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Commemorating the death of Fr Karl Morschheuser SVD

Karl MorschheuserPHILIP KAI MORRE

KUNDIAWA - It was a hot day here in Kundiawa town and I was walking to the provincial government building when my eyes caught a poster about Fr Karl Morschheuser SVD.

The poster, hanging on a rope at the stationery shop on the other side of the road, read ‘Fr Karl Morschheuser. Memorial Mass at Mirane Catholic Church. Starts at 9 am, 16 December 2018. All welcome’.

It was the day we had been waiting for.

In the middle of a busy street crowded with people, the poster pushed me into a deep reminiscence of the life and tragic death of Fr Morschheuser on this day - Sunday 16 December -  in 1934.

This tall and handsome young German was the first martyr of the Papua New Guinea highlands - slain at Bedume in Upper Simbu over a dispute about a pig killed by another priest, Fr van Baar SVD.

Fr van Baar had left for Alexishafen and Fr Morschheuser became a sacrifice because of Fr van Baar’s error.

As my mind delved further, I questioned myself, “Why did God allow him to die so young in a strange land without fully accomplishing his missionary work.”

Fr Morschheuser had first settled in Simbu just a year before he died.

On the day Fr Morschheuser was killed, he was travelling with carriers heading to spend Christmas in Alexishafen in Madang.

As the party climbed the rugged mountain and were passing Womatne towards Bedume, they were confronted and attacked by the local people in revenge for the pig shot dead by Fr van Baar.

The attack came suddenly and the arrows were aimed at Fr Morschheuser. He tried to communicate with the people to make peace but it was in vain. One of the arrows penetrated his neck and he died from loss of blood.

As recalled by an eye witness, a carrier named Johannes Miugle: “The first arrow missed. The second arrow got my hand as I put my hands up to stop them from shooting. The third arrow got Fr Morschheuser’s neck.

“He died a brave man’s death with his eyes fixed towards the people who killed him as a sign of forgiveness. His lips moved in prayer drawing our attention. My heart broke when he shouted with a loud voice. ‘Ayamanaho’ (‘Mamma’ in Kuman the dialect). And that was his last word before closing his eyes.”

As you travel toward Mt Wilhelm, you will see a memorial symbol at Bedume mountain valley. It is a wooden cross and marks the place where Fr Morschheuser was killed. Further up, towards his burial site at Kangre village, you will see local churches and feel the friendliness of the people.

You will know that the seed of peace and harmony sowed by the prince of peace Fr Karl Morschheuser had taken root and multiplied.

Chimbu warrior 1930sBefore Fr Morschheuser left Mirane for Alexishafen, he had promised the Mirane congregation that he would be back in the next month (‘ba ta ikene unagka’). The people called him ‘kua kuruwo’ (white bird) and waited vainly for him to return to achieve his dream of establishing a mission station at Mirane.

But the faith of the people filled a vacuum in the parish of Mirane and the lemon tree Fr Morschheuser planted in 1933 still stands and bears fruits while an underground fountain he discovered has never run dry.

A memorial church took time to build. It was Thomas Kama, son of the old man who gave land to Fr Morschheuser, who in more recent times initiated the Karl Morschheuser memorial church. He was supported by Joe Kunda Naur, former Simbu provincial administrator and others.

The parish priest of St Mary’s Church in Kundiawa also assisted in building the church.

Fr Morschheuser was described by many as the mustard seed of the discipleship of Jesus Christ as, through him, many local people became priests, brothers, nuns, catechists and dedicated lay workers.

Travellers to Gumine see small children picking flowers at Wara Dokor and ask out of curiosity, “what are they for?” The children reply “they’re for Fr Karl Morschheuser to say mass”.

It is the faith of the Catholics at Mirane that Fr Morschheuser is spiritually present among the Christians, especially the children.

The invisible church already exists with the unseen priest but it will be made visible in the new church building.

It is now left to Bishop Anton Bal of Kundiawa Diocese and SVD missionaries to declare Mirane a separate parish in memory of Fr Karl Morschheuser SVD as a tribute to his family, the SVD missionaries and the people of Endugla and Simbu.

Read here a detailed account of the life of Fr Morschheuser


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Philip Kai Morre

Most of the historical events in Simbu since 1933 were written and recorded by early missionaries in German.

Some of the anthropological work of Fr Alfonse Schaefer, Fr Henry Afenagar, Fr Wilhelm Troper, Fr John Nilles and others are all written in German.

Any other story concerning Fr Karl Morschheuser could be sourced from Anthropos or SVD Archives in Germany. We need a German fluent speaker and a local to assist us.

Mathias Kin

My brother Philip had writen of an important piece of Chimbu history. The full story is captured in my recently published book, 'My Chimbu'.

In the days following after the shooting also of Br Eugene Frank in January of 1935, it is estimated more than a 100 lives were lost in the valley.

One major shooting took place at the current Gembogl station in which 35 people were shot dead by a colonial administration patrol led by ADO James (Jim) Taylor and a young Danny Leahy.

Sadly this is the part of the missionary shooting story that did not get any mention at all by anthropologists and historians.

Later the colonial administration marched 70 prisoners in handcuffs 700 km to Salamua on the coast where most of the valley men died of diseases their bodies had no immunity to.

'My Chimbu' contains a good account of the Chimbu Valley incident.

Martin Auld

“Why did God allow him to die so young in a strange land without fully accomplishing his missionary work.”

RIP Pater Karl. So many SVD missionaries died still young, mostly from various swamp fevers, and many must have died thinking their work had been wasted.

But we know that it wasn't. The values they planted in the most hostile of circumstances were inherited by children from parents and their model still beats the secular government approaches, doomed from the start because they spring from short termism, unlike those missionaries who prioritised the family as an institution and whose vision was timeless.

Garry Roche

The priest with Fr Morschheuser was Fr Cornelius van Baar. He had two brothers also priests (William and Englemund van Baar) in New Guinea at that same time.

Bro Eugene Frank was killed in the same area shortly after Fr Morschheuser.

There may have been some retaliation on the local people that was not fully reported at the time. Matthias Kin may have more information about this.

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