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By Fr Ambrose Pereira, SDB

Goroka, PNG, 20 January 2024 -- The 56th Melanesian Cultural Orientation Course (COC) for missionaries was held at the Melanesian Institute, Goroka from the 8 to 20 January 2024. Among the 26 participants were three from Papua New Guinea and one from the Solomon Islands, six were from the Christian churches (Summer Institute of Linguistics - SIL International) while the rest professed the Catholic Faith. The course dwelt on culture related topics to assist Missionary work on PNG and Solomon Islands, with the theme: ‘Land of the Unexpected, cultures to be respected and faith to be uplifted’.

The Salesian Family led by Fr Gregorio Bicomong SDB, Provincial superior, had the largest presence with 11 participants (Salesians – 7; FMA – 2 and MHMSC – 2).

The different sessions were thematically arranged into three clusters. Mission and contextualization that dwelt on the missionary work from its distant past, the impact of the colonial contact up to the challenges of Christianity today. The focus of the course is to help missionaries understand and help the people. The first cluster of presentations dealt with Mission, manpower, multiculturalization, mercy and money.

The second cluster dealt with Social Institutions and integration. It helped the participants understand the social web of relations and the social institutions, systems, struggles and difficulties that are present in Melanesia.

The final cluster dealt with social mobility and sustainability. It touched upon education, employment, development, the forces of the global market and the opportunity for the grassroots to build on genuine sustainability.

The day's program was filled with presentations, discussions, and films on the different topics. The presenters, experts in their fields, were from different corners of Papua New Guinea and shared examples as they explained the different topics. A cultural visit to the Assaro community gave the participants an opportunity to engage with the Mud Men and learn from the people, eager to share a brief insight into their culture.

An atmosphere of learning, reflection and openness prevailed as participants engaged in sharing and discussion. “I realized that I am living in a country that is extremely complex with a mystical culture. Yet it is a country that is hungry for a good educational system and thirsty for the values of the Gospel”, said Sr Yen Hoai FMA, Vietnam. “I realize that God is calling me to understand, accept, adapt, integrate, and journey with the local people patiently and courageously. It's a big challenge but also an opportunity to collaborate as a good missionary ad gentes”, she continued.

The participants were able to share their own experience, clarify doubts, and were given pointers to deal with the situations they encountered. They were filled with diligence, energy, enthusiastic and involved in every aspect of the course. “The course has given me the opportunity to reflect on experiences in Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. It has made me realize that we are to sow the seeds of the Gospel and in God’s own time it will bear fruit”, said Fr Ambrose Pereira sdb, who has spent 15 years in Solomon Islands and 8 years in Papua New Guinea.

A commissioning was held on 19 January and each participant was invited to put into practice what they have learnt and live their Christian faith amidst the Melanesian culture. The grand finale was an enjoyable cultural evening of music, song, and dance where every participant shared something about their own culture.



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