Tales with mum
Jubilee rejects claims of bias & dishonesty in Panguna report

The priesthood wasn’t for me, however it has guided my life

Bomai Witne & his familyBOMAI D WITNE

THE history of missionaries in Papua New Guinea can be traced to before even the early political and administrative colonisers.

They travelled the oceans, mountains, hills, gorges and gullies and later built roads and wharves to link hamlets, villages and towns.

Those Papua New Guineans who were among the first members of the House of Assembly and the early private and public sector employees were often the handwork of missionaries.

The missionaries have continued the journey and the work of those who came before. In whatever they do, they touch the lives of people in significant ways.

I recall my own childhood and the people who helped me to live the life I do today. I am grateful for the work of the missionaries and I can do a little bit, which is not enough, to compensate and say thank you during my life time.

My father was a Lutheran as his clan was among the first people in the Yuri tribe to accept that faith.

My mother was a Catholic, as her people were the first to invite the Catholic Church from its establishment at Mingende in Simbu.

I was born in my mother’s village, Imil-Tomale, and baptised in the Catholic Church. A few years later, I went to a Catholic school continued into Catholic secondary school.

I did what every other child did; too lazy to go to church services but energetic enough to run away from them.

Sometimes a fear of being absent from roll check with its accompanying punishments would force me to church. I also liked the priest in white robes in front of the parishioners - and the motorbikes and Suzukis they drove around.

During my high school days, I began to realise that I could choose the priesthood as a vocation. My thoughts were guided by a number of reasons based on my observation at that time.

The first reason was for me to help my struggling parents pay tertiary education fees as my thought was that the Church would pay for my priesthood education.

My fatherWhile I was convinced beyond doubt, my father (pictured) did not agree with this plan when I revealed it to him. I quit thinking of the priesthood after that discussion.

My second reason concerned the life of the missionaries. They lived a life of service and reaching out to others.

I heard nuns singing and strumming guitars beautifully and saw them teaching us songs. The De La Salle brothers and the chaplain would take care of us. They taught us life skills and were constant in the way they approached life.

The De La Salle brothers lived, worked and dined together. The priests dressed in white robes and celebrated mass together. I have seen some priest run around like they never run out of fuel.

My third reason was that I was confident of securing a space in one of the tertiary institutions after high school. However, I also thought that, in the event I failed my exams and did not win a place, priesthood would be an easy way out. I learn from my priests now that such a reason was illogical and not the way of the priest.

I realised that my father had revealed God’s plan for me not to be guided by my own reasons for priesthood.

My father wanted me to lead a life of a family man and toil hard each day to feed my family.

As he used to say in Yuri, “Ipal ta more, kepa ta ente kinango, en nene wen, kona ele, kepa nere, gal kul yenanga bol ninanga” (No one else will feed you with food; it is you who must toil hard to feed yourself and your family).

Over these years, my mother continued to stay at her place and attend Catholic service. My father lived on his tribal land committed to his Lutheran faith. Now I live in Goroka in the Eastern Highlands Province and commit a bit of time to my local parish as a lay person.

People from many different walks of life value the work of missionaries. They had the following to say about the story published on Sunday in which I wrote of Fr Franco Zocca, who has just celebrated 50 years of priesthood.

“A beautiful ceremony for a remarkable man - a living testimony of life of total commitment to his call and the Lord of his life. Thank you for sharing” - Anne-Marie

“Thank you for sharing Fr Franco’s news and the great work he has done in serving the Lord and the people. I have previously worked at Melanesian Institute and glad to say that he was a great and open hearted man” - Francisca Kerenga

“Very inspiring, thought provoking and challenging story. These are the very people who deserve knighthoods, awards and medals for their selfless commitment to the poor, the needy and the rural majority. Unfortunately, we very rarely see this happening on our land. May the Good Lord reward them richly with heavenly blessings” - Alois

I am saddened by the many challenges facing Christianity and in particular the Catholic faith. The challenges calls for Christians to be realistic and live their faith and reach out to others, which has been the lived legacy set by Jesus himself and lived through the years by the first missionaries.


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Bomai D Witne

Thank you Barbara for the compliment. It is good to inspire someone to write. I was inspired by my cousin Joe Sil's writing early this year. Together we can inspire many people now and into the future.

Paulus, I agree with you. If we look at the west it took socio-economic, cultural, education and scientific developments to re-shape and re-enlighten people's mind on Christianity among other religions.

In PNG, developments that are supposed to lead to freeing the minds and improving the physical well-being of people have been slow, thus leaving people vulnerable to exploitation of all sorts, including religious exploitation.

Peter Pirape Anage

This is an inspiring story from Bomai and one that has a special appeal to me as a person as I'm sure it will to a multitude of other PNGeans.

I was a baptised a Lutheran and raised a Catholic and I remain proud of my Christian heritage. Earlier on, decided against becoming a priest for similar reason as Bomais and thank God the priesthood was't my calling either.

This nation owes its rise as a nation to the work of early missionaries who laid the foundations for what was to come.

Many lost their lives in the rough seas, many lost their battles with malaria and other tropical deceases, many lost their lives to cannibals, etc.

But from the blood of these saints, the work of God flourished and the groundwork of building a nation was set in motion.

Therefore, together with many others, we can say how lovely are the feet of those who bring good news, announcing peace, proclaiming news of happiness.

Our God reigns. May God bless all the early saints. Amen.

Paulus Ripa

Bomai, thank you for sharing your story. I think all Catholic boys grew up wanting to be priests. I think your father also made a wise decision for you as the good husbands and parents are also just as important, though those who do choose a vocation are a special group of people.

I have always thought the vow of celibacy to be a particularly onerous one and should be optional.
You say that you are saddened by the challenges facing Christianity and the Catholic Church.

As a fellow layman, I don’t think you should be sad. I am confident that the church will survive as it has done for two thousand years and if it is God’s church it will weather whatever challenges for however long it takes. It tends to thrive on adversity.

One friend said to me that with education and improvement in standard of living in the world, Christianity will cease to exist as is happening in the West with declining levels of church attendance and disinterest in pastoral vocations. I asked him to show me one example in western countries where church attendance etc has fallen to zero.

I would contend that even if there is a decline there will always be a pocket of Christianity and there may even be a resurgence of faith in some areas.

In terms of the Catholic Church the recent synod in Rome was interesting. It allowed for open discussion about issues facing the church.

Liberals were disappointed (for not changing much) as were conservatives (for even suggesting the whole idea) who feel that the pope has failed them and these divergent viewpoints seem to indicate that the church faces significant challenges to its continued existence.

I think the whole idea of open discussion is refreshing. The fact that widely diverging viewpoints emerge suggests an all inclusive church. If doctrines are divinely ordained they will continue to remain so despite what people at either fringe think.

Barbara Short

Thank you for your story, Bomai. You write well and I always enjoy your stories. This is a very good honest look at yourself.

I have shared it with the Sepik Writers' Club. It is a very small group at the moment but I hope it will inspire some of them to start writing!

Best wishes.

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