OCEANIA/PAPUA NEW GUINEA - A missionary: "After the looting, the people return what they had stolen: a collective repentance"

Tuesday, 16 January 2024 politics   civil society   local churches   violence  

Mount Hagen (Agenzia Fides) - "These days a curious phenomenon is taking place: the people who participated in the looting of recent days in Port Moresby are returning the looted goods. The appeals from the police and also from some priests are having a certain effect. Some parishes of Christian churches of different denominations got involved and declared: our doors are open for those who want to return stolen goods. It is a kind of collective repentance, appealing to the Christian conscience of each citizen. I must say that something is moving, it is a sign of hope, a sign that the individual conscience is, in some way, illuminated by faith", said to Fides Father Victor Roche SVD Indian Verbite missionary, present since 1981 in Papua New Guinea, currently National Director of the Pontifical Mission Societies (PMS), speaking of the mass violence and looting that occurred in recent days (see Fides, 12/1/2024).
Although the country is under a state of emergency, the missionary reports: "The situation has now calmed down, given that the government has declared a state of emergency and the army is patrolling the streets. After calling a protest over the sudden and unexpected pay cut, the police closed all territorial police stations. This gave some people, especially the poorest, most desperate and involved in criminal gangs, the opportunity to start looting, undisturbed. Soon the phenomenon spread, involving multitudes of young people, especially people with difficulties, the poor and unemployed. The police did not intervene and wanted to send a message to the government such as: without our presence and action there is no security and the country is prey to social unrest. Now, the government has promised to address the issue, review payrolls and return the money. "The agents already have very low salaries, so that cut was unbearable for them." Father Roche also points out that, at the root of what happened, "there is deep social unrest, there is distrust in the government due to corruption, there are stories of poverty and unemployment, especially among young people".
The National Director of the PMS, who is currently participating in a training seminar for about 80 young university students from various universities and areas of Papua New Guinea, points out: "The Catholic Church, which continues to be an important presence and institution in the country , and the other Christian churches try to contribute, accompanying young people in their personal growth in the development of their talents and abilities, especially through social works focusing on education. For example, in many dioceses attempts are made to rehabilitate street children, they are welcomed and educated. There are also scholarships for high school and university students, offered by the Churches, aimed at young people from poor and needy families. The commitment of ecclesiastical institutions in the field of education is crucial to try to give a future to young people. It is the service we carry out, it is a way of proclaiming faith in Christ. And the fact that today, after violence and theft, there is a process of returning what was stolen means that faith continues to say something to the conscience and life of the people in this country". Papua New Guinea, with a population of about seven million inhabitants, is a country that is inspired by the Christian religion, as stated in the preamble of the Constitution. 95% of Papuans profess the Christian faith, in the many Christian churches present in the nation. Christians are mainly Protestants (64%, mostly Lutherans), Catholics are around 26%, and 5% belong to other denominations. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 16/1/2024)