THE people of Saint John the Apostle Parish in Hedmari, Hela Province, recently hosted a joyful and reverent celebration for the blessing of their new one-of-a-kind church building.
The old church building was falling into serious disrepair and the community was quickly outgrowing it.
The people together with the parish priest Fr Joice Packel CST considered the options.
At first they thought of attaching a wing to the old church but abandoned the idea as impractical.
The real dream of the people and Fr Joice was to build a new church, but how?
Hedemari is a rural village and the community does not have much money. But it has great faith and determination - and with that the project was started.
The people received great assistance from Mathias Manga, a long-time parishioner, who provided construction materials. They also received assistance from two MPs, Philip Undialu and Francis Potape, and others.
More than anything, though, what made the project possible was the hard work and determination of everyone in the community.
Young and old, men and women, all put their hearts together to make a dream come true.
The carpenters were not professional, nor did they demand big salaries - virtually donating their services. Fr Joice worked beside them sharing his knowledge and skills every step of the way.
The day of the blessing arrived and the people prepared in the customary way. Scores of pigs were brought for the mumu. Dozens of people came in traditional Huli attire, including many youngsters.
The traditional Mali drummers added an extra layer of solemnity to the celebration. Priests and sisters came from every corner of the Diocese of Mendi (which comprises the Southern Highlands as well as the Hela Province). And Bishop Donald Lippert was there to officiate at the historic blessing.
When the first missionaries came to this area in the mid-1950's, Hedemari was one of the first places they reached. Fr Berard Tomasetti and Br Mark Bollinger were the first Capuchin-Franciscan missionaries. From Hedemari they went on to Koroba and to Pureni.
In his homily, based on scripture readings, Bishop Donald spoke to the assembly of how the new church building was a proof of God's closeness to the people.
Fr Joice Packel is the priest of Saint John Church and is the first resident priest in Hedemari. He is a member of the Congregation of St Thérèse of the Little Flower which is headquartered in Kerala, India.
Hedemari is a pastoral area, not yet a full parish and, after mass, community leaders requested that it be raised to the level of parish. If the community continues to grow in faith, hope and love, it won't be long before another dream of the people comes true.