Last Sunday, August 4th, was quite the adventure for everyone at St. Fidelis!
The village of Halopa, south of the seminary and up in the nearby mountains, joins with the seminary each year to honor the memory of St. Jean Vianney – the patron saint of priests. The village plays an important role in the life of the Archdiocese of Madang because it has the most active group of villagers who work and pray for priestly vocations.
Like the Serra Club in the US, the Immaculate Conception Parish in Halopa has a hard working group called “The Benefactors”. They meet year-round to pray for vocations and raise funds to support the seminary.
Usually on Vianney Day, villagers will come to the seminary for Mass, a celebratory meal, and some “dramas” (i.e. skits) that portray vocations and the life of St. Jean Vianney in a good light.
This year, however, it was decided that the seminarians would hike to the village along a country road, a distance of about 7 miles each direction.
We set off at 6am Sunday morning to be sure we would reach the village in time for a 9am Mass. For the students from the Highlands areas of PNG, this was no problem. Flatlanders, like me, and people from the coastal areas of PNG are not as accustomed to this type of strenuous hike, one that gains several thousand feet in elevation.
We all made it, although a few like me, hitched a ride about halfway up. I won’t lie, it was a blessing to ride the last thousand feet of elevation!
The village received us as honored guests, adorning us with flowers and greeting us in the traditional manner of their people – with a “singsing” procession of singers in traditional garb.
Mass was held in an outdoor shelter they constructed for the day, overlooking the sea coast below. The seminarians provided the music for the Mass and led the entrance, Book of the Gospel, and Offertory Processions, also dressed in a semblance of their traditional garb.
The weather was perfect, the people could not have been more welcoming, and we all joined together for a feast of pork, smoked fish, local sausages, and loads of fruits and vegetables.
The hardest part of the day actually came at the end. Hiking down the mountain to the coast and the seminary came during the hottest part of the day and there was little water to be found during the 3 hour descent.
Luckily, just in the nick of time, we passed the diocesan vocational school at Danip where we were able to fill our water bottles and down at least a liter of water each before hiking the last 2 miles to the school.
It was a great experience, a bonding time for both the students and the staff and a fine opportunity to experience village life.
The pictures attached to this post give a hint of the day. I have some video that I will post when I next have access to reliable and high speed internet.