by ROWENA OREJANA
DARU-KIUNGA, Papua New Guinea — Participation is how the Catholic Church is kept alive in the
wilds of the Western Province of Papua New Guinea, despite many physical, economic and cultural challenges.
The Bishop of Daru-Kiunga, Bishop Gilles Cote, said that having a diocesan pastoral plan drawn
up at grassroots level had helped them unite the many isolated communities of the area.
Bishop Cote was in New Zealand for the 2014 meeting of the Federation of Catholic Bishops
Conferences of Oceania last month.
“Our goal is a people on a journey: one vision, one people. When we share the same vision,
we become one, united,” he said.
Bishop Cotes said his diocese is 99,000 sq. km, with one 140 kilometre road.
“The rest is jungle, tropical forests, high mountains, lagoons, wetland and swamplands. People
are scattered all over the place. So it’s difficult to reach out to the people. It costs a lot of money and takes a huge effort,” he said.
“We are right in the bush. In some instances, former cannibals are church leaders. So, it’s a different situation from here.”
But he said the people in his diocese like to learn and participate. “Everywhere we have lay leaders to lead the community. These volunteers are our strength,” he said.
Bishop Cotes said the diocese had set up a long-term diocesan plan in 1996. The first stage was about promoting life, dignity and equality. He said this resulted in the establishment of small Christian communities over the diocese.
They are now entering the second stage of their pastoral plan.
“These four years, it is all about the Word of God. Last year was about the Word of God in the Bible. This year is the Word of God in our lives. Next year, would be the Word of God in everyday living. And in 2016, the last year of this phase of four years, will be the Word of
God in worshipping and prayer,” he explained.
Working towards one goal has united them, said Bishop Cotes.
“I think what keeps us enthusiastic about the work we do is all our work is based on the spirituality of communion that was promoted so well by St John Paul II. What we are trying to do is build up dialogue, participation and co-responsibility at all levels. And people participate in all levels. To say it in a very simple way, we are a Church of participation. We think together, we decide together, we do together,” he said.
Bishop Cotes said there were about 45,000 Catholics in his diocese living in small pockets scattered around the jungles. Some areas are reached only by walking for several days. Others are accessible only by canoes and dinghies or by planes.
“Many of them do not have the Eucharist often during the year. It’s impossible,” he said.
He said there is a shortage of priests, so the diocese depends on lay leaders to strenghten the faith.
“What is most important is to get a core group of lay people and build their capacity in each parish. Because the priests change. The religious change. But the lay people, they stay there. They are the ones who will assure continuity,” he said.