Catholic Church in Papua New Guinea
The Catholic Church in Papua New Guinea is part of the worldwide Catholic Church, under the spiritual leadership of the Pope in Rome. Papua New Guinea has approximately two million Catholic adherents, approximately 27% of the country's total population.
The country is divided into nineteen dioceses including four archdioceses.
German missionaries of the Society of the Divine Word founded missions on the Sepik River and northern coastal areas from the 1890s. The Prefecture Apostolic of Kaiserwilhelmsland comprised some twelve mission stations along the northern coast. Bishop Louis Couppé had success in East New Britain and acted against the indigenous slave trade. Five male missionaries and five nuns were massacred in the Baining region of New Britain in 1904, leading to reprisals by the German colonial authorities. The Catholic mission and cathedral at Alexishafen near Madang were destroyed by American bombing in 1943 but the mission was rebuilt after the War.
In 1995, Pope John Paul II beatified Peter To Rot, a catechist and New Guinea native from New Britain blessed for his martyrdom when in 1945 he refused to embrace polygamy and was killed by occupying Japanese forces. Many other local Catholics and missionaries suffered death, torture and imprisonment at the hands of the Japanese.
In Papua, the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart began a mission at Yule Island in 1885. Bishop Alain de Boismenu, Vicar Apostolic of Papua from 1908 to 1945, established missionary and charitable activities based on the mission at Yule Island. He was assisted by Filipino catechists. In 1918 he founded an indigenous order of nuns, the Handmaids of the Lord, which is still active. The French mystic and visionary Marie-Thérèse Augustine Noblet (fr), whom de Boismenu exorcised in France in 1921, accompanied him to Papua and assisted at the mission until her death in 1930. Noblet acted as mentor to the first indigenous priest and bishop from Papua New Guinea, Louis Vangeke. Her story made a profound spiritual impression on the Australian poet James McAuley, who visited Yule Island in 1949 and converted to Catholicism.
A Marist mission on Bougainville, beginning in 1901, was very successful and the majority of the population became Catholic. Bishop Thomas Wade secured strong support for the mission from Australia and the United States. The Japanese occupation caused major disruption, including the presumed execution of three Australian Marist Brothers by the Japanese. Expansion was rapid after the War, with schools constructed in Chabai and Kieta.
In 1967 the Australian ophthalmologist, Fr Frank Flynn, was appointed as Administrator of the Cathedral and Director of Catholic Health Services in Papua New Guinea. His efforts led to the foundation of a Medical Faculty at the University of Papua New Guinea. Nuns, especially those of the Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, were very active in providing local health services. The mission hospitals developed into Catholic Church Health Services, which in 2016 ran five rural hospitals and 244 health facilities.
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