser in Madang also wanted to establish a university. The then Australian administration did not support his efforts but pressure from several sources forced the Australian authorities to establish the University of PNG in 1965.
Graduates from Holy Spirit Seminary in those early years, people like Ignatius Kilage, John Momis, Peter Kurungko, Leo Hannet, Francis Misso and Fred Reiher, all played important roles in the development of the country. Momis in particular was very much involved in the development of the PNG constitution and is now, of course, president of Bougainville.
In the health sector, I think of the great work of the Nazarene mission through the excellent hospital at Kudjip in Jiwaka, the Seventh Day dvetist work with leprosy patients, the Catholic hospital at Vunapope and the Lutheran School of Nursing in Madang.
These are just a few examples and most of the churches have made a great contribution in providing health services which complement rather than compete with the health services provided by the government.
As recently as 2014, a report from the Western Highlands Provincial Health Authority stated that 59% of all health services in the province were church operated.
While this figure would not be the same for all provinces, it is indicative of the overall scenario in PNG where churches continue to run many health centres, especially in rural areas.
On the cultural side it can be noted that the Summer Institute of Linguistics does not confine itself only to bible translation but is also dedicated to vernacular language development and translation of community-oriented materials.
PNG may be one of the few places where several mainline churches - including Lutheran, United, Anglican and Catholic - came together to establish a research institute, the Melanesian Institute based in Goroka which undertakes professional social, cultural and religious studies.
The same mainline churches also came together to establish Word Publishing, which publishes Wantok newspaper.
I might not agree with all the teachings of the Seventh Day Adventists, but I respect what they have achieved in providing good health services in so many areas.
I personally believe that there is room for change in the Catholic Church but I also see the tremendous work achieved in areas like health and education by the church and individuals working for it.
And turning to the existence of the supernatural, all I can say is that I have at times experienced some things in life that I do not understand and cannot explain. My mind is open.
“There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy,” said William Shakespeare in his play Hamlet.