Manus Island is a remote province of Papua New Guinea two degrees south of the equator. What the island lacks in worldly wealth it makes up for in faith, devotion and natural beauty. Manus sent no delegates to World Youth Day in Madrid this year. Instead, they invited our Servants of Jesus, U-Turn Youth Team from Sydney Australia to join them in their own World Youth Day pilgrimage around the island.
It’s 3:30am, the cold morning wind blows soft raindrops against my face, the road is enveloped in darkness and as the rhythmic prayers and even tread of the hundreds behind me provide a ethereal melody, I feel a spiritual fusion with the World Youth Day Cross that follows us, I am a part of this pilgrimage, body and soul.
The seven of us that made the journey fromAustraliaare spread amongst the crowd, each caught up in our own contemplation or conversation. We are taking the WYD cross from Lorengau the capital ofManusIsland, to Papitali which is the first stop in the circumnavigation of the island. This is the only road we will travel. The rest is by boat.
We were invited to celebrate World Youth Day onManusIslandby the Dean, Father Dominic Maka. “Come see the face of Jesus in the people of Manus” he entreated upon our arrival a few days ago, followed by a proclamation that we would hear many times over the next couple weeks, “You have come here to evangelise, but you too will be evangelised.” This statement that seemed truer every time we heard it.
We are to visit all five Parishes in the Deanery, Papitali, Patu, Bipi, and Bundralis before returning to our home parish of Lorengau , a convoy of priests, children, nurses, fishermen, farmers, teachers and students we move ever onward by foot, by truck, but mainly by boat, following the WYD Cross.
Devotion is difficult to find en masse inAustralia, but it exists in abundance on Manus. At each village we aremet by kneeling crowds, silent, in awe of the cross as it is brought before them. They sing praise as the cross makes its way to the church where they kneel before it, pledging themselves to the pilgrimage.
At every village the crowds rally, listening to talks and testimonies in reverent silence, dancing with jubilation during the worship and laughing jovially at the dramas. This goes on until 5 or 6 in the morning. Then we all get up for a two and a half hour mass at 9am.
“Ï was really touched by the openness of the Papuan’s to God and how hungry they were for the word of God” reflected Andrew, our youngest team member. There is no cynicism, no boredom; they want to hear about God, to feel his presence.
The life of a Manutian is a difficult one, it is the poorest province in one of the world’s poorest nations, food and water shortages are a constant threat and some children are forced to scrounge food scraps from the table and search through the garbage for clothes. Malaria and AIDS are serious problems across the island with hospital facilities that look totally inadequate by our standards, yet there is care and concern for the patients, and faith abounds. Our team is permitted to pray for the healing of their patients and we meet with some results.
Daniel observed “When they asked for healing, they received it”. We prayed and God healed them, some at the hospital, some in the villages. What struck us was once they were healed, there was no shock or excitement, they were simply thankful and went on their way.
Seeing all this contrasts so sharply with our lives in Australia “Just seeing how little these people have, and how simply they live makes me appreciate all I have and the opportunities we get” explains Amy.
“It is amazing to see their faith” Daniel marvelled, their simple, absolute faith, was humbling for us all. They place their complete trust in God. To get to church each week a group of women had to cross a river that was neck deep and known to be frequented by crocodiles, they would pray and walk through.
ManusIsland, the land and the people will remain in our minds and hearts for the rest of our lives. Their example in faith, devotion, friendliness, humility and openness teach us so much.