Dear friends and family,
At least I can finish telling you about Easter before Advent begins!
About 50 minutes away from us down the Highlands Highway towards Mt. Hagen is a road junction. If you turn right, there is a shortcut road to our side of the valley which was washed away by flooding six months ago and never fixed! If you turn left, the road soon runs out of pavement, but continues down a long, narrow river valley to the feet of high mountains. At the foot of these mountains, accessible by a muddy four-wheel drive road, is a large shrine to Divine Mercy, which is probably the second largest church I’ve seen in PNG (the cathedral at Madang being the first). Divine Mercy is a devotion to Jesus as the primary fount of God’s mercy which was started in Poland in the early 1900’s by the Polish nun and mystic St. Maria Faustina. Pope John Paul II canonized St. Faustina and declared the Sunday after Easter to be Divine Mercy Sunday. Both this year and last, Annie and I have spend Divine Mercy Sunday making a pilgrimage on foot down this long but beautiful road with a few hundred of our fellow Catholics.
We woke up early and drove to the Shrine. The parish priest, Fr. Bogdan, then kindly drove us back to the start of the road to join the procession, which was being lead by Fr. Joseph, another Polish missionary priest. Fr. Joseph had lead his parishioners by foot from his neighboring parish of Kindeng.
The picture is the Divine Mercy Image – a stylized depiction of the blood and water flowing from Jesus’ side, which represent the divine mercy manifested and poured forth on humanity from the Cross
The procession went at a good clip. I had trouble getting any good pictures! I stopped once to put Annie on a carrier and ended up at the very end of the line. Here are two pictures from last year, so that you can get a feeling of the valley and the procession.
We passed through the town of Kartanim (car turn ’em), which used to mark the end of the road and the place where the cars turned around.
The Shrine also had its own decorative entrance. Behind which, young women in traditional bilas welcomed us.
After a brief prayer inside the Shrine, we assembled outside for an open-air mass. The Shrine itself remains under construction and the organizers expected the crowd to be larger than its capacity. Annie and I sat under a tarp with the ‘chorus’. We welcomed another group of pilgrims, lead by my former Rector Fr. Clement, who had walked a different route along the foothills to get there.
Soon the mass began with a procession. The mass was celebrated by Archbishop Douglas Young, my employer.
It was a nice mass. Afterwards, Annie and I explored the Shrine further.
We had a nice lunch afterwards with the Bishop, priests, and sisters. I got to catch up with a Polish sister Davida, who used to be stationed in Moldova and with whom I discuss Moldovan politics (they are having a Russian-backed secession problem). All in all, it was a great ending to my 2015 Easter festivities.
Why is there a giant Divine Mercy Shrine at the foot of these mountains? Well, the local people tend to pick up the devotional practices of the missionaries, for example, I’ve found many St. Therese of the Little Flower statues in PNG. The Kartanim area has been well served by missionary priests from Poland (the Michaelites). A young man from these mountains went to seminary, but decided to became a businessman instead of a priest. He’s been successful and so has decided to give back to the Catholic Church by building a Shrine, which he naturally placed in his home village.
The Shrine will officially open at the beginning of the Year of Divine Mercy this November. Giant festivities are planned. The bishop and Fr. Bogdan have been trying to convince the people to set up some infrastructure so that the Shrine can be an national if not international pilgrimage site. Right now, it’s just a few grass huts and a pit latrine, which would probably be insufficient for all but the most diehard international pilgrim.