The people of St Joseph Parish Upper Mendi together with their parish priest, Father Alberto, invited Bishop Donald and Father Colman Studeny, OFM Cap. (parish priest emeritus) and many others to celebrate with them. After a traditional welcome to the main parish in Ekari, complete with people in traditional attire singing songs of welcome and children also singing a welcome song, we proceeded to Saint Joseph Primary School, Mogol, just a short distance from Ekari. The children, singing again, led us to the place where the school had constructed four staff houses. The Principal and many teachers were present for the occasion. We asked God's blessing on the teachers, administration, students and finally the new staff houses. There are almost 600 students in the the school.
The next stop was Saint Patrick outstation at Nene for the blessing and opening of the new church building. It was a very significant occasion, because a tribal fight around the year 2000 had scattered many of the people and left the station desolate. The new church building is the first permanent building on the station - a testament to the hope for enduring peace and well-being among the people who had worked hard to resolved the conflict. There were people dressed in traditional attire of the Highlands, but also a group of young people in the traditional attire of the coastal regions who provided even more color to the celebration. The Holy Mass was celebrated outside since people came by the hundreds from all over Upper Mendi, there would not have been enough space for all of them. What may have seemed a misfortune to many, was taken as a blessing by the throngs of people gathered for the festivities... The clouds had been gathering all morning and as it was time to bless the church and the bishop blessed the water and walked toward the new church building blessing first the people with holy water, the Good Lord decided to assist, and blessed the Assembly with a pouring rain that continued on and off during the rest of the Mass. The previous week there had been little rain in this part of the Southern Highlands, where people depend on their gardens for food. So here, rain is always seen as a blessing. Despite the rain, the people stayed for the entire Mass undaunted. (Incidently or Providentially, the first reading was from the Prophet Ezekiel and his vision of water pouring from the altar, running from all doors of the Temple giving life and health to all!) The joy of the people, especially those from Nene was contagious as they celebrated the opening of their new church.
The next day began with the blessing of a new grotto of the Blessed Virgin Mary which had been built as a sign of devotion of the people to the Mother of Jesus and our Mother. Even now, Mary helps to bring us to Jesus. After this blessing, the procession formed and led us into Saint Joseph Parish church for the celebration of Holy Mass. Over fifty (mainly) young people received the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of Confirmation during the Mass. The church, which is very large, was full of faithful families of the parish for the celebration. The people participated with reverence and devotion. After the Mass, families from the entire parish came forward to make a special Thanksgiving offering as part of their continuing efforts toward greater self-reliance. The funds will be used for the needs of the parish in the coming year.
Father Alberto Dawas is the parish priest of St Joseph Parish, Ekari. He is a diocesan priest from the Diocese of Mbulu in Tanzania. He has been serving in the Diocese of Mendi for over three years now.
The special guest of all of these celebrations was Father Colman Studeny, OFM Cap. Fr Colman had served as parish priest of St Joseph Parish for forty-seven years.... yes, that's forty-seven years! Fr Colman knows everyone and everyone knows Fr Colman. Countless people crowded around him to shake his hand and hear his kind voice again. He encouraged the people to be strong in their faith and told them that Upper Mendi was his home. It is clear that his heart with the people whom he served for almost a half century... and the tears in the eyes of men, women and children as he said good bye is eloquent testimony of their love for him. (Fr Colman now serves on the formation team at Padre Pio Capuchin Friary in Madang.)
The weekend of celebrations did much to strengthen the faith of the people of Upper Mendi and fill everyone with profound joy.