Dear brothers and sisters,
Peace and goodness!
I have been your bishop for almost one year now. During this time, I have visited many parishes and pastoral areas in the diocese to celebrate the Sacrament of Confirmation and to bless churches, schools and health centres. Much of this is very new to me and I know that I have much to learn if I want to a good bishop. I am very happy and grateful to many people who have helped me during this past year. I realize that I still have much to learn, and together, we have much more to do, so that the Kingdom of God can grow here in the Southern Highlands and Hela Provinces in Papua New Guinea.
I need your help!
In this third Pastoral Letter, I feel that I should share with you a major challenge that we are facing in the diocese. I have already spoken about this with the priests and Consecrated Religious Brothers and Sisters as well as the members of the various departments of the diocese. However, it is good that you too hear about this directly from me. When I became to Mendi and became your bishop, I was soon told that the diocese had some challenges regarding finances. It seems that for many years, the diocese has been spending much more money that it has been bringing in. It's true that all these funds have been used for the mission of the diocese: purchasing and maintaining vehicles so that priests and Sisters can do their pastoral work; purchasing and maintaining some elecctric power generators; salaries of those who serve in the diocese, and many other things. Where does all this money come from? The main source of these funds are good people from other countries. However, because today because of financial problems in the entire world, the money that we received in the past cannot cover the expense that we have today. Therefore, today, the diocese does not have sufficient funds to provide for all of our needs as it did before. Now, we cannot depend on all of these good people from other countries to provide for our needs. We must find the way to become responsible for providing for all of the needs of the diocese.
In the face of this situation, I am thinking of something that can help us in these difficult times. This is the idea of self-reliance. What does self-reliance mean for all of the faithful of the Diocese of Mendi? Self-reliance means that we must find a way so that we ourselves can provide for the needs of our work and ministry and not be so dependent on people of other countries.
Let's consider one example that we are very familiar with.
When a mother gives birth to a baby, this baby depends totally on the mother for all of his needs. The mother must give him food, protect him, teach him many things and show him much love. If the parents of a newborn baby do not take care of the baby, this baby will die. It cannot look after its own needs. The baby depends totally on the care of its mother. This is obvious to all of us. Now, when the baby grows and gets older, the he begins to stand on his own two feet. Soon, he will take care of his own needs and will no longer depend on the mother. When he becomes and adult, he will work with his own hands and look after his own needs. We can say, that starting from the time we are infants until the time we are adults, we grow to be more self-reliant. We come to stand on our own two feet, and no longer depend on others to meet our needs.
Sixty years ago, the first missionaries came to the Southern Highlands. With the help of the Holy Spirit they brought the Faith and the Church was born. At this time, the Church was like a newborn baby. The missionaries came to look after the Church, just as a mother looks after her newborn baby. They came from countries where the Catholic faith had been established for many years, such as America, Australia and several countries of Europe. The young Church in Papua New Guinea depended totally on the missionaries and other good people of other countries as children are dependent on their parents.
Perhaps you will be upset with me when I say that our Church here in the Southern Highlands and Hela are sixty years old, but we are still dependent on faithful people of other countries. Almost all of the funds that we use to take care of the needs of the diocese comes from the work and support of people from other countries!
The Church in PNG is now on the way of changing our thinking and action. Before, we were a 'mission' church, now we must change and become a true local church. Before, we were dependent on others, now we must stand on our own two feet and learn to be self-reliant. Other dioceses in PNG have taken this challenge and have made some progress to become self-reliant in this way. We too, in the Diocese of Mendi, must do the same. The Church in the Southern Highlands and Hela Provinces is no longer a little baby. We must try to stand on own own two feet and look after our own needs. Now is the time to move beyond our dependence on foreign missionaries and people of other countries; it's time to work hard and move toward self-reliance so that we can look after our own needs.
How can we do this? First, we have to change our former ways of thinking and acting. Before, many people would say: "The diocese has a lot of money," "the bishop can pay for all of needs." I have to respond very clearly: this kind of thinking is no longer true! The dicoese does not have a lot of money, and the bishop can no longer pay for all of the needs of the parishes. We must change our thinking and recognize what it truly means to be Church. What is the Church? We are the church! We ourselves are church! We are church in Koroba, Pomberel, Kuare, Tari, Ialibu, Tente and in every other corner of our diocese. Together we proclaim that the Church is one, the Church is holy, the Church is catholic and the Church is apostolic. Each of our Christian communities of our parishes or pastoral areas must become one family which provides for and supports all of its own needs.
How can we do this? I would like to ask all leaders of each parish or pastoral area to produce a plan to help the parish or pastoral area become self-reliant, so as not to be dependent on the diocese. We can call this the "Parish (or Pastoral Area) Self-Reliance Plan". I will give an example: Now the diocese provides all parises and pastoral areas with a vehicle together with the fuel and maintenance expenses - so that the priests and Sisters can do their pastoral work. The diocese spends hundreds of thousands of kina each year on this one expense. I would like to ask each parish or pastoral area to find a way and decide how to provide for this need so that the priest and Sisters can do their pastoral work in the parish or pastoral area. The idea behind this is not so much to help the diocese, but rather to look after the needs of each parish and pastoral area so that it may become a true Christian community which is able to stand on its own two feet. I would like to ask that you would send your "Parish Self-Reliance Plan" to me by 1 June 2013.
I will be happy to come to each of the deaneries or to each parish or pastoral area to speak with you and all leaders about this Self-Reliance Plan. I would like to ask all priests to begin the process of developing the Self-Reliance Plan and bring it up in all parish meetings. I realize that some parish and pastoral areas can do more to fulfill their Self-Reliance Plan and some can do less. However, ALL of us can do something to develop a Self-Reliance Plan. Now is the time to do it!
I truly believe that if we work together, we can face the challenges presented to our diocese. In this first year of being your bishop, I have learned something very important: the faithful people of the Diocese of Mendi in the Southern Highlands and Hela Provinces have a big heart and are very generous in sharing with one another. You love our Church. Therefore I believe, that all the faithful people of the Diocese of Mendi will work hard to become more and more self-reliant, even moreso that they know about this real need of the diocese. Together we can proclaim: "We are church!" In doing all of this, we are honoring all of those faithful people who have worked to build the Church before us, and will be inspired to follow their example and do what is now ours to do to build the Church of today and tomorrow.
May Mary, Mother of the Good Shepherd pray for us and stay with us everyday.
Thank you for being of "One heart and one mind with the Church."
May God bless you all.
(This letter was published on 25 January 2013. It was originally published in Melanesian Pidgin.)