Interview with Sr Benedict Ephraim, Caritas Sister of Jesus (PNG)
Kimbe, Papua New Guinea, 24 May 2019 -- Sr Benedict (29 years) was born into a family of six siblings in Alotau diocese, Rossel Island (Milne Bay). Now she is the first among the local PNG Caritas Sister of Jesus, currently a temporary professed member working in the newly opened Caritas Secondary Technical Girls school in Kimbe, 1500 km from her birthplace.
How did you first meet the Caritas sisters?
It was through our Alotau Bishop Francesco Panfilo. He wanted to make young people interested in Catholic activities, especially out of school youth. After grade 10 (not selected) I stayed back in our village with my father, a carpenter, who was working on the other side of Rossel Island for the diocese. When the bishop asked my father one day after work was finished: What do you want me to do for you? - my father’s response was clear: ‘I don’t ask any payment, but my daughter stays idle at home, I want to make her study.’
I was a very active member of our youth group, and the coordinator was asked to bring some active youth to Caritas (School). I wanted to become a religious, but I didn’t know where to go. 10 girls were selected from Milne Bay and the bishop got the list, but in the end, only three went to the Alotau bishop’s house. I only had the air ticket and pocket money, but no funds for the Caritas school fees. When I revealed my difficulty to Bishop Panfilo, SDB, in tears, I was touched by his compassion: ‘My dear, don’t cry, just relax, here is my note, be strong and give this note to Sr Sarah, administrator of the Caritas school.
How was your first encounter with Don Bosco and his Salesian Family?
I didn’t know anything about Salesians or Don Bosco and his story. After I came to Caritas in Port Moresby, I handed the Bishop’s letter to the Sisters and experienced my first few weeks stay. There was sharing, good nights and Mary Help of Christians. I was asking who was Don Bosco for me? On the Caritas foundation day, Sr Sarah showed me the story of the Caritas Congregation and their landing in PNG.
I really loved the virtue of Don Bosco, doing ordinary little things in an extraordinary way. I was interested, and we went daily to the Mary Help of Christians Shrine to pray and attend Mass. Here in Caritas I could see how much the Sisters do for us with their attitude ‘others first and only then me’. I learnt the Salesian spirit from the Sisters, how to be always cheerful, how to give this feeling to others, how to be flexible and do things with my whole heart, not to be lazy or tired, but always show the gift of God. I was happy to be part of the Salesian Family and be a Caritas Sister, forever!
How has your vocation journey been until now?
I was inspired, and after Grade 12 when asked ‘Would you like to become a Sister?’ I was first in denial, although I wanted to be a Caritas sister, but then I said: ‘I want to be a Salesian forever, since they are full of the spirit of joy; they always find joy as Salesian, Caritas Sisters. Really, I love Don Bosco and his spirit, and to be always young. Our Caritas sisters are very active, creative, dynamic – with same spirit of Don Bosco. This is the way I want to be!’
What makes you happy as a Caritas Sister?
…It was my joy to be doing things with a spirit of prayer and gladness like Don Bosco. And I was very eager in my formation years in the Philippines, to learn our spirit. When I read the Salesian Bulletin (magazine), whatever we do it’s the same as the Salesians! I’m really happy because of the Salesian spirit.
And after your first religious profession?
After two year novitiate in the Philippines, I made my first profession on 13 August 2017. I prayed to God to be in the area with many young people. I wanted to share with the young what I experienced myself. I was so excited to be here in Kimbe. It is a tough life, but through the spirit of Don Bosco and through prayer nothing is impossible. At the end of the day I realize that God is using me. We learn from Don Bosco, from our Caritas founders, they always depended on God’s providence. With Mary Help of Christians we can do all things!
What is your mission in Kimbe Caritas Girls Secondary School?
I have been living in Kimbe since 21 February 2018, and this school year I’m entrusted with our candidates group (search – live in) and the assistance of our boarding (50+) girls…It is not easy to look after girls when they become naughty. But by never shouting, even if they do not do the right thing, I speak to the naughty ones one by one and they are changing. Really their character changes when they realize the love of others! I need to change myself, while working with the young!
I would like to work for vocations! How? We go for vocation promotion in the parishes with 10 sacks of rice, we invite our girls to show their talents, we invite them to be well-educated. We also have a monthly vocation meeting on the second week with 20 girls. Last May some 43 of them attended. We have singing practice, we give them recollection, Scripture to read and play ball games with them.
Do you have any challenges?
The novitiate was not easy for me, adapting to the different culture in Manila, to the culture and eating. We don’t say sorry so easily in PNG, so humbling myself is not easy. It’s my challenge not to be proud. But I never lost hope. I could see the future as the first PNG Caritas Sister, what God will do for others! And I didn’t like the Don Bosco spirit to be lost to the next generation. It was my inspiration, to be always joyful and to know Gospel joy.
Yes, the assistance of the girls is a challenge for me, too… I also ponder some difficult questions: When our girls are becoming very naughty, what can I do with them? Just send them out? I feel very sorry. Will they still come back, what can I do for them? What is the secret of changing a naughty girl or bringing her back?
And how is your formation as a junior sister?
My study is not just for me, but my study is for everyone, I’m happy to grab this opportunity for the sake of others. Last year I studied more mathematics, since I was weak in this area. This year I will learn more English. Why? - When I like to express myself, I need to be more open to other cultures, to the feelings of others. Hence I need to learn English more. My heart is not always open, and I need to have time for others. And also my provincial brought me some new books from Seoul, so I always have enough to read!
What are your dreams for Kimbe and the Salesian Family in PNG?
Yes, I have three dreams: The first one is to have Salesians here in Kimbe! We wish and pray for this! We wish that there will one day be a Salesian bishop in Kimbe diocese, too.
The second dream is that more PNG sisters will join our Congregation and I pray that the spirit of Don Bosco will be present (=honesty) in our girls. I dream of more vocations and more communities to spread the virus of joy around PNG. It’s my dream!
Last but not the least, we dream about having a Don Bosco statue here in Kimbe, can you help us?