“But the Church has been there ever since the first missionaries from the Society of the Divine Word started to evangelize the people in the early 1930s and 1940s,” Fr. Sieland said.
“When you see the simple and yet deep faith of the people, and compare it to your own belief which is adorned with certificates, diplomas and degrees, then you begin to appreciate the simple faith of the ‘little ones’ all the more.”
In recent decades, permanent churches have been built. The Catholic Church in Papua New Guinea is transitioning from a missionary phase, though some changes have come too soon.
“Traditional and western modern values are clashing right now and the younger generation seem a bit lost or confused,” Fr. Sieland said. “Good traditional values that are similar to certain Gospel values are slowly disappearing. In 20 years’ time they will be gone for good.”
The numbers of foreign missionaries, especially from Europe, have dropped considerably. Even with the help of missionaries from Australia, Poland, India, and Indonesia, local clergy still cannot staff all the areas their predecessors vacated.
“Most of the Catholic parishes cover huge areas,” the priest reported. “Even in the remotest of areas, you will find a small Catholic Church building and maybe even an elementary or primary school and an aid post.”
The priest said that the government should be providing basic services, but the churches have had to fill the gap.
Despite efforts to promote Catholic values at parish schools, the country still faces many challenges posed by western lifestyle, mobile phone technology and internet access.
“One of the greatest challenges is the loss of Gospel values such as honesty, transparency, respect, love, commitment and dedication in family, in marriage, in the parish, at school, outside of school,” Fr. Sieland said.
Many teachers lack a stable marriage life and face problems with debt or alcohol. Some mismanage the schools’ money. Many students, for their part, disrespect teachers and some use alcohol or marijuana, often affecting their performance at school.
There are also major problems deeply rooted in Melanesian culture. Polygamous relationships have proved very hard to eradicate. There is also a clash between Christianity and traditional beliefs about sorcery.
(Story continues below)
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“If people get sick and die, especially if they are a young, energetic and educated persons, people speak of ‘sanguma’ or sorcery,” the priest said. “We still have a lot of sorcery related violence and killings in Papua New Guinea, especially in our own province.”
“The local church tries everything to challenge this kind of belief, educate the people and eradicate belief in sorcery, but it won’t happen just from one day to the next. It takes time.”
This article was originally published on CNA Aug. 9, 2016.