We had a lovely time spending the holiday weekend visiting the Diocese of Mendi. It’s about 70 miles away from Mt. Hagen, in Southern Highlands Province. We enjoyed the hospitality of the Capuchin Franciscans very much, staying in their guest house and eating meals with the friars.
We arrived on Friday and had a nice tour of the compound given by a seminarian, Thomas, who just graduated from the BA program. We saw the cathedral, the catechist training centre, the community heath workers’ school, and Bishop Don‘s house. Thomas also told us about the Jubilee the Diocese had just celebrated for their 50th anniversary.
Saturday morning Brandon walked around Mendi town with a local catechist, Roland, who showed him the sights, such as the two multi-story buildings and the market, where the sight of Brandon and Tabitha buying corn to make corn pudding almost incited a riot.
Saturday evening was the Christmas Eve mass at the Cathedral. Anastasia had been feeling a bit sickly, so despite having practiced a procession with the local children and procured the materials for candleholders, she slept through the mass! Brandon and Tabitha attended as our family delegates.
Christmas morning, Sunday, we went with the Bishop to the opening of a new outstation.
We learned that there would also be about 20 confirmations that day as well.
As they marched, they chanted “Merry Christmas Bishop, Welcome Bishop, Merry Christmas Bishop, Welcome Bishop…”
Mass was outdoors, because the crowd gathered would not have fit in the new church.
One of the reasons we came with the Bishop to this mass was that it is the home place of one of our seminarians, who just started the BA program in the new cohort. Steven is carrying the bucket of holy water, at left, below.
The Bishop’s message in the homily was: if you ask “God i stap we?” the answer is, “God i stap wantaim yumi.”
After Mass we were served a nice lunch of rice, chicken, and vegetables in the catechist’s house.
The big meal of the day was the Diocesan Christmas Party that night, of which we took no pictures but had a great time. It was a potluck, so Brandon made a giant batch of corn pudding, a link to his family’s traditions. Br. Ray, one of our Capuchin hosts, made scalloped potatoes, and the Missionaries of Charity brought naan and curry, among many others. As we ate, Fr. Isaiah told me about his world tour this past summer, with all the places in the US he stopped – including PA, MD, DC, and CO! After the food, there was singing of carols in different Tok Ples – Bishop Don sang in Spanish, we did Go Tell it on the Mountain, Fr. Isaiah sang in Huli… the Swiss sisters, whom have been here since the 60s, started a German carol but forgot the words halfway through, to much laughter. There were Polish carols and a Swahili carol and carols from Chimbu. And Santa Claus, whose pillow belly had a habit of escaping and whose mustache had migrated up on top of his nose, made a hilarious appearance.
We ourselves opened a few presents in front of the Capuchins’ Christmas tree earlier that day.
On Monday, we climbed up a local mountain, as we are wont to do. There are some very striking limestone cliffs by Mendi town, and we scaled one, Mt. Kebin, with Steven, the seminarian, his brother Tombo, Roland the catechist, and 22 village children. It was a very steep and muddy ascent, at times like rock climbing but with more mud, but we made it! … without our camera, sadly. The way down was through the rainforest, which was less steep but even more muddy. We even ate well on the mountain – the village children picked us a pint of “bush tomatoes,” which seem to be ground cherries, the sweet-tart variety of tomatillo, and Steven’s sister Alice served us “the best kaukau” Brandon had ever eaten in PNG in her cookhouse at the foot of the mountain. (This kaukau was orange and soft, like American sweet potato.)
Monday night we opened more presents with the friars.
We really appreciated having a relaxing holiday with nothing to do but spend time with our family and the other missionaries. Br. Ray and Fr. Coleman have both been in PNG since the 60s and it was great to hear some of their stories (like how Fr. Coleman won the ping-pong trophy against some Australian soldiers before independence) as well as from the Sisters from Switzerland, who had us over for Christmas cookies and played balloons with the girls.
We drove back on Tuesday, stopping at the Archdiocese of Mt. Hagen Christmas party on the way to enjoy some mint chocolate chip ice cream and hear the annual summary of movements and events read out by the Archbishop.
This year we have decided to keep the 12 days of Christmas and are opening one present per person each day. So we set up a little tabletop tree at home for our presents to go “under.”
We are having ourselves a Merry Christmas and we hope you are too, as you reflect on the tidings of great joy which are for ALL people.