Letter From PNG

By Sister Irene C. Anapi FAS

Sister Irene is on her second term, 2006-2010, as Superior General of the Franciscan Apostolic Sisters (www.geocities.com/franapsisters). The Congregation, founded in 1953 in the then Diocese of Tuguegarao, currently has four Sisters in Papua New Guinea and members in seven communities in the USA.

Dear Father Seán,

Greetings of Peace and every blessing! Thank you very much for reaching out to us through your valuable, informative and inspiring magazine. I am an avid reader of the different articles published in Misyon, which unites me with the lights and shadows of missionaries overseas.

We, the Franciscan Apostolic Sisters (FAS), opened our first overseas mission in the USA in 1985.  Ten years later we started in Papua New Guinea, in the Nunciature in Port Moresby, for two years. We then ventured into an active apostolic mission.  We sent Sister Agnes Infante and Sister Ofelia Argonza to teach in St Fidelis College, the minor seminary in Madang run by the Franciscan Capuchins, under Archbishop William Kurtz SVD, who is Polish. They teach Science, English and Theology in Grades 11 and 12 and help as liturgist and librarian.

Likewise, Sister Visitacion Alejandrino and Sister Porfiria Cauilan are pastoral workers in Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Parish at Budoya, Alotau. The parish priest is Father James Moore MSC, with Bishop Francesco Panfilo SDB of Alotau-Sideia.

Getting to Budoya is quite difficult. Alotau is the capital of Milne Bay Province (milnebaytourism.gov.pg), which is comprised of 160 named islands, one of them Budoya, and 500 cays and atolls scattered over an area of 250,000 square kms.  I went there on 8 April 2004, Wednesday of Holy Week, and stayed at St Fidelis seminary.  I admired how the priests and seminarians integrated their culture with the Holy Week celebration from Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday and was deeply touched by their deep faith in God, expressed in various forms.  For example, I had never seen a Paschal fire as beautiful and glowing as the one made by the seminarians for the Easter Vigil.  They tied several tall green bamboos together to make it six meters high. They tied several layers of dried coconut leaves from top to bottom around the packed green standing bamboos.  The seminarians lit it and as the dried leaves were burning they heated the green bamboos underneath. These exploded like a ton of firecrackers. The explosion caused the twigs of the burning coconut leaves to fly like fireworks which could be seen ten kilometers away.  It lasted for thirty minutes and everybody just stood still to watch, pray and worship the God who is the Light of the world. 

When I flew to Alotau I was unaware that the boat to Budoya sailed just once a week.  So, it was already 21 April when I went there, the trip arranged by Bishop Panfilo.  The ten-hour journey gave me a chance to interact with the crew and by day to watch the dolphins following the ship.  At first I was scared thinking they were sharks. Nobody knew I was arriving.  As soon as the boat docked the Christians living along the seashore spontaneously came out to meet whoever was arriving, the two Sisters were among them. 

The Budoyans are simple people full of faith, very friendly and generous in their gesture of hospitality. They have no vehicles, no electricity and communicate with other places through letters. The priests, Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, had put up a school for basic education, a simple clinic and a small store for basic needs.  Our Sisters help in the Catholic formation of the young and adults, organizing the basic ecclesial communities in the other islands.   My faith and love for the mission have increased with my experiences in Madang and Budoya.  We hope to send more Sisters to these mission places. As I left, I planned to visit again before long.

Respectfully yours in Christ,

Sister Irene Anapi, FAS

Superior General