We arranged to go to Tamine and Nepike which are two communities located deeper into the jungle. Both of them are the last of the area. Beyond these two villages there is no more population but just a virgin forest. These villages could be bigger since there are many people scattered in the jungle who only go to town for some necessities. If they remained there, the villages would hunger.
We prepared the backpack with the things of sacristy. At 8am I departed together with the catechist and some others who wanted to accompany me. We walked among rivers, swamps and hills. They were barefoot since they have a quite resistant sole of the foot which is wide and robust. On the contrary, I was wearing some shoes I bought in Italy; otherwise it would have been impossible for me.
The catechist should have gone before me in order to prepare the people for my arrival and teach them some catechism… But he couldn’t. Anyway, the people knew that I was coming, and they were waiting for me. Even the chief of the place prepared a list with the names of the kids who hadn’t received yet baptism.
Continuing with the journey we reach, after two hours of walking, the first village, Tamine. They welcomed us very well. The last time a priest has been there was 3 years ago.
Meanwhile the catechist stayed there to prepare the necessary things for the baptisms, I went ahead to the next village, Nepike, so that at least I could bless the houses. There were no roads anymore so we followed the river going uphill for two hours. When we arrived we were warmly welcomed. They had decorated the entrance with flowers and garlands.
But, during the time I was speaking with them, I realized that they wanted the baptisms to be done right away. That was not in the plans of the catechist who had thought that everybody should join in one single village. They told me that was really hard to take all the kids downhill through the river… Unfortunately, I couldn’t but insist on joining all together, since, as I explained to them, I was not carrying the sacristy…
Finally they decided to go to the other village carrying their children, as the catechist had planned. They also asked me to stay one night with them so that I might teach them some catechism and visit those who were scattered in the jungle. With great pain, I couldn’t say yes.
Before Mass I asked the catechist to explain them something about the confession. Then, while they were praying the rosary I heard some confessions.
These were the first baptisms I did, not here in Papua but also in my entire priestly ministry. To be able to make my first baptisms in the Papuan jungles was really a gift of the Providence! They were around 25 kids, together with an adult.
The Mass was really particular. When the baptismal rite began, all the solemnity that I was trying to keep, run away! Everybody approached the altar singing and talking about each of the kids. Nevertheless, in their simplicity everything was nice and charming.
When everything was over, I went to rest a little. Meanwhile some men were eating buai and talking some things. They gave me a sugar cane and we departed back immediately so that it wouldn’t get dark in the way.
Anyway, we arrived at night and was walking under the rain. But at the same time very happy after a so glorious journey. Nothing can compare with the joys of priest!
The mothers are showing their newly baptized children.
In Figeri we had the baptisms of 16 kids. Some mothers had arranged themselves for this celebration with typical clothes, and they did so to their children. I say that they have arranged themselves and not that they wore fancy dress, as we may think. For us their traditional clothes are just fancy dresses.
Everyday they wear t-shirts, pants or skirts that are always very old, dirty and ruined. But whenever they go to Mass, the kids and the women paint their hairs or faces with natural fruits. All women, from their childhood, tattoo their faces. Yesterday one of the fathers of the kids to be baptized prepared himself by painting his face with charcoal and his arms with mud…
At the moment of my first arrival we had scheduled that before I go I should have blessed the villages and leave everything under the protection of Mama Maria, as they called the Virgin Mary.
Very early in the morning, as we had agreed, we all gathered in Fas for the blessing. After that we departed in procession with the image of the Virgin towards Figeri. Before the procession has started, each of them offered a flower to the Virgin together with some intention.
In the way we prayed the Rosary and we sang songs to the Virgin. After the blessing of Figeri we had the Mass.
Later I explained them that by making these things we were ending the two weeks by leaving everything in the hands of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Who knows when a priest will return again? Nevertheless, I told them that they can be tranquil because there is a mother who watches over them; and not any kind of mother, but God’s mother.
Tomorrow morning after celebrating the mass, I will prepare my things and the vehicle will come to pick me up.
I thank God all the benefits of his Love and Mercy which I have witnessed during these days. God never gets tires to look after His children! What a love He has for man! This is something that never ceases to amaze and to impress.
Why is it that He loves us so much? I don’t know. If I’m not wrong, I think that the true love has no motives; it just loves. And I can realize of it in two things: First in watching myself, or better, seeing our evangelized culture. How much we have received! How many values! In short: we have received a supernatural life, and this is the greatest we ever can expect. And this is a life which perfects and elevates totally the earthly life. Our culture although is rejecting its faith, is a culture that has been impregnated by the evangelical values; and this it too much! So, when you know this new reality, you become more aware of the great value of our Christian culture.
Secondly, I can see that God’s Love and Mercy are so big, because of the great need man has of mission. There is nothing else that could help them but the life of grace. When we experience the necessity of a Savior, of a Redeemer to mankind, then we can realize of the greatness of God’s Mercy and Love.
Here the Gospel has arrived just 60 years ago, and this is too evident! You can notice this in our parish at Vanimo. And in these places, such as the one now where I am; a priest only comes once in a while, and this is also evident in the peoples’ behaviors.
In the last two meetings of the clergy with the Bishop one of the greatest worries was the lack of priest. In the last meeting the Bishop said that there asking a priest in an area where everybody wants to be Catholic. They want to be assisted by a priest, but nobody can go there. It is a place that one should go and remain there living with the people, because it is really far away.
At the same time, the parishes that were already established have enormous areas to be looked after; consequently there are some places where the parish priest can only hardly arrive to celebrate once a year the mass. The need of priests is too big! That’s why we have got to remember and to put into practice the commandment of Christ: “Ask the Lord of the harvest, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Luke 10:2).
There should be more youths who will offer their lives for enterprises like this one. They who leave everything behind in order to continue the work that Christ has begun. I don’t mean that everybody should be priest, but that everybody who hears God’s call should answer Him generously. It cannot be that God forgets about these poor souls, or about those in Europe, China or Argentina. Surely God has for them a priest who will assist their souls, but first is necessary that that youth may say yes wholeheartedly. For this we must pray!
In Christ and Mary,
Fr. Martin Prado.