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80 years on: 500 pilgrims walk from Madang to Mt Hagen

Pilgrims climb up Gena mountain near MigendePAUL PETRUS | Catholic Archdiocese of Mt Hagen

ACTIONS speak louder than words in Papua New Guinea culture. It is customary that when a person does something good, words do not fully express the appreciation. One has to reciprocate with action.

A common practice is the idea of saying thank you with action rather than words. Accordingly, the Catholic Archdiocese of Mt Hagen organised a pilgrimage to say thank you for the 80 years of the Gospel in the Highlands.

This year is a special year for the Catholic Archdiocese of Mt Hagen, which includes both Jiwaka and Western Highlands provinces. The Archdiocese is celebrating 80 years of the Catholic faith in the two provinces and the rest of the Highlands.

In 1934 the first Catholic SVD missionaries led by Fr William Ross, Fr Alfonse Schafer and Br Frank Eugene with 72 carriers from Rempi in Madang, entered the highlands from the north.

Fr Schafer settled in Chimbu to evangelise and Fr Ross and Br Eugene moved on to the Western Highlands.

The first missionaries’ sole purpose was to evangelise the people but services like education and health seemed necessary in order to evangelise meaningfully. So schools and health services were established and contributed a lot to the development of the region. Today about 40% of the health and education services in the highlands is provided by the  Catholic Church.

After 80 years, the Catholic faithful in the Archdiocese of Mt Hagen felt it is timely to say thank you and acknowledge all the blessings from God through the missionaries. An appropriate action was a pilgrimage from Madang to Mt Hagen, following the route of the first missionaries.

More than 500 Catholics including three local priests and nine seminarians travelled to Madang on 28 March. After two days in Rempi, on the north coast of Madang, the pilgrims travelled by PMV to Yakumbu along the Ramu to Madang highway to start their two weeks pilgrimage.

Sixteen young men from Rempi also joined the group, some of them the descendants of the 72 carriers of the first missionaries.

The first week was a test of faith and physical strength.  They walked from Yakumbu across the Ramu valley to Brahaman, a Catholic parish, then continued up the rugged terrain of the Bismarck range to Bundi Catholic Mission, the last parish of the Madang Archdiocese.

The pilgrims then crossed the steep ridges of the Bismarck and continued their journey on the western side of the Mt Wilhelm through Mondia Pass on the border of Madang and Chimbu.

Travelling south along the Chimbu gorge, the pilgrims visited Denglagu, Golgme and the Ombondo parishes. They also had a chance to visit the memorial sites to two of the first missionaries, Fr Carl Morschheuser at Womatne and Br Eugene Frank at Anganere, where the local people attacked and killed them.

Leaving the Chimbu gorge at Ombondo parish, the pilgrims travelled west up the steep hills of the Gena mountains and arrived at Mingende, ending the first week of the pilgrimage. Physically most pilgrims had body aches and blisters on their feet but their spiritual strength motivated them to continue. 

The second week of the pilgrimage from Mingende to Mt Hagen followed the old highway and was the route that Fr Ross and Br Eugene took to travel to Mt. Hagen.

Continuing west along the Waghi valley, they passed Kerawagi the last parish of Kundiawa diocese, then on to Nondugl, Banz and Fatima parishes in the Jiwaka province and entering the Western Highlands through Mun Parish in the Dei district.

Pilgrims arriving at Rebiamul on Palm SundayFinally on Palm Sunday, the pilgrimage ended at Rebiamul, the Catholic Archdiocese headquarters with many of the pilgrims shedding tears of joy. The Archbishop of Mt Hagen, Archbishop Douglas Young, welcoming them back said the pilgrimage was a sign of a family walking together and sharing the Gospel, as a Church alive in Christ.

Most of the pilgrims reflected that the long walk had been a perfect spiritual exercise to strengthen their Catholic faith during the Lenten season. And it was a good experience to feel the similar pain and sufferings of the first missionaries, 80 years ago, as they entered the highlands region. 


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Garry Roche

Joel, as you may know, the man Kamok was often referred to as Kewa Kamok - Kewa was the Melpa word for stranger.

I think Kamok was dead before I arrived in PNG, but I knew many of his family. The man Sabu was still alive then and I remember him.

As related, several people from the Rempi, Baitebat, area came with Fr. Ross. Later in the 1960’s, Fr. Ross helped some of them to get allotments in the Government re-settlement scheme at Kindeng in the Wahgi, that was of course before independence.

So some grew up in Kindeng. Some of your people, as you note, are still at Rebiamul. On your 'Hagen' side, Koim Puk was of course from the Mokei Akilika tribe.

Other coastal people came to Hagen around the same time with the Lutherans and with the Leahys and settled in the area.

Those who came with the Leahy Brothers were mainly from the Waria people in Morobe. One man Essien, settled in the Nebyler. And some who came with the Lutherans were from the Finnschafen area.

A former EMTV announcer named Sophia Magge is the granddaughter of a Morobe, Finnschafen, man named Tabi who came and settled in Hagen.

Philip Kai Morre

From Oral Testimony, the SVD missionaries first settled at Dembi near present Mingende Catholic Mission in 1933. They don't have a immediate plan to travel towards Hagen but after hearing that Lutheran missionaries are already in Hagen Fr. Wilhelm Rose and Br. Eugene rushed to Hagen without the approval of their superior. They settled at Wilya and then Rebiamul stoping the Lutherans from moving further. Br. Eugene could not have died if he listen to Fr. Wilhelm Ross not to travel to Alexishafen when the situation is tense after the killing of Fr Carl Morschheuser. There are two schools in Gembogl District named after Fr. Carl Morschheuser High School and Br. Frank Eugene Primary School at Anganere the spot where Br. Eugene was killed. At this time of the year around Easter we remember the pioneer SVD missionaries for their great sacrifices and work they have done for the Highlands of PNG. Fr. Wilhelm Ross was the last pioneer who died in 1973.

Joel J Koim

I am a decendant off the carriers from Madang who helped Fr. Ross to bring Catholic Church to WHP. My grand father is by the name off Kamok and his uncle was Sabu. Both married to Western Highlands woman. Current relatives live near Rebiamul Catholic Church.

Mathias Igode

My grandfather from Baiteta village, Gis clan, together with some of his tribesmen were some of the carriers of Fr William Ross. To date I don't see anything from the church to compensate their contributions.

Paul Ward

I used to live near Rempi at Alexishaven / Sec in 1984.

There I was an Australian volunteer missionary, aged 30. I used to visit the family of local employees at the Catholic Mission and remember a man named Wasem Iggie Dum who worked in the kitchen there.

I have since lost contact. He is probably a grandfather, lapun pinis.

If any one knows of contacts from that time, please let me know.

Mi ya, siven biluk taro.

Mary Mennis

I am interested in this pilgrimage. I interviewed Fr Ross forty years ago in Mt Hagen. His carriers and catechists told me of their route where they stayed, what the weather was like and whom they met.

From this I put the route on a map and I have been told that this is the map used by these pilgrims following their footsteps.

Strange that was forty years ago and they were speaking of an even forty years before that which makes up the eighty years

Subsequently I wrote 'Hagen Saga' now out of print but soon to be released again.

Paulus Ripa

Josephine, with a name like Kama are you descended from Mogei Nambuka Kama (mother was a Kopi) who was the father of Ninji, Makinta and Kunjil.

They and Wamp had great foresight in inviting Fr Ross to settle in Wilya and then Rebiamul.

Josephine Kama

I am grateful for my great-grandfathers who gave land to missionaries to settle. It was through them that the Gospel spread to other parts of the Highlands. God Bless our/their generation.

Bob Cleland

Reminds me of the WW II escape from Wewak of several nuns and priests, escorted by Danny Leahy and Joe Serason.

They went straight up the range, no roads and at times had to break bush, with Japanese hot on their heels initially.

They came out of the bush at Mt Hagen, I think.

It was an incredible feat of faith and bushmanship.

David Kasei Wapar

What a wonderful but challenging exercise which I guess adds true meaning to the Easter festive commemorations.

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