The first highly successful Fatima pilgrimage by Australia Needs Fatima in PNG took place in October 2010. We were invited by Manus Island Fatima Family Apostolate (MIFFA) to bring our Pilgrim Virgin of Fatima statue to the country’s most northerly island of Manus.
Under the able leadership of Otto and Lucy Rheeney, MIFFA has a thriving Fatima apostolate and the fruits of their work were evident in the huge turnouts that greeted the public presentations of ‘Mama Maria Fatima’ in Manus. The reception was wonderful, with dozens of parishes visited, as well as many schools, hospitals, a prison and the Mamote Naval Base. This apostolate is now being carried on by Lucy after the sad death of her much-loved husband.
Following on the heels of that walkabout, MIFFA invited Australia Needs Fatima to Manus in June 2011, this time to bring Our Lady’s beautiful statue to Patu Island, one of Manus’s outliers which had not yet been visited.
Even though relatively undeveloped in terms of communications, news travels fast in PNG. Within a short time of the original Manus walkabout our Sydney office was receiving applications for Fatima programmes from all over PNG. Of course, we were delighted to attend to these requests, provided the programmes were approved by the local bishop. Our only problem was how to respond to so many invitations?
As Papua New Guinea emerges into the modern world and takes its proud place amongst the nations it is regrettably experiencing problems typical of advanced industrial societies. Urbanisation is breaking up old communities, destroying traditions, and encouraging anonymity and immorality. Traditional society still holds strong in the countryside where tribal law and ancient customs give people a strong sense of identity. Squabbles over land and fishing rights are prevented or resolved through an elaborate system of tribal courts and hereditary judges. But in the growing cities – notably Port Moresby – a constant stream of immigrants from rural areas has resulted in problems like unemployment, lack of housing, psychological disorientation, loneliness, drug abuse and crime. Moresby’s notorious Raskolls gang is supplied with recruits from the hordes of young men who are disconnected from their clans and tribal elders and who drift aimlessly into the maelstrom of the modern city.
“Papua New Guinea is today coming under great pressure to liberalise its laws on abortion, pornography and homosexual marriage. These things are still illegal in the country and are abhorred by the vast majority of the people. But unless we do something fast we will lose the battle.”
Desiring to do something to uplift the minds and hearts of Port Moresbians, Mrs Nora Nelson approached Australian Needs Fatima to ask us to bring the Pilgrim Virgin to Moresby. Last September, she and her Legion of Mary friends organised an excellent programme and our Fatima statue visited many parishes, schools, seminaries, military barracks and a prison. Thousands of souls were able to pray before the statue. And thousands of petitions were written to Mama Fatima. Our Custodian brought all these petitions to Fatima.
Working with Nora is Gerry Tokilivila. Gerry is the de facto leader of the annual Parliamentary Rosary Crusade. This is a prayer rally that takes place right in the grounds of the National Parliament in Port Moresby thanks to the gracious co-operation of the Honourable Jeffrey Nape MP, Speaker of the House of Parliament. “The idea is simple,” explains Gerry, “Papua New Guinea is today coming under great pressure to liberalise its laws on abortion, pornography and homosexual marriage. These things are still illegal in the country and are abhorred by the vast majority of the people. But unless we do something fast we will lose the battle.”
Gerry and his friends, with the full backing of Port Moresby Archdiocese, are leading a Crusade of Prayer to prevent such evils from entering PNG. The Crusade has been growing year by year and it was an honour for Australia Needs Fatima to lend our Fatima statue to lead the rosary procession and rally.
Gerry is a native of the Trobriand Islands so it was natural that he also wanted the Pilgrim Virgin to do a walkabout there. For two weeks the Pilgrim Virgin toured the villages of Kiriwina. The Trobriand people are ardently religious. We were able to witness an incredible outpouring of piety amongst the populace and conversions were common in the presence of the Pilgrim Virgin. Not only Catholics honoured her; whole communities of Protestants did as well.
The adage that Papua New Guinea is a land of contrasts is perfectly true. Wabag is a small city in the Central Highlands that could not be more unlike the warm balmy Trobriands. The altitude of Wabag, coupled with incessant rain, allows for a cool temperate climate. A prodigious amount of foodstuffs are grown in the Highland’s rich damp soil.
The Highland people are equal to any in Papua New Guinean for religious fervour. Our good friend Richard Koki and his wife Anne organised an excellent programme which took in the whole Wabag area. Tens of thousands of people turned out to honour the Pilgrim Virgin.
No doubt Our Lady has a special love for Papua New Guinea and its deeply religious people. As long as they hold faithful to her she will keep the modern decadence out of their land and help them to grow in faith and love of God. Moreover, she will also help them to develop materially as a strong new country with opportunities for all. For as scripture says, “Seek you first the kingdom of heaven and all other things will be added unto you.”