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Fr Sieland defies challenges in ministering to his remote flock

Fr Christian SielandPatheos Catholic News | Edited extracts

EVERY weekend deep in Melanesia, a Papua New Guinea Catholic priest walks miles along rough bush tracks and scales steep mountainous terrain to reach his remote flock in the poorest parishes.

“These people live in a difficult and rugged terrain,” says Fr Christian Sieland of the Kundiawa Diocese. “God has put them there. It is their home.

“All the material used to build their church was carried by their grandfathers on their shoulders. They are proud to have the presence of the Church in their area,” Fr Sieland said.

“Many have only a few pieces of clothes or just enough money to get through the week. They may be poor, but they acknowledge all the blessings God has given them.

“They don’t starve because God has given them a fertile soil where almost everything can be grown. They don’t thirst because God has given them clean and fresh mountain streams nearby to fetch water from.”

The priest had high praise for the hospitality of these Catholics.

“When I as their parish priest go into their homes for a visit or even stay overnight with them, they give me the biggest plate full of food, they let me sleep in their best beds under mosquito nets,” he said.

“The care and respect given to a priest in those remote areas sometimes really touches me and makes me at times even feel embarrassed.”

“But how can you refuse such gestures of hospitality from simple believing people? They don’t have much to offer, but when they offer you the little they have, it comes from deep within their hearts.”

About 30% of the diocese’s 375,000 people are Catholic. Its territory includes Mt Wilhelm, the country’s highest mountain.

“My motivation is simple. If I as an ordained priest don’t go to these people, who else will?” Fr Sieland said, reflecting on his mission.

“Even if there were only 10 old people to be visited, I would still walk and climb the mountains and cross the rivers to be with them.

“Traditional and western modern values are clashing right now and the younger generation seem a bit lost or confused,” Fr. Sieland said.

“Good traditional values that are similar to certain Gospel values are slowly disappearing. In 20 years’ time they will be gone for good.”

The numbers of foreign missionaries, especially from Europe, has dropped considerably. Even with the help of missionaries from Australia, Poland, India, and Indonesia, local clergy still cannot staff all the areas their predecessors vacated.

“Most of the Catholic parishes cover huge areas. Even in the remotest of areas, you will find a small Catholic Church building and maybe even an elementary or primary school and an aid post.”

Fr Sieland said that the government should be providing basic services, but the churches have had to fill the gap.

Despite efforts to promote Catholic values at parish schools, the country still faces many challenges posed by western lifestyle, mobile phone technology and internet access.

“One of the greatest challenges is the loss of Gospel values such as honesty, transparency, respect, love, commitment and dedication in family, in marriage, in the parish, at school, outside of school,” he said.

Many teachers lack a stable marriage life and face problems with debt or alcohol. Some mismanage the schools’ money. Many students, for their part, disrespect teachers and some use alcohol or marijuana, often affecting their performance at school.

There are also major problems deeply rooted in Melanesian culture. Polygamous relationships have proved very hard to eradicate. There is also a clash between Christianity and traditional beliefs about sorcery.

“If people get sick and die, especially if they are a young, energetic and educated persons, people speak of ‘sanguma’ or sorcery,” the priest said. “We still have a lot of sorcery related violence and killings in Papua New Guinea, especially in our own province.”

“The local church tries everything to challenge this kind of belief, educate the people and eradicate belief in sorcery, but it won’t happen just from one day to the next. It takes time.”

Comments

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Julia Adinawae

Fr Christian, congratulations to you in your priesthood vocation and in your pastoral work. I am really happy and proud of you. I support you in my prayers that you remain faithful.

Philip Kai Morre

The catholic diocese of Kundiawa should have a population of 50 percent and not 30 percent. The problem now is half of the Catholic population don't go to mass due to several factors.

Priests like Fr Sieland is a dedicated pastoral worker but there is still more to be done to bring back the lost souls.

The laity need to mobilise and do something. Most of us are spectators and not doing so much to keep the local church alive.

Arthur Williams

Fr Sieland, yet another dedicated 'man of god'. To me it is of no interest to know his particular brand of Christianity but sadly to many 'believers' their allegiance seems to be more to their specific nominated designation. Some writers have claimed there are 33,000 different types of protestant churches in the world.

I smile when I see radical Christians seeking to proselytise in Catholic countries where Christ has been daily proclaimed for 1900 years.

A Baptist, I still have my old passport which gives my occupation as Catholic Lay Volunteer inscribed. I know I raised a few eyebrows among my fellow colleagues when I arrived in the Catholic Mission at Kavieng and occasionally stayed in Bishop's Stemper's house and lived in my 'monklike cell' under Father Bernie Miller's parish home at Lavongai.

I enjoyed almost every minute of living and working with the priests and laity. I treasure excellent memories of the times we spent together all with aim of serving God's chosen people in their particular time and place in history.

Father Bernie was a rather Pickwick looking man who enjoyed his bowl of popcorn while watching an old cowboy movie projected from his first-floor window through a hole in the fly-wire onto a permanent screen to the enthralled kids and adults sat on the grass below.

But this priest, who seemed to be the best trader on the island too, had his dedicated misso side. Regularly, just like Fr Sieland, he would set off into the few interior Catholic villages to bring Missa or Holy Communion to his flock; baptise infants, marry young people and generally listen and advise where appropriate to their worries and needs.

It was he who sent me every Sunday to one of his small parish churches to provide some basic political education as we approached self government and then independence.

Some years later it was his successor, Fr Delucca, who along with myself and three others was designated as the 'Gang of 5' by a very pro-government uncle.

Each of us had to write to Bishop Hesse explaining our role in attempting to avoid destructive forest techniques being used by Malaysian loggers in the far west of Lavongai.

Father told the Bishop that he was a spiritual guide for his parish but could not ignore that each parishioner had other humanity too and he could not allow them to be tricked and robbed by clever elites and their Asian friends.

He was moved away from the island but of course I couldn't be as I was not only officially married there but more importantly was a PNG citizen.

Fr Delucca spent 31 years in PNG and has continues to have priestly duties back in the USA after 50 years as priest.

So thanks for publishing Fr Sieland's inspiring story of life as a Man of God in Kundiawa today.

Bomai Witne

Father Christian, through his words and actions, is a loyal and committed servant of the Gospel. For those of us who cross his path, we are truly inspired by his presence and teachings. May God give him good health as he reaches out to people.

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