By happenstance, I had lunch with Fr. Joseph, a priest of the Archdiocese of Madang. It was a chance encounter, but I’m glad I had this opportunity.
When Fr. Joseph learned that I was new to PNG, he made the effort to tell me what it’s like being a priest with responsibilities for far-flung mission stations.
In particular, he told me about a group of parishes and mission stations that he’s only able to visit once every 3 months. It requires taking a boat down the coast, being let off on the shoreline, and walking 8-9 hours to the farthest station, and then taking several days to work his way back. He visits the faithful at the various stations, bringing them the Sacraments and performing numerous baptisms and weddings along the way.
It’s starting to dawn on me that almost every priest here has similar responsibilities and similar stories to tell. Long treks into the backcountry, many different cultures and tribal situations to negotiate, being the true faces of the modern missionary priest.
As I ponder the rather cushy nature of my previous parish experiences, I wonder if I’m brave enough to go and visit some of these mission stations. I wonder if I’ll have that opportunity sometime while I’m here….
(PS: I borrowed the photo attached from this post from the Capuchin website. It’s Bishop Don Lippert, OFM Cap. of the Diocese of Mendi, but it should give you a bit of a hint of what priests like he and Fr. Joseph are tasked with.)