Personal sharing of Fr Ambrose Pereira sdb, Vice Province of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands
Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, 31 July 2020 --
Isolated and cut off as they are from development, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea are islands lost in time. They lack the basics of water, shelter and clothing. Health and education are limited and as the fourth world they lack the connectivity so much needed in our ‘Digital Age’.
Solomon Islands, ‘Pearl of the Pacific’ has nature at its best in its 992 mountainous islands and coral atolls with a variety of flora and fauna, exquisite and abundant fruits, vegetables, crystal clear water, unique sea creatures. Time stands still as one encounters groups of people, young and old, under the shade of the huge trees, sheltering themselves from the equatorial heat. Regular rainfall over several months of the year, brings a gentle, cool and refreshing breeze.
‘Land of the Unexpected’ is Papua New Guinea, a country inhabited by over 8 million people, 800 tribes and an equal number of languages. A country rich in natural resources, culture and tradition that are passed on orally from one generation to the next. Sadly, the country rates extremely high in violence and in the abuse of the weaker sex.
However, despite its isolation and lack of connectivity, Hollywood and Bollywood action movies are regular forms of entertainment in remote villages of the isolated islands. Gradually these movies are shaping young minds and changing ingrained attitudes, encouraging an abusive lifestyle and encouraging a violent and dominant behaviour.
A mission to our people
Spending nearly two decades of enjoyable mission work, enriching moments of interaction with simple people and adventurous years in the ‘Hapi Isles’ and in the ‘Land of the Unexpected’, indeed a small-time frame for a missionary in the South Pacific, I look back and reflect. Several of the dedicated and brave Marist, SVD and MSC priests, brothers and sisters, have celebrated their ‘Golden Jubilees’ in Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. They have planted the church with great love and sacrifice, blood and tears in these damp and moist islands that are insect prone. Malaria, caused by widely prevalent mosquitoes carrying Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium vivax, weakens the individual necessitating rest.
Over the years, I have learnt to appreciate the people. Their knowledge of mother nature and their ability to manage with the minimum is deeply ingrained in them. “You have a high IQ and are able to perceive, read and understand situations and people. Once you build on your ‘rhythm of life’, you will do excellently anywhere in the world”, was my constant refrain to the students during the Good Morning and night talks.
Missionary activity is something that breaks through our customary models and ways of thinking. (Maximum Illud). It means that as I strive to bring about an authentic missionary encounter with this unique culture, I must strive to divest myself of my own culture. This is no easy task, as I constantly want to return to my food habits, the way I dress and my learned ways of doing things. “Take off your sandals” (Ex 3:5) is a reminder that only then can I be a source of life-giving power of God over the power of death.
My mission was Social Communications and Youth Ministry for the Catholic Church in the Solomon Islands. With an experience of youth ministry in Mumbai, I realized that young people have a lot to do with the media. We need to harness the talent, zeal and energy of our young people and get them involved in the positive aspects of the media. This is not only to their advantage but to the benefit of all in the community.
Part 2 to follow shortly.