“It is difficult to believe that in 2019 there are people who still live in poverty, daily chew small walnuts in order not to feel the pangs of hunger (betel nut), die from tuberculosis, live in huts without water and electricity, go to school without books and without shoes”: this is the testimony sent to Fides News Agency by Sister Anna Pigozzo, missionary of the “Jesus Good Shepherd Fraternità Cavanis” in Bereina.
“We are a small community of consecrated women on mission,” explained Sister Anna. “We follow Jesus on a mission, remaining close to the young and children, in the South of the Philippines and in Papua New Guinea. Since 2013, invited by the local Bishop, we have been present in the diocese of Bereina, where we arrived, at the beginning, for a brief missionary experience.
We realized how much poverty and misery there can be in this young state of Oceania. Illiteracy is very high, there are so many children who do not cross the threshold of first grade. Infant mortality is among the highest in Oceania. Hospitals are only in the capital, while in the clinics of villages in remote areas, like ours, there is sometimes a nurse. Means of communication are still scarce.
130 years ago
“The Church arrived in Papua New Guinea 130 years ago, with the first French and Australian missionaries, Marists and of the Sacred Heart who gave their lives to announce Jesus Christ. It is a very young Church, which still needs so much support and guidance. On the occasion of the conclusion of the liturgical year, the new Bishop of our diocese of Bereina, Msgr. Otto Separy arrived, who is now familiar with the reality of this area.”
Sister Anna continued with the description of the environment: “Outside the few urban centers, the social structure is still organized in villages with huts, led by a village chief. Women and children have no value, so much so that the tradition for which wives are bought with pigs still applies.
During the rainy season the villages are very often flooded, and the vegetable gardens, the only source of survival for many families, are often destroyed. Even at the beginning of this year, we had serious problems due to flooding.
“Despite everything, there is hope and we can testify it. In these six years, we have seen how the Lord has paved the way for this mission. With the help of volunteers from Italy and the Philippines, who worked with a group of local children, a school was built and in 2015 we started the first school year with 140 children enrolled. Some sisters teach, and we have a group of local teachers with whom we work closely. Finding good teachers is very difficult because the level of education in the Papuan school system is quite low.
Study for adults
Since 2016 we have also opened a ‘Fode Center’, a system of assisted study for adults, in order to recover the lost school years. Many have enrolled, and this is a great sign of hope for us, which we see on the faces of so many young and old people who have the opportunity to return to school. In 2017 we built a bakery, the ‘St. Philip Neri Bakery’. Every day almost 50 kg of bread are baked: for us, for our children and teenagers, for our mothers who help us in our mission work and for the many who knock on our door every day.
Being in contact with the children at school, we became aware of so many sad family situations of abuse and mistreatment. Here in Papua the rights of children and women are very often trampled. In 2018, with the help of volunteers from Italy and other collaborators, the Angels house was built, the family home that welcomes girls in need of protection and care. Now we have 10 girls with us, aged between 5 and 13.
“Until just over 40 years ago, in 1975, Papua New Guinea gained independence in Australia. Papua New Guinea is extremely rich in natural resources: deposits of oil and gas, gold, very fertile soil. And yet, despite these natural riches, people here are still in a state of misery, cultural backwardness and indigence. Papua is often called the ‘land of the unexpected’, and it is really true.”