By David Kilby | Correspondent
With so much talk about the New Evangelization, it’s easy to forget that there are still areas of the world that are yet to be initially evangelized. The outlying islands of Papua New Guinea are prime examples.
Father Peter James R. Alindogan, pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Parish, Cinnaminson and diocesan director of the Pontifical Mission Societies, made a recent visit to Papua New Guinea, where he brought the prayers and good wishes of the Diocese of Trenton and also experienced the faith and culture of the people there. After Papua New Guinea he traveled to his native Philippines to visit areas devastated by typhoon Haiyan.
In Papua New Guinea, his mission sent him to two remote islands in the Diocese of Alotau-Sideia: the 66-square-mile island of Sideia and the 180-square-mile island of Kiriwina a few hundred miles north of Sideia.
After three days of travel to the Oceanic country, he traversed to Sideia by dinghy – an hour ride from the mainland. He stayed there for three days and two nights, then flew to Kiriwina, where he stayed for the same amount of time.
Father Alindogan succeeds the late Msgr. Richard L. Tofani as diocesan director of the Pontifical Mission Societies. He said Papua New Guniea is “one of the places we need to evangelize more.”
The purpose of Father Alindogan’s mission was to visit the islands so the society can assess the needs of the inhabitants and help decide what the Pontifical Mission Societies could do to help them.
He noticed that, aside from basic financial needs, the islands “just... need to be evangelized, letting people know about the good Lord.”
“Papua New Guinea is in the middle of nowhere,” he added. “We know about Australia and New Zealand, but not Papua New Guinea.”
He mentioned one of the things he noticed after visiting the country is ‘how we are blessed in many ways in developed countries.... The way they live is so different from what we have here.”
Despite the many differences between developed and undeveloped countries, Father Alindogan maintained that “One thing that unites us all is that we all believe in one God. I wore a Cross around my neck so everyone knew the good Lord unites us all.”
He spoke of how the natives gave him a “bagi,” or a kind of necklace, and told him ‘When we give you this it means you belong to us.’
“I told them we belong to each other. That’s what it means to be part of a mission. Every rich person can receive, every poor person can also give,” he said.
Because of the many islands in Papua New Guinea, the inhabitants of Sideia and Kiriwina don’t know when the next boat from the mainland is coming with supplies and resources, so they learn to live very frugally.
“They sleep on the floor.... They don’t have electricity,” Father Alindogan shared. Even the professionals walk barefoot by choice, he said. “They live in the present moment.”
He continued, “The basic virtue I observed was patience. They are patient with what the Lord has given them.”
The Diocese of Alotau-Sideia has a total population of about 257,000, 17 percent of which are Catholic, and has about 20 priests, five of whom are locals. The Catholic population on the outlying islands of Sideia and Kiriwina, however, is much less.
The cathedral parish in Alotau is four hours by boat from Sideia. The island does have mission villages, each with a church, but these churches are made of simple jungle huts, Father Alindogan explained.
Evangelization in the Diocese of Alotau-Sideia is a multicultural effort, as Bishop Rolando Santos, C.M., is Filipino, while the main evangelizers are Australian and English is the national language.
Father Alindogan also shared that AIDs is prevalent on Kiriwina, and unfortunately the people are not aware of its devastation.
“They don’t have marriages. They just live together,” he said, adding that many children are born out of wedlock. “Part of evangelization is letting them know what needs to be done (in terms of Church teaching).”
Because they’re so isolated they believe in witchcraft, he also explained. “If something happens to them it’s not (necessarily) because of a physical ailment, but (may also be) because someone put a spell on them. Evangelizing means informing them.”