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.
Before 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.