Buka, 30 October. Our 2016 Fatima outreach to Papua New Guinea took place in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville. The program came at a critical time because Bougainville is emerging from a dark night. A protracted war with Papua New Guinea (PNG), noted for its atrocities and massacres, ended in a humiliating defeat for the PNG army despite being supplied with heavy weapons and helicopters by Australia. During the war, schools, churches, health clinics, shops and homes were systematically destroyed. Tens of thousands were displaced. Further mayhem followed the withdrawal of PNG forces, as the Bougainville Revolutionary Army battled the so-called Resistance, and clan fought clan, and neighbour fought neighbour. Although peace has finally come, the population is traumatised; roads, bridges and other infrastructure are in ruins; and a generation of young people is left unschooled.
Yet, the spirit of Bougainville was not broken, and reconciliation and rebuilding has begun. The visit of Our Lady of Fatima reassured Bougainville that God has not forgotten His people. His mother moved amongst them with her message of hope. She lifted up the hearts of tens of thousands who came to venerate her. She showered graces and blessings everywhere she went. The whole population mobilised to receive and honour their Queen.
Roads were repaired, villages tidied and decorated, and parish communities prepared their ceremonies of welcome. Above all, there was much praying and fasting. And the fruits of the visit will live on: people returned to church, many went to Confession after years of absence, couples living together were married, clans reunited, and old hatreds set aside.
Bishop Bernard Unibali is planning a permanent Fatima shrine in thanksgiving and in memory of the visit of Her Highness, who so loves Bougainville.