Source of Great Hope and Intense Sorrow: The Youth Situation in Papua New Guinea and the Response of the Catholic Church

Resources »Eapr »East Asian Pastoral Review 2008 »Volume 45 2008 Number 1 »Source Of Great Hope And Intense Sorrow The Youth Situation In Papua New Guinea And The Response Of The Catholic Church

Alfred Maravilla, SDB

isa Filipino missioned in Papua New Guinea. He is director of the Liturgical Catechetical Institute in Goroka, Papua New Guinea and is a visiting lecturer at the Catholic Theological Institute, Port Moresby, PNG and the Don Bosco Center for Studies, Parañaque, Metro Manila. He holds a BSE from the Don Bosco College, Canlubang, Laguna, Philippines; a BA in Sacred Theology from the Salesian Pontifical University, Rome; and a Licentiate in Missiology from the Gregorian Pontifical University, Rome. He also holds a Certificate in Islamic Studies from the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies, Rome.

Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea (PNG), with a land area of 462,860 km2is the largest and the most culturally diverse Pacific country. Its terrain is mostly mountainous, but with coastal lowlands and rolling foothills. The largest portion of the population lives in the highlands. The terrain has created isolated communities divided by customs, traditions, and over 800 languages, some of which are spoken only by a few hundreds to a few thousands. Melanesian Pidgin orTok Pisin is used as the practical medium of communication. English, which is the medium of instruction in school, is an important means in unifying the diverse population of the country.

According to the 2000 census, the annual growth rate is 2.7%. Thus, the estimated population in 2007 is 6.25 million. About 88% of the population lives in rural areas, where subsistence farming and cash crop production are the main sources of income. Only 12% of the population lives in urban areas. Studies have shown that urban population has increased from 5.9% in 1990 to 15.4% in 2002. Life expectancy is approximately 56 years old, with an infant mortality rate of 68.4 for every 1,000. The literacy rate is 57.3%. In recent years, there has been a notable decrease in the number of children going through primary education.1

PNG is rich in resources like gold, copper, oil, and natural gas, as well as timber and fish. Its first oil refinery was opened in 2004 with the capacity to produce 30,000 barrels of oil per day. It also produces and exports valuable agricultural, timber, and marine products. However, the country’s economy is highly dependent on imports for manufactured goods. Small-scale industries produce beer, soap, concrete products, clothing, paper products, matches, ice cream, canned meat, fruit juices, furniture, plywood, and paint. Industrial development is rather slow due to a small domestic market, relatively high wages, and high transport costs.2The gross national per capita income is US$660.3

The government is a constitutional monarchy. The Queen of England is the head of state, represented by a ceremonial Governor General who is elected by Parliament. It has a three-level governmental system (national, provincial, and local) with a 109-member unicameral Parliament, whose members are elected every five years from the 19 provinces and the national capital district of Port Moresby. The Parliament in turn elects the Prime Minister, who appoints his cabinet from members of his party or coalition.4

The First Contact

Over 35,000 islands dot the vast Pacific Ocean, inhabited by people with a plethora of physiological, cultural, and linguistic differences

The classification of the people of the Pacific Islands began with French explorer Dumont d’Urville, who introduced the term “Melanesia” (from the Greek melas for “black”) and “Micronesia” (from the Greek mikros for “small”), while the original, all-embracing term “Polynesia” (from the Greek polys for “many” and nēsos for “islands”), was coined by French historian and cartographer de Brosses.5

Although evidence of human occupation in PNG goes back at least 40,000 years ago,6 it was discovered by the western world only 481 years ago. In 1526 Jorge de Meneses, the governor-elect of Moluccas, was driven by the northwest monsoon to Waigeo Island. He called it Ilhas dos Papuas. Papua is a Malay term for “frizzy-haired people.” In 1528, the Spanish explorer Alvaro de Saavedra probably sighted Manus Island of the Admiralty Group, which he named Urais la Grande. In 1545 Iñigo Ortiz de Retes eventually mapped parts of the northern coastline, claimed it in the name of the King of Spain, and named it Nueva Guinea. Holland formally claimed the western part in 1875. The growing European economic and political interest and early attempts to settle in New Guinea led Germany to annex the northern part, the Bismarck Archipelago, and the present-day Bougainville Island in 1879. England claimed Papua, the southern part, in 1884.7

The Catholic Mission

On April 28, 1606, the Franciscan chaplain on the ship of Spanish Luis Vaez de Torres set foot on Sideia Island and celebrated the first Eucharist in what we now call Papua New Guinea. Torres eventually named Sideia the “Island of St. Bonaventure.”8 However, it was only 240 years later that Catholic missionaries attempted to evangelize this part of the Pacific, when Pope Gregory XVI erected the Vicariate Apostolic of Eastern Oceania in 1833. The first missionaries realized soon enough the vastness of the Pacific Ocean, which separated the great diversity of peoples, languages, and cultures. Thus, the Vicariate Apostolic of Western Oceania was erected in 1836. On July 19, 1844, Pope Gregory XVI further subdivided the vast area by erecting the Vicariates Apostolic of Melanesia and Micronesia. The Marist Bishop Jean Baptist Epalle was appointed Vicar Apostolic of Melanesia. The Bishop and the Marist missionaries set foot on San Cristobal Island (part of the present-day Solomon Islands) on December 2, 1845.9

In 1847, the Marists started a missionary presence in Woodlark Island. This was soon extended to Rooke (Umboi) Island. These were the first Catholic presences in what we now know as Papua New Guinea. In 1852, seven members of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions were sent to replace the Marists who were preparing to withdraw from these places. Two years later Blessed John Mazzucconi was killed by the local people as he was arriving at Woodlark Island after some months of convalescence in Australia. He is the protomartyr of Papua New Guinea. The hostility of the local population, the difficulty of the environment, and the lack of understanding of the local culture on the part of the missionaries all contributed to the closure and abandonment of this first missionary endeavour.10 It would only be 19 years later that Christian missionaries will return to the area.

In 1880, Fr. Lannuzel arrived as chaplain of the French colony established in southern New Ireland Island by Marquis de Rays. Having found the colony practically abandoned, he did some missionary work among the people for some months before returning to France. In the meantime, in 1881, Pope Leo XIII asked Fr. Jules Chevalier and his newly established Missionaries of the Sacred Heart to take responsibility for the evangelization of the islands that make up what we now know as Papua New Guinea. In 1882, the first group landed on Matupit Island, on the northern part of the mainland. Another group later proceeded to establish a presence on Yule Island, on the southern part, in 1885. They passed by Manila and recruited Filipino catechists who would play an important role in the evangelization of this part of the country.11 In 1896 the first group of the Divine Word Missionaries arrived in Tumleo Island. Their work marked the beginning of the systematic Catholic evangelization of the New Guinea mainland.12

The Second World War

The Second World War caused great damage to the work of evangelization in terms of structures and personnel. Many missionaries either had to leave, were interred in Japanese concentration camps, or were killed. It was during this period that Blessed Peter ToRot, a family man and a catechist, was tortured and killed by the Japanese soldiers for defending the sanctity of Christian marriage. He is the first Melanesian to be beatified. This is the clearest indication that the Gospel has now taken root in this land. The period after World War II was a time for the local Church to grow and find its distinctive identity. It was a period of massive reconstruction and expansion, which laid the foundations on which the Church today still rests.

Post-Vatican II

In 1966, Pope Paul VI established the local hierarchy. The 620,000 Catholics made up less than 30% of the country’s population.13 There were only nine local priests and no local bishop. In 1970, Paul VI ordained Fr. Vangeke, the first local priest, as the first Papua New Guinean bishop. In 2005, there were 225 seminarians in three minor and four major seminaries. By then 44% of the clergy working in the country were indigenous. One hundred and twenty-five Papua New Guinean sisters, brothers, and priests were abroad either for studies or for missionary work. There were 1,607,765 Catholics, making up 27% of the country’s population. In 2007, ten of the 26 bishops working in 19 dioceses were Papua New Guineans.14

After Vatican II, two ecclesial events had a profound effect in the self-understanding of the Church in Papua New Guinea: the Self Study and the General Assembly. The Self Study of the Catholic Church in PNG took place from April 1972 to May 1975. The theme was “We are Church.” Through grassroots discussions around 37 topics, the Self Study aimed at implementing the decrees of Vatican II and creating an awareness of the laity’s role and their membership in the Church as well as setting priorities for the Church in a nation which was euphorically preparing for its political independence on September 16, 1975.15 The Self Study raised five major concerns which became the priorities of the local Church in the post-independence years: awareness of one’s membership in the Church, marriage, catechists, Church workers, and formation of local priests and seminarians. Among these priorities, youth was mentioned in the context of marriage: “Traditional customs are breaking down, the young are not prepared for the complex problems which they must face in marriage today.”16

The Synod on Oceania, the publication of John Paul II’s letter at the beginning of this new millennium, Novo millennio ineunte, and the post-synodal apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in Oceania, coupled with a growing awareness that dioceses have divergent priorities—making it increasingly difficult for the commissions of the Catholic Bishops Conference to organize programs at the national level—all contributed to the convocation of the General Assembly of the Catholic Church of PNG, which took place from January 2003 to July 2004. Grassroots discussions focused on 36 topics as “an application to PNG of the issues raised by Pope John Paul II in his letter to the Catholic people of our region, Ecclesia in Oceania.”17 At its conclusion, the Vision-Mission of the Church in PNG was formulated and approved and the priorities were set: family life, youth, evangelization and catechesis, training and formation at all levels (leadership), justice, peace and the integrity of creation, health, HIV/AIDS, and education.18 The General Assembly was truly a kairos, a culmination and a new beginning for the Church’s self-understanding and its mission.19

In their desire to speak “with one voice about the issues that confront us and the steps to be taken to respond to them, and to propose a common goal” for the whole Church in PNG,20 the Bishops did a “first” among the Bishops’ Conferences of the Pacific. After the General Assembly had outlined the priorities of the Church, they formulated and launched a National Pastoral Plan.

PNG’s Developmental Status

PNG’s leaders once described it as a “resource-rich country with poor people.” In fact, economic development has been very uneven across PNG. Geographical isolation, political and economic marginalization and mismanagement, shrinking and unreliable education services and basic health care, lack of transportation and communication access, and limited or zero opportunities for economic development have all contributed to low levels of literacy, education, and employment and high levels of morbidity and mortality.21 The present “PNG minimum wage is not adequate to support a family on largely imported, store-bought foods, let alone other living expenses.”22 Twenty-eight years after political independence, “the majority of PNG citizens suffer unacceptable deprivation and underdevelopment.”23 It is not without reason that the foreign media once described the country “a failed state,” yet many political leaders continue to deny that a substantial portion of the rural and urban population live in desperate economic circumstances.24

At this point, it would be opportune to point out that great care and effort had been placed to ensure that every statement below is backed by documented research in order to give an accurate youth situation and not rely mainly on personal or gut-level perceptions.

Youth and Society

According to the 2000 census, 40% of the population are aged 0-14, 20% are aged 15-24, and 16% are aged 25-34. Seventy-six percent of the total population is 34-years old or younger.25 Thus, the bishops rightly pointed out the tremendous effect of the youth situation in the future of the country and of the Church. What then is the youth situation in Papua New Guinea today?

“To speak of youth is to speak of growth. It is to speak of young people with all their gifts and enthusiasm, weaknesses and limitations, potentials and challenges, wanting to attain the fullness of Life.”26 The many good and generous young people who do their utmost to spread awareness of the real possibilities for change are a source of great hope. They look for new ways for liberation, and seek support from their elders as well as their local and ecclesial communities. Examples abound. In the Morata settlement of Port Moresby, vandalism and theft led to the closure of the health clinic. Young people of the area raised money and offered to provide security in order to have it reopened. During the Christmas season of 2007 in Port Moresby, 500 youth conducted foot patrols with the police as a “way to go to make the city clean of rubbish and to reduce criminal activities.”27 After the Christmas holidays, these youth were also given a three-month skills training course. In fact, many youth use these new entrepreneurial skills to try to kick-start their businesses and sustain their incomes. Some young people who call themselves “reformed” have initiated their own NGOs or set up shelters to address the issues of out-of-school youth and provide some alternatives.28

Like everywhere else, there are also youth who wait passively for solutions to their problems, not finding in themselves sufficient will or energy to plan any different future. Sadly, they seem to have no ideas for tomorrow, concerned only about the present and their survival. Some become hostile and violent towards those responsible for social organization and towards society in general. As they strive to emerge from their situation of need, they organize different forms of struggle. This brings them into an almost permanent conflict with society. PNG society has labeled these young people “rascals.”

“Rascalism,” “rascal,” or the Pidgin term raskol were first used to refer to gang members in the mid 1960s. In 1968-1975, “when the PNG economy began to stagnate, fewer jobs became available and opportunities to go to school or continue in school after grade six diminished.”29 Highly organized gangs gradually developed, and they eventually spread beyond the settlement areas into the more affluent neighborhoods. Their membership too had become more heterogeneous, comprising not solely of uneducated unemployed migrant youth of the settlements but also of educated youth from well-to-do families. This facilitated their integration into larger criminal networks, making them capable of more complex criminal activities, including drug pushing.30

Discriminatory administrative and legal provisions of colonizers, meant to control the movement of the indigenous population and preserve the towns as European enclaves, were abolished only a decade before independence. Thus, although urbanization came relatively late into PNG, it developed quite rapidly, with substantial numbers moving into urban centers. Migrants settled, often with no permission, on traditional or state lands known as “settlements.” The term is associated today with socially deprived urban communities where people have illegally occupied and built houses on unused land.31 “Without jobs, no land, and no cultural controls, many thousands of settlement dwellers turn to prostitution and violent crimes for survival.”32 “In settlement areas, large numbers of unemployed youth, without land or jobs, are part of gangs that contribute to law and order problems through ‘breaking and entering, hold-ups, shoplifting or anything to get money.’”33 It is certainly not an exaggeration when UNESCO reported in 1996, “rural and urban youth live in a context of poverty, crime, and sexual violence.”34 It is no surprise then that young people “sometimes describe money as ‘life’ as it allows one access to clothes, food, travel, school fees, medicines, soap, cargo, smokes, beer, paying for sex, and meeting social obligations.”35

In PNG some “people are engaged in cultivating, harvesting, and distributing marijuana.”36 “PNG marijuana is potent, highly used, illegal, easily accessible, and cheap to buy. It is grown as cash crop, sold per joint, and is also linked to organized crime for external export or traded for guns.”37 Its sale and distribution takes place in public places where people congregate, like markets and bus stops. Sadly, it has become part of the informal economic network “as the new cash crop for disaffected young men, who seek money through its sale, money that is becoming more elusive than ever.”38 Although cocaine, ecstasy, and heroin are also available, it is generally beyond the reach of the great majority of young people.39 “Without education and employment, many young people are involved in the use of betel nut (buai), tobacco, marijuana (spakbrus in Pidgin), and alcohol.”40 In fact, alcohol and marijuana are a major social problem among youth. Research has shown that young people consider marijuana “as a drug which enhances disinhibited sexuality” and has become associated with parties that eventually lead to sexual encounters.41 This is confirmed by a research which found that young people consider alcohol and marijuana as the cause of criminal activities, domestic violence, and family break-ups, and even of STD and HIV/AIDS. It also showed that for many young people, alcohol abuse has become their escape route, fleeting though it may be, from poverty, domestic violence, conflict, and sexual abuse.42

It is no surprise then that young people have expressed an ambivalent attitude towards alcohol. A great number of young people claim that fighting, destruction of family life, and rape are caused by alcohol; yet, the same young people (both male and female) consider it as good for social life since it enhances friendship, fun, good conversation, and good sleep.43

Youth and Culture

Traditionally, the family and the clan with its own culture and traditions provided firm roots for young people and gave them the courage to face the future with great hope and deep convictions. The local culture and traditions, including the roles of chiefs and village elders, kept people in check by providing norms of conduct and relationship.44 They ensured a positive relationship of solidarity and mutual respect between adults and young people. The nuclear and extended family assured that the young grew up and lived in harmony with their family, clan, and environment. Today many young people in urban centers were born and raised in the city. Often they do not speak their parents’ language nor go to their parents’ home village. Unfortunately, the growing phenomenon of urbanization and the continual influx of people into urban centers have contributed to the breakdown in traditional values and cultures. Already way back “in the 1980’s, there was a widespread concern that social, cultural, spiritual, and economic alienation was occurring in PNG, especially among the youth, and the government began to think that the formal education system was a major contributor.”45

The educational reform that was initiated in 1993 placed great emphasis on learning, using the local dialect until Grade 2 (elementary level). In the meantime, the country’s educational system continues to be heavily pattered after Australia’s and it does not really provide much space for the local cultures in the curriculum. Young people in school are not helped to deepen their knowledge of their cultural traditions and language. Thus, many young people, most especially—but not only—in urban centers, gradually become alienated from their own cultural practices and traditions. Being “footloose,” they do not have that built-in strength to face life’s challenges.

In traditional societies of PNG, young people do not have a voice in community decision-making process. It is no surprise then that 20% of the youth interviewed complained of not getting involved in decision-making process. This goes up to 40% in the highlands region. The major reason given reflects the traditional mentality of adults in PNG—they are young and with little experience.46

Belief in the efficacy of traditional healing practices and sorcery is very much alive among the majority of young people although there is a growing tendency to downvalue these in order to affirm Christianity and modern medicine.47 It is interesting to note, however, that a great majority of young people surveyed rejected an important pillar of traditional religion, which is the belief that their ancestors are able to help them.48

The advent of mass media and progress brought about unimaginable benefits to the country. The media, especially television and radio, have opened young people to the global village. This has certainly great advantages but this has also led to the formation of false needs and life-models foreign to the local cultures. Sadly, the rapid cultural changes lead to the breakdown of culture and traditions without being replaced by other forms of behavior and relationships.

These are clear indications that PNG is undergoing a subtle but profound cultural change. The struggle to reconcile traditional cultures and modern life pervades in all aspects of every Papua New Guinean’s life. In fact, it started since the arrival of the first colonizers. For example, in a state with a Westminster legal system, “what may be a crime according to state law may not be a crime according to local law and what may be considered a minor crime by the state is a serious crime under local law.”49 Thus, a government-commissioned review of crime control strategies suggested taking the local culture into consideration through the use of customary social and economic structures and value systems to control crime.50

Urban youth migration plays an important role in youth culture. Why do young people move to urban centers? The very same reason that led to the movement of vast populations to urban centers the world over could certainly not be discounted. It is, however, worth noting that majority of those interviewed gave “looking for employment,” followed by “gardening is too hard,” “town entertainment,” and “rascal influence” as the main reasons for leaving their villages and moving into towns.51 It is important to note that although among youth living in urban areas there exists a lifestyle different from those living in rural areas, studies showed that “in general there were very few differences between urban and rural young people’s values”52 and “financial security was highly valued in all situations.”53

Youth and Educative Agencies

Worth noting is the relationship established by young people with what we may term as “educative agencies.” The fact that education is beginning to be considered a value inspires great hope. Education has obviously beneficial effects on and gives great hope to young people in particular and to the whole of PNG society in general. A study has shown that education is now the central focus of young Papua New Guineans’ identity, even if it has also some negative implications. “Being a skulmangi54 or an out-of-school youth played a major role in personal identity, particularly since one’s own educational situation was seen to influence one’s economic future. This problem was more acute for boys than for girls, who could envisage marrying up, i.e., marrying an educated man who could make a good living.”55

Among PNG youth, like everyone else all over the world, “education is seen as a road to a good future. With education one can run a business, find a job, attract a good spouse, and have more access to cash in general.”56 Parents who were interviewed, however, seem to send their children to school for a pragmatic reason—to be repaid later by their children.57 This explains, perhaps, why young workers tend to move away from their places of origin.

Although recent educational reform’s overall effect on young people is still being monitored,58 it is already shockingly clear that 92.2 % of those who enrolled in Grade 3 would drop out along the way. Only 7.8% would eventually finish Grade 12.59 Eventually only 0.7% of the population would obtain university-level education.60 Unfortunately this is not something new. Such an elitist system “is a deliberate and very recent creation of Australian policymakers. Prior to 1939 there were only a handful of schools … only at the insistence of the United Nations Trusteeship Council [1962] … did Australia begin to provide … education beyond the rudimentary stage.”61 Thus these educative agencies, which build up hope and expectations both among the young and their families, sadly also push them out of the system, destroy their dream and expectations, and leave them and their families frustrated. Young people often express their frustration, due to the loss or insufficiency of opportunities to improve one’s life, through violent behavior.

Thus “since Independence, many people have been progressively marginalized as population increase outstripped the nation’s capacity to provide formal education.”62 Too few youngsters have a chance to complete education in PNG today. A UNESCO representative recently pointed out that “only a little over half of the children who enrolled complete primary education … and in this case, girls are seriously disadvantaged.”63 In the meantime, “those who never enrolled in Grade One often wonder why their parents did not send them and feel ashamed and hopeless, compared to those who went to school. Others, the majority of whom dropped out during their primary school, either regret having left on their own accord or sadly state that their parents did not have money to pay school fees.”64

Lack of education practically implies no employment opportunity and hence, poverty. Lady Carol Kidu, Minister for Social Welfare and Development, had recognized that rascal crimes “are perhaps a by-product of the inability of the system to provide education opportunities for all.”65 Already way back in 2005, Education Minister Michael Laimo pointed out in a graduation speech that that year “up to 70,000 school leavers will not be able to find places to further their education or to seek vocational training, and their chances of finding employment are also poor.”66 If this statement is true, then PNG is really sitting on a social volcano. The frequent incidents of “seize-and-mob” mentality among young people, particularly students, are perhaps the clearest indication that this volcano is ready to explode!67

Youth and Youth Work

The noticeable growth of the informal sector in recent years and the fact that the major entrepreneurs are young people certainly inspires great hope. Modernization has undoubtedly brought a clash between cash economy and crop economy. However, there is no need of statistics to prove that real poverty exists both in the urban and in the rural settings of PNG.

For many young people work is an indispensable condition for their survival and that of their family. Work creates in young people a greater sense of security and new attitudes. But it also often implies leaving their family and village and living in a totally new environment where they have to learn to manage their own lives. In many cases, entry into the world of work breaks their attachment to their family, clan, and local Christian community, with the consequent risk of diminished influence of their culture, traditions, and Christian faith in their lives until these become totally extraneous to their daily lives.

We must not fail to note, too, that sadly only around 10% of young people enjoy a regular or occasional paid job.68 Many young Papua New Guineans are condemned to unemployment or to casual work because they do not possess sufficient skills either to find employment or for self-employment. Some actually initially find some gainful employment then leave it for variety of reasons. Self-employment like gardening, fishing, hunting, and especially selling products of their work is clearly the major means of living for majority of youth.69 Men aged 15-50 years old travel in search of work, markets, and reprieve from the routine and rigorous manual labor of village life. This facilitates the introduction in all strata of society of new social values, attitudes, and behaviors and erodes long-held traditions and customs.70

When boys drop out of primary school, or even high school, many parents seem to give up on them, considering them rascals even if they have not really become involved in crime. They are classified as rascals because they are idle, have no means of making a living and, too often, do not even help with subsistence gardening or small ways to earn money. They seem to have less confidence in themselves than those who continue in school … while educated boys also become involved in these activities, there is simply a greater risk that idleness will lead to trouble.71

Recent news seems to indicate a new development; girls too are beginning to get involved in rascalism.72

Research shows that young people rank rascalism as fifth in the list of the major troubles affecting Melanesian communities. Hiding rascals in the community is generally condemned by youth themselves because this practice disturbs the peace and life of the community. When asked what might be done to reduce rascalism, they suggested reporting to the police or village committee or asking the help of parents and neighbors. In the long term, they suggested that families, churches, and communities provide better guidance to the youth, and that the government support projects to employ youth and enforce laws and to encourage them to join a youth group. No mention is made of a possibility of peer mentoring, that they too can guide and influence their companions to change their ways,73 nor was employment or education mentioned as a way to help solve rascalism. Most of them also consider it their elected official’s duty to provide employment and enforce laws.74These seem to confirm the common attitude of passing responsibility to someone else without taking real responsibility for change.

To the unemployed youth the “street” has sadly become their only place of refuge, their home, their place of work, and their school of life where they seek the pleasure of meeting other young people and feeling happy together. Many young people, especially in the urban centers, are often seduced to an anti-culture of drugs and rascalism, to greed, and to a selfish pursuit of facile happiness. For these young people, idleness in the “street” has become the best teacher of every form of vice. Research has shown that the high incidence of crime in PNG is due to the fact that it is highly “profitable for the individual, albeit at significant cost to society, and second, lack of employment opportunities together with the absence of a social safety net forces those without legitimate employment into illegitimate activity.”75 The reality is “engagement in crime, given the opportunity costs, has significant returns—particularly for the unskilled unemployed!”76

The Nine-Mile settlement of Port Moresby is notorious. “Many of the youth came from broken homes and marriages. ‘They did not have the opportunity to go to school, thus turning to a life of crime.’” Recently these youth “surrendered more than 30 home-made guns and ammunition to the Guns Control Committee … they also pledged to give up crime.”77 This confirms that in the heart of every young person, even among these toughest rascals, there is always that soft spot, that innate goodness which responds to what is good, reasonable, and honest. This is the bedrock of our hope for the young of PNG.

Street Children

Street children are an emerging social phenomenon. The Minister for Social Welfare and Development has raised public awareness on the problem of street children. Being, however, a recent phenomenon, there are no government policies that directly address their plight. Studies in 1997 and 2000 revealed that there were more street children in the capital than in other centers; more male children (95%) were engaged in street activities than females (5%). Even very young children (five-years old) were involved in street activities. Most street children were originally from centers other than the ones in which they were living. Research has also shown that there are a growing number of young people living on the streets of urban centers like Lae and Port Moresby. “Young people are living on the streets, in drains, in market places, around church grounds, or in ‘matchbox’ houses in groups, some modeling these after traditional men’s houses, haus man.”78

Studies show that the main push factors for street children are domestic violence, all forms of abuse, family breakdown, parental unemployment, political and social instability of the government, negative impact of structural adjustment program, and peer influences or peer pressure. Law and order problems resulting from cultural transitions also contributed to the number of street children. There are also cases where children are forced or bullied by elder children to commit crimes.79


In many traditional societies of PNG, women are transmitters of life. This is an important traditional value that inspires great hope in the promotion of the dignity of women. It seems that the traditional roles of women of taking care of the family by attending to household duties as well as the rearing of children are well established in the minds of the young generation of Papua New Guineans. Through different programs, the churches have been important catalysts in uplifting the dignity of women.80 Yet, sad to say, even today “through a combination of traditional and modern influences, women lack equal access to land, education, and cash income, and so are materially dependent on men. They are generally excluded from public positions of power and leadership, and therefore lack experience in standing up for their interests against those of men.”81 Almost all of the analyses indicate that low levels of literacy and participation in educational programs are important contributing factors to this situation.82

Unfortunately, “girls often seem to expect less education than do boys. They accept that their parents usually invest in an older brother’s education and make them stay at home to care for younger children … Village girls nearly always learn gardening and this skill helps a great deal in raising their self-esteem, as they can be productive and contribute to the household economy; some girls think they can find an educated young man and gain access to a better life for themselves and their parents.”83

When girls were asked what they wanted for their future lives, “nearly all stated they wanted a good house, a washing machine, a car, and other items of luxury. Very few girls considered it possible for them to have a career of their own. Only a minority expressed interest in a traditional lifestyle.” A research revealed that among those interviewed “none of the young women wished to live a village life.”84 In fact, “many village girls dream of being rescued from a difficult life by marrying a businessman or a man living in town.”85

The attraction of social status, alcohol, discos, six-to-six parties,86 gifts, and payment in cash or in kind are luring women into commercial sex, mainly because of their poverty. These women could be single mothers, widows of all ages, married women whose husbands do not bring home enough cash, and teenage girls in desperate need of cash. Sometimes the brother, husband, or other men are willing to help the women find a customer, especially if they can share the rewards.87 Studies on this issue point out that “keeping young people, especially girls, in school, is one of the best ways to invest in AIDS prevention.”88


One could easily notice a growing interest in religion among young people. In the last two decades, the annual Good Friday Way of the Cross led by the Catholic Archbishop through the streets of Port Moresby has attracted the participation of thousands, even from other ecclesial communities. Young people visibly make up the majority of this crowd. In fact, PNG youth claim to be deeply religious. Seventy-five percent of those interviewed claim they go to Church weekly! The reason they give generally emphasizes that they want to praise God and Jesus, to be obedient to God’s law, and to listen to God’s Word in the Bible.89 Their Christian faith is well embedded in their life as evidenced by their propensity to sing religious or Church songs rather than pop songs. They expect a faith that gives them integrity and thus could be trustworthy. They ask for the evidence of providing “hope” for their ever-evolving world. These are important indications that give great hope to those involved in youth ministry.

Many young people also see faith as an obligation; thus, their availability to serve in Church services. Faith is also seen as belonging to a group. In fact half of the youth interviewed say they belong to a Church group in order to grow in faith, enjoy meeting friends, and learn some skills.90 Many seem to appreciate most Church activities which give them opportunities for communal prayer and fellowship, religious and biblical education, and personal development.91 This is evidenced by the young people’s pleasure in group gatherings. Thus faith for them is an opportunity for fellowship, for being together. But their faith is also young and the bombardment of commercialism by the mass media shakes their faith and most of the time this makes them confused. They feel a strong need to be guided by elderly trusted persons. Thus they expect the guidance of those who promulgate the faith.

In general, young people in PNG seem to have reverence for God based on the fear of God’s justice rather than God’s love. They seem to be very much impressed by the idea and the talk of hell, the devil, and punishment. For example, the thought of death, judgment, and the “last things” was a great influence that led them to conversion on the eve of the year 2000. They seem well instructed in Bible stories yet, when sick, they readily refer to traditional explanations and animistic referrals.92

There are also many youth who distance themselves from the church of their parents and join other churches. About half of those interviewed state that “musical entertainment” attracted them. Other reasons are their parents’ church is “boring,” “other church really touches the emotion,” thus fulfilling their unmet needs. They also give “outside pressure” and “compromise for the sake of the spouse” as reasons for leaving their parents’ church.93 One cannot fail to notice that there is a certain facility among young people to move from one denomination to another, or one religion to another, and most of the time, this takes place, not because of reasons of religious conviction or conscience. However, “the statistical data showing how the historic ‘mainline’94 churches are steadily losing ground to other churches in PNG must surely raise questions as to the cause of this trend and the implications for the future of these churches.”95

Sadly, organized religion’s influence is often limited to certain areas of young people’s lives, having no real impact on most of their decisions and life choices. Studies have shown that “in most cases, Christian values did not strongly influence current behaviour.”96 A recent editorial of a nationwide newspaper probably synthesized this best:

Christianity is long established in PNG. … But what of the impact of Christianity upon the lives of ordinary Papua New Guineans? Most of us when asked describe ourselves as “Christians.” … Many of us, perhaps even the majority, have adopted the label of Christianity, but not the substance. Criminals not infrequently wear a crucifix around their necks. Is that a sign of devout Christianity or a 21st century charm against bad luck? The personal and family impact of Christianity in PNG is becoming more superficial, more generalized, and less related to the faith and framework of the past. That decline in influence and the dilution of the Christian message is traveling in tandem with a sharp rise in the pre-eminence of the material, the secular, and the worldly. And the criminal. … Churches were once the epicenter of activity. … Today, that influence is dissipated, and the young grow up devoid of the spiritual and moral and ethical frameworks familiar to many of our parents!97

Sexual Behavior

For more than a century, anthropologists have recorded stories, observations, memories, and claims about traditional life. They reveal diverse collections of subcultures. Traditional societies in PNG held sexuality in high regard, as a source of life as well as individual and group identity. Sexual power, certain sexual practices, and sexual relationships were expressed in art—displayed in stone, wood, and painting in natural dyes on various surfaces, including the human body. These were also expressed in drama, dance, storytelling, and even song, focusing on various themes associated with sexuality. These and kinship, intergroup relationships, and property claims helped define marriage customs and social norms as well as those regarding premarital sex.98

In traditional societies of PNG, sexual abstinence was generally undertaken, especially by men (warriors and sorcerers), in preparation for certain ceremonies, war, hunting, or fishing.99 Married couples also used traditional methods of birth control to ensure that a socially acceptable period of time elapses before they consider having another child.100 Until the 1970s and 1980s, male infidelity was strongly discouraged by cultural taboos. The increase of mobility, urbanization, and the consequent breakdown of cultural norms in recent years led many, especially men, to have a promiscuous lifestyle.101 However, contemporary studies on sexuality and sexual behavior in PNG seem to indicate that the present “loss of traditional mechanism of social control and the participation of young people in the cash economy”102 are important factors which contributed to sexuality being considered as something banal.

Ironically, the level of knowledge regarding sex and reproduction is generally low in PNG. This is mainly because in many cultures sex is a taboo topic for discussion. But this is also because there are some parents who believe that keeping their children ignorant about sex will keep them from trying to have sex at a young age.103 Where the traditional culture had male or female initiation rituals, such ceremonies provide a clear-cut opportunity for sex education through cultural norms and taboos.104 Unfortunately in many parts of PNG, these rituals are already gone. Now, instead of parents, tribe, or clan, their peers and the media have more influence on their sexual education.105

On the one hand, “for many young people there are no clear rules regarding sexual behavior. If any sort of opportunity for sex arises, many feel they must take it, as reflected in the Pidgin idiom for an opportunity for sex as sansya!”106 On the other hand, visiting prostitutes on the part of men is strongly condemned by young people. Women prostituting themselves are also severely condemned for being a health hazard, for laziness, and not having respect for their bodies.107 Yet several studies have also proven that male and female youth exchange sex for money or resources through different “labor forms” although they do not identify themselves as sex workers.108 Rape is another reality that is often not reported. In many cases, the victims are either threatened or afraid of reprisals if the matter is reported to the police.109

Sexual promiscuity is a reality among many young people in PNG, especially today. “Studies have shown that sexual relationships begin at an early age, that high numbers of unmarried and married people have multiple partners.”110 “For most young people, sexual encounters predate the emergence of deep feelings for one another”.111 This is also confirmed by high rates of sexually transmitted diseases, HIV infection, and teenage pregnancy.

All these experiences obviously have profound and lingering consequences in their lives as adults and in their marriage and family life.

Marriage and Family Life

Research has shown that many young people in PNG consider marriage as a religious institution. They see it as stronger than simple “living together” without proper marriage. They believe that those who get married in church receive God’s blessing. Young people, especially in the highlands, hold fast to the traditional reason for marriage, which is to bear children and increase the population. Those from the coastal areas see love for each other as the reason for getting married. More than 40% of those interviewed stated that good Christian way of life in the family is a sign of successful parenthood.113 These are certainly “values” of young people which inspire great hope, even if actual practice shows that many of them live together without the benefit of any stable union, be it customary, civil, or church marriage.

Family violence is a sad reality in PNG. “The most extensive form of family and sexual violence in PNG is domestic violence. Domestic violence usually refers to violence between husbands and wives, but it can also include violence between other members of a domestic group. In practice, most domestic violence is wife-beating.”114 This is reinforced by the belief in the authority of the husbands over their wives. Unfortunately this belief in the husband’s authority often excuses almost all except the most extreme form of violence by husbands against their wives.115 Research has also shown that “there is a widespread acceptance of violence as a legitimate expression of anger, resolution of conflict, or means of control.”116

The PNG Government’s Response

In the early colonial period, the education of young people had been done mainly by the Churches through “mission schools.” For a long time the colonial powers were pathetically absent in the education of the local inhabitants. It was only after the Second World War that an educational system was gradually put in place. Eventually, education was given more importance as the colony progressed towards self-rule and independence.

It should be noted that already in the early post-independence years, the PNG government had a Ministry for Youth and Recreation that produced in 1983 the National Youth Policy. This ministry also established the National Youth Movement Program as an umbrella organization of registered youth groups in the country in order “to productively involve youth in the development of their communities.” It also had a newsletter, Youth on the Move.117 The same ministry also published the National Youth Employment Strategy Plan in 1984.118 The National Youth Policy was revised in 1996 by the Ministry for Religion, Home Affairs, and Youth. A further revised edition was produced in 2004 by the National Youth Commission. These are just a few example of the many government initiatives meant to respond to the youth situation in rapidly changing Papua New Guinean society.

Which Way for the Church?

Why did we have a long and rather detailed analysis of the youth situation in Papua New Guinea? Since “by His incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion with every man” (Gaudium et spes, 22), the Church’s pastoral response must, therefore, take into consideration the concrete situation of every human person—in our case, of young people. John Paul II clearly pointed out that the human person is the way of the Church:

This man is the way for the Church—a way that, in a sense, is the basis of all the other ways that the Church must walk—because man—every man without any exception whatever—has been redeemed by Christ, and because with man—with each man without any exception whatever—Christ is in a way united … The Church of today must be aware in an always new manner of man’s “situation.” That means that she must be aware of his possibilities … and … all that is opposed to that process.119

So far, we have analyzed the culture and language of youth. Since youth live in a culture which is uniquely theirs, in order to be a Church of the young it is of crucial importance that the positive aspects of their culture need to be incorporated into the Church's life and mission.120 This, obviously, is the urgent task of the Church in PNG if young Catholics are to mature as Christ’s disciples and be stirred by the challenge of the gospel ideals. Then they will play their part joyfully and energetically in the life and activities of the Church.

The Urgent Task

In 2001, the bishops of PNG wrote a pastoral letter directed to young people, reminding them, “this letter is for you because at this meeting of bishops you are not only at the centre of our discussions. We have also met with many of you and listened to your concerns. Why you? You are the hope of the nation and the Church and we want to proclaim to all of you who are so full of life and energy that Jesus Christ our Savior is alive.”121

The General Assembly that followed clearly expressed the growing realization that young people had not been given much attention in the Church. “We also recognize that we must do more to enable our youth to make their proper contribution to the church and society. We want to walk with them as they grow to maturity, increasing in grace and wisdom as the young Jesus did (Lk 2:52).”122

On Ascension Sunday 2006, at the launching of the National Pastoral Plan, the bishops again pointed out that “young people are a vital part of the Church today, that is why youth is one of the priorities of the General Assembly.”123 In their Introductory Letter, the bishops aptly synthesized the Church’s urgent mission to the young people of PNG in these words:

Our youth need our help and encouragement to discover their strength within to walk His way. Indeed the Church in Papua New Guinea is challenged to become, in a certain sense, a “Church of the young,” if it is to transform our country, the majority of whom are young people! For this to happen we are promoting a holistic national youth ministry plan.124

Like the PNG government, the Church too seems to be only beginning to grapple with the new yet rapidly growing phenomenon of street children:

We take this opportunity especially to call on religious men and women to examine, in line with their charism, how they could respond to the growing number of young people pushed out of the education system as well as the emerging phenomenon of street children. Many of these street children and young people do not have the care and support of a family, they do not attend school and are uprooted from their own culture and people. The pastoral love of the Good Shepherd urges us to reach out to them.125

In 2007, the theme of the Annual General Meeting of the Bishops’ Conference was precisely on children. They wrote a letter to children, reminding them how much their bishops love them, and another very long pastoral letter of eight pages (Let the Children Come to Me) calling attention to the plight of children. Yet, paradoxically, other than a trite exhortation to “have a special concern for orphans, street kids, and disabled children,”126 no mention is made of this growing phenomenon. Could this initial appeal for help, followed by an almost complete silence, be perhaps an indication that not all bishops see the street children as a pressing problem that demands an urgent solution? Yet, street children will grow up fast to be street youth unless something is done now!

A Constant Concern of the Church

It must be noted that young people have always been an important concern of the Church in Papua New Guinea.127 The first missionaries immediately took to heart the education of young people. To this day, the Catholic Church, like many ecclesial communities, is an important partner agency in the education of the country’s youth by operating schools at all levels. The several Don Bosco technical secondary schools, Hohola Youth Development Center, Canossa School of Life, and the Divine Word University are examples of how the Catholic Church continues to cater to the education of the different groups of young Papua New Guineans. In fact, throughout the years, the Church’s concern for the young has been expressed in multifaceted responses: the family life national and diocesan offices organize, among others, personality development programs as well as rape and trauma counseling. The National Catholic AIDS Council has programs that target specifically young people. The Caritas office has also funded many self-help projects for women and youth groups. However, for our purpose, we shall focus on specific programs in youth ministry.

Two years after the local hierarchy was established, Bishop Gerard Deschamps, SMM was appointed as first episcopal representative for youth. The next year, the Conference of Catholic Youth Workers was held in order “to establish the structures of the national youth work of the Church [so that] young Catholic workers assume their full responsibility in their sphere of life.”128 This led to the formation of the Young Christian Association, which came to be known to many youth simply as YC. It was deeply inspired by the Young Christian Movement established by Joseph Cardinal Cardijn of Belgium in 1912 and the Decree on the Laity of Vatican II. Soon, almost overnight, YC centers, open to youth of all denominations, mushroomed in many dioceses.

In 1970, the bishops accepted the YC as the privileged expression of Catholic youth ministry. But they also established the National Catholic Youth Council to unify and coordinate youth ministry in the country. The YC aimed “not only to foster the faith of its members in the fullest sense, but to help them develop into self-reliant, responsible citizens who participate in every aspect of community life and are ready to assume direction in their lives.”129 Unfortunately its growth was not sustained, so much so that 1983, the Catholic Bishops Conference pointed out, “there is a need for a change in the present interpretation and approach of YC towards Cardijn’s true teaching.” They felt that “a review of the situation of the YC will be necessary.”130

In 1985, Pope John Paul II responded to the United Nations International Youth Year by organizing the annual World Youth Day. That same year, a delegation led by Archbishop Michael Meier, SVD of Mt. Hagen visited Australia to know more about another youth movement that was making waves in Australia, the Antioch Movement. It was a youth movement founded at the Notre Dame University in 1964. The movement quickly spread from Mt. Hagen to the other four dioceses of the highlands region as well as the coastal dioceses, particularly, Wewak, Madang, and Lae. Antioch has been an important faith experience for many committed Catholics today. In 1985, the National Catholic Youth Assembly was also held in Lae.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference, that same year, accepted the National Catholic Youth Assembly’s proposal that the National Catholic Youth team would include a Bishop Deputy and a National Catholic Youth Coordinator, based in Port Moresby. The National Catholic Youth Coordinator was tasked to work with diocesan and youth coordinators. The bishops also decided that the youth would be under the Office of the Laity. They further decided that “the leadership training within the Catholic Youth Movement be considered a top priority” and that “the localization at all levels of youth work be encouraged.” However, the intended eight-month Youth Workers Program, organized in 1988, lasted only for ten weeks. The program tried to cover integral human development, probation and rehabilitation, culture, bookkeeping, and basic skills on how to set up small-scale projects such as t-shirt printing, water supply, and puppet making! The next year, the Deputy Bishop for Youth, Karl Hesse, MSC, presented the Catholic Youth Handbook, edited by Anton Hlavin and published by Br. Norbert Cuypers.

In 2001, the theme of the bishops’ Annual General Meeting was “Youth Walking His Way.” Youth representatives were invited to dialogue with the bishops who listened attentively to what the young people expressed. Its fruit was a pastoral letter addressed specially to young people. That year the new position of Youth Chaplain was created, tasked to work closely with the National Youth Coordinator. That same year the Liturgical Catechetical Institute also organized a workshop for youth animators from many dioceses. The next year the Office of the Laity was revamped and the position of Youth Chaplain was integrated into that of the Youth Coordinator. The year 2003 marked the first National Youth Pilgrimage to the Shrine of Blessed Peter ToRot. Yet, through all these, the bishops recognized that “there had been almost no financial support for the Youth Office from the CBC.”131

In 2005, based on the strategy of the National Pastoral Plan “to develop a Regional Youth Plan,”132 the Bishops’ Conference opted to appoint a PNG National Youth Coordinator from among the diocesan youth coordinators.”133 Surprisingly, they opted to abolish the Office for Laity and Women and the Youth Desk, which was part of the said Office. Paradoxically, during their Annual General Meeting in 2006, Bishop Rochus Tatamai, MSC was elected Deputy Bishop for Youth!134 Still, it has to be said that during his first year of office, youth ministry received the needed dose of energy, direction, and enthusiasm. A pro-active approach was taken. In November 2006, he organized a workshop of all diocesan youth coordinators “to review past programs in order to develop a National Youth Plan in harmony with the National Pastoral Plan.”135 In 2007 the bishops decided to appoint the National Chaplain for Catholic Youth, specifying that “this is not to establish anew the central desk for youth as formerly in Port Moresby; instead, this Chaplain would work from the place of residence, preferably in the highlands.”136

The workshop organized by Bishop Tatamai had a clear mandate to draw up a National Youth Ministry Plan that is expected “to address national youth issues,”137 the holistic formation of young people,138 and at the same time ensure “that catechesis is part of the national youth plan and diocesan program.”139 The workshop took note of the strengths and weaknesses of the past experiences of Catholic youth ministry in PNG and built on it by producing Journeying with the Young to Walk His WayTell His Truth, and Live His Life(A Framework for Catholic Youth Ministry in Papua New Guinea), as well as the National Youth Ministry Strategic Plan 2006-2010, which was intended to implement the principles laid down in the said Framework.

A Glance at the Framework

The National Pastoral Plan expressed the General Assembly’s vision for its youth in these words:

We want our youth to enjoy a happy and fulfilled life in Christ. We believe that this will best be achieved by enabling our youth to participate fully in the life of the church and society. This will be assisted by a holistic youth ministry including social, spiritual, emotional, and life skills dimensions that would prepare them for lifetime commitments. They would have many activities and opportunities available to them, especially opportunities to be of service to others.140

Through a consultative process, which drew out from the experiences of the past and the challenges met by the present youth coordinators, theFramework was formulated and approved by the Bishops during their Annual General Meeting in 2007.141 Its Vision-Mission sets clearly the direction of Catholic Youth Ministry in PNG in the light of the General Assembly:

Like the Risen Christ Walking with the Disciples to Emmaus,
We, Catholic Youth and the Christian Community,
Alive in Christ,
Journey Together Towards Human and Christian Maturity
by Promoting a Holistic Catholic Youth Ministry
Inspired by Christian and Melanesian Values and Spirituality.142

The Framework is inspired by the icon of Jesus walking with the disciples along the road to Emmaus (Lk 24: 13-35). Thus it defines the goal, process, context, and agents of youth ministry in these terms:

Youth ministry is journeying with the young, walking with them as Jesus walked with the disciples along the road to Emmaus, enabling them gradually to get up and stand on their own. It is establishing an educative relationship between youth and youth animator that enables their gradual growth towards human and Christian maturity.143

Since “the fundamental goal of youth ministry is the evangelization of young people,”144 the Frameworkemphasizes that it “focuses on the personal encounter with Jesus Christ” so as to lead the young “to human and Christian maturity.” Consequently youth ministry is envisioned to be developmental in order to truly accompany the young through the different stages of their growth—adolescents, youth at their prime, and young adults.145

The Framework outlines four dimensions146 to ensure a holistic youth ministry as mandated by the National Pastoral Plan: (1) Human Maturity (through programs on human sexuality, courtship, marriage preparation, sports, music, cultural and talent shows, responsible parenthood, literacy and livelihood skills); (2) Relationship with Christ (fostering of regular prayer, daily reading of Scriptures, sacraments, Marian devotion through youth catechesis, with confirmation as its important moment); (3) Membership in the Church (development of a positive sense of Christian and Catholic identity and active participation in the Church’s life and worship); (4)Involvement in the World (through solidarity projects and practical forms of social involvement within their reach, like community service, prison and hospital visitation, care for the sick). These four dimensions are built on the four Melanesian values of community, relationships, exchange, and gutpela sindaun or the “good life,” which is the ultimate value comprising security, health, wealth, growth, and good relationships.147

Since the General Assembly re-echoes John Paul II’s invitation to give primacy to growth in holiness, theFrameworkinsists, “a holistic youth ministry must produce holy young people.” Thus it boldly proposes the fostering of a youth spirituality “adapted to their particular age and situation within the entire context of our Melanesian cultures” so that they may “encounter Christ in their daily life and activities and grow in holiness.” Thus, the four dimensions of youth ministry flow into the four dimensions of youth spirituality: spirituality of ordinary daily life, spirituality of friendship with Jesus, spirituality of communion with the Church, and spirituality of responsible service.148

TheFramework then outlines the profile of the youth animator and the settings of youth ministry (parish, school, youth groups, movements, and associations) and its organization from the national, diocesan, and parish level, with their corresponding duty statements.149 It is clear that the Framework has given Catholic youth ministry a new dose of enthusiasm, providing clear principles and guidelines which are applied through measurable lines of action in the National Youth Ministry Strategic Plan 2006-2010. But whether theFramework would be actually implemented through the Strategic Plan remains to be seen. Perhaps a brief reflection on past experiences could indicate some useful hints.

Have We Learned from the Past?

The past experiences of Catholic youth ministry in Papua New Guinea show clear patterns that need to be briefly examined. One outstanding pattern is the regular ups and downs in emphases and activities through the years. A closer examination reveals that the numerous activities were closely connected with individuals who were at the helm of Catholic youth ministry in the country. These were charismatic individuals who were full of initiative and enthusiasm for youth ministry. Catholic youth ministry in PNG depends on individual initiatives; yet, in any organizational renewal, it is the whole system with its underlying frame of mind that needs to be given attention to and renewed. Opting for easier stopgap measures will be highly ineffective, as proven by past experiences.

In the past, there were clearly diverse and divergent understandings of what youth ministry really is. Thus, through the years, youth ministry programs raged from social awareness to bookkeeping and livelihood programs to music and retreats, obviously depending on the inclination of the national and, to a certain extent, also of the diocesan animator. The monopoly of one movement (like the YC or Antioch) as the privileged expression of Catholic youth ministry, though in many ways effective, also clearly stifled other possible initiatives and paradigms in ministering to young people.

There have been many frameworks in the past but they were quickly forgotten because no strategic plan was formulated to implement them. Yet the present Framework for Youth Ministry in Papua New Guinea and theNational Youth Ministry Strategic Plan 2006-2010 will only be effective if there will be the political will to implement them. Otherwise, these would be doomed to become mere historical documents in the archives of Catholic youth ministry in PNG. Their implementation, however, hinges on a very crucial issue.

I consider myself privileged to have been invited by the Liturgical Catechetical Institute to organize and facilitate, with Fr. Jess Escala, SDB, the workshop for youth animators in 2001. In 2006, towards the conclusion of my term as Director of the Liturgical Catechetical Institute, I was also invited by Bishop Tatamai to facilitate the workshop for Diocesan Youth Coordinators that eventually produced the Framework and theStrategic Plan 2006-2010. In both these meetings it was not long before I realized the common pitfall of Catholic youth ministry through these years—the training of qualified animators! The participants themselves in these workshops expressed what had become increasingly obvious to me. All these youth animators and youth coordinators were dedicated youth and active in their youth groups. Almost all were great musicians but many had barely a high school education, some even less. Yet they are expected to have the skills to draw up a diocesan plan and to coordinate and animate the diocesan youth ministry program! In short, the selection, appointment, and training of qualified—and adequately funded—youth ministers at the national and diocesan level is a crucial issue that lies at the root of the problem. Opting for facile and stopgap solutions would be a great disservice to Catholic youth ministry and would condemn Catholic youth ministry to launch various initiatives without renewing the system, thus continuing the “law of diminishing returns”!

Prospects for the Future

The coming World Youth Day in neighboring Australia is certainly stirring great interest among many youth in PNG. Hopefully this interest is for the right reasons and not just “to see” the land of former colonial masters. I believe that this crescendo of enthusiasm before the World Youth Day is the kairos to relaunch Catholic youth ministry through the Framework and the implementation of the Strategic Plan. It is a temporary, unique situation, almost a parenthesis in youth ministry. Yet it is certainly a kairos, a temporary moment of grace, which is of greatest importance for Catholic youth ministry in PNG. Failing to act during this “time of grace” would be a missed opportunity and would make the expensive trip of many Catholic youth to Sydney nothing more than a grand picnic!

My alarm bells started ringing when the Bishops’ Conference approved the Framework and theStrategic Planyet decided that “it will be sent to each of the Bishops and they will decide how to print and distribute it for their diocese.”150 Months later, Bishop Tatamai confirmed what I expected to happen. In one of his correspondences with me, Bishop Tatamai lamented the fact that in a number of dioceses he visited, theFramework and the Strategic Plan practically remained unknown to many youth animators! If youth are indeed a priority of the Catholic Church in PNG, there ought to be a serious effort to appoint and train a Youth Coordinator who would be capable of implementing the holistic Catholic youth ministry both at the diocesan and national level. Certainly, there are no easy solutions. Yet the political will to respond to the root problem of Catholic youth ministry would clearly indicate whether the post-General Assembly Church in PNG has learned from the pitfalls of the past or is just going to continue the previous pattern: formulating new initiatives without renewing the system. A half-hearted response would be another missed opportunity during thiskairosof the Church in PNG!

You Are Not Alone!”

The alarming situation of young people in Papua New Guinea is clearly a source of intense sorrow to all because “the problems our nation faces impact on them more than any other group of people,” thus “many young people today are disillusioned because of the present state of our nation. Some have given up hope altogether and have turned to drugs and alcohol for comfort or to a life of crime.” Yet they inspire great hope because “these youngsters are essentially good at the center of their hearts and we would not give up on them”.151 The Church should not give up on them and should not spare time, effort, and money to invest in the formation of trained and qualified youth ministers. Anything less would be tantamount to abandoning youth as a priority.

The Church never loses hope in sinful humanity. The Catholic Church never loses hope in young people even if their present situation is a source of intense sorrow for her. She continues to point the way with hope, even if she continues to struggle to find a meaningful way to journey with every young person. The Bishops’ letter to the young people of Papua New Guinea seems to serve as a fitting ending to this long article:

We want you to know that you are not alone and many good people are walking with you. To walk His way means you have to be ready to be different from others. Take up the challenge and be strong. We know you have the strength within you because you are “a special gift of the Spirit of God.” Love God and love others as Christ loves all people. Follow Jesus who is alive and wants you to walk His way with confidence and hope!152



Cf. N. Ahai, Literacy in an Emergent Society: Papua New Guinea (SIL International, 2004), 3; H. Ivarature,Drugs, Arms and National Security: the Global Becomes Local in Papua New Guinea (Port Moresby: Life and Peace Institute), 2; Papua New Guinea.Online.Gov,, accessed 2 October 2007; US Department of State, 2797.htm, accessed 2 October 2007.

Cf. Australian Government Overseas Aid State, http://www., accessed 6 November 2007.

Cf. Ahai, 1-2; Ivarature, 2-3; US Department of State.

M. Ernst, “Globalization Processes in the Pacific Islands,” in M. Ernst, ed., Globalization and the Reshaping of Christianity in the Pacific islands (Suva: The Pacific Theological College, 2006), 58.

Cf. M. A. Rynkiewich, Cultures and Languages of Papua New Guinea (Goroka: Melanesian Institute, 2004), 17.

Cf. J. L. Whittaker et al., Documents and Readings in New Guinea History: Prehistory to 1889 (Milton: The Jacaranda Press, 1982), 182-195, 335-337; F. Zocca, I Cristiani Neri dell’Oceania (Bologna: EMI, 2006), 34-35, 40.

Cf. Whittaker, 188-189; A Short History of Christianity in Papua New Guinea (Goroka: Liturgical Catechetical Institute, 1979), 5-6.

Cf. Whittaker, 331-335.

Cf. Blessed Giovanni Mazzucconi (Alotau: Diocese of Alotau-Sidea, 2005); N. Maestrini, Mazzucconi of Woodlark (Hong Kong: Catholic Truth Society, 1983), 89-95.

A commemorative marker at the Holy Rosary Parish in Port Moresby lists down these Filipino lay catechists as follows: Nicolas Albatiel, Basilio Artango, Anastacio Buensuceso, Telesforo Baleas, Marcello Fabila, Francis Castro, Juan de la Cruz, Juan Malabag, Emmanuel Natera, Gregorio Ramos, Diego Randall, Cyrillo Spinoza, Bernardino Taligatus, and Gregorio Toricheba.

Cf. G. Pinda, “The Early Years,” in P. Gibbs, ed., Alive in Christ: The Synod for Oceania and the Catholic Church in Papua New Guinea 1998-2005, Point Series 30 (Goroka: Melanesian Institute, 2006), 14-31; Whittaker, 345-348, 365-367, 380-382; Zocca, 86-91.

Zocca, 98.

Cf. P. Gibbs, “The Catholic Church in PNG after World War II,” in P. Gibbs, ed., Alive in Christ, 22-24; “A Brief History of the Catholic Church in Papua New Guinea,” in Papal Visit 1995 Media Kit, 1-7; I. Timba, “The Receiving - to Sending Mission Church,” in P. Gibbs, ed., Alive in Christ, 32, 34-35, 53.

Cf. J. Knoebel, Self Study of the Catholic Church in Papua New Guinea: Final Report (Goroka: Self Study Secretariat), 3; H. Janssen, “From Dar Es Salaam to Goroka,” Catalyst 5 (1975) 2: 4.

Knoebel, 21.

Cf. General Assembly of the Catholic Church of Papua New Guinea, Discussion Papers; D. Young, “Kairos in Papua New Guinea: The General Assembly of the Catholic Church,” in P. Gibbs, ed., Alive in Christ, 189-194.

Cf. “We are Church Alive in Christ,” Pastoral Letter of the Catholic Bishops of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands on the General Assembly (July 2004), in L. Stephens and A. Maravilla, eds., Statements of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands 1993-2006 (Goroka: Liturgical Catechetical Institute, 2006), 276.

Cf. Young, 189-190.

Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands (CBCPNGSI), Alive in Christ: National Pastoral Plan, 2.

Cf. HELP Resources Inc., A Situational Analysis of Child Sexual Abuse and the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in Papua New Guinea (2005), 14-15.

Ibid., 12.

Ibid., 15.

Ibid., 14.

Cf. H. Buchanan-Aruwafu et al., Strategies and Framework for Targeting Youth, Milestone #37 (Port Moresby: National HIV/AIDS Support Project, 2002), 5.

CBCPNGSI, Framework for Catholic Youth Ministry (Port Moresby: Catholic Youth Ministry Desk, 2007), 18.

“Youth, Cops to Work Hand-in-Hand,” The National (18 December 2007): 7.

Cf. Buchanan-Aruwafu, 6.

M. Pitts, “Crime and Corruption—Does Papua New Guinea Have a Capacity to Control It?” Pacific Economic Bulletin, 16 (November 2001) 2: 129.

Cf. J. Leigh Harper, Rascals, Resistance and Ethnographic Reticence in Papua New Guinea (London/Ontario: University of Ontario, 1998), 10-15.

Cf. Harper, 11-12; K. Barber, “The Bugiau Community at Eight-Mile: An Urban Settlement in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea,” Oceania 73 (2003): 287.

Cf. National AIDS Council Secretariat, Monitoring the Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS (January 2004-December 2005), 9.

Buchanan-Aruwafu, 6.

Ibid., 7.


Ivarature, 26; At the end of a character development and drug education and awareness training program, John Mapusa, Director General of the National Narcotics Bureau, pointed out that “most social problems like law and order, tribal fighting, family problems, social disorders and the spread of AIDS/HIV can be linked to the abuse of illicit drugs. Many public and private sectors are making attempts to curb the effect of it but not the root cause” [“Drug Abuse Rife,” Post Courier (31 October 2007): 9].

“Homebrew, Marijuana Sold Openly at Market,” The National (24 October 2007): 6.

J. Halvaksz and D. Lipset, “Another Kind of Gold: An Introduction to Marijuana in Papua New Guinea,”Oceania 76 (2006) 3: 216.

Cf. Buchanan-Aruwafu, 7.


C. Jenkins and M. Alpers, “Urbanisation, Youth and Sexuality: Insights for an AIDS Campaign for Youth in Papua New Guinea,” PNG Medical Journal 36 (1996): 248.

Cf. Buchanan-Aruwafu, 7.

F. Zocca and N. de Groot, Young Melanesian Project: Data Analysis, Point Series #21 (Goroka: Melanesian Institute, 1997), 97-98, 210-212.

Cf. National AIDS Council Secretariat, 9.

J. Siegel, “Formal vs. Non-Formal Vernacular Education: The Education Reform in Papua New Guinea,”Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 18 (1997) 3: 208.

Zocca and de Groot, 228.

Ibid., 115-119.

Ibid., 120-22.

M. Pitts, 132.

Cf. Ibid., 130.

Zocca and de Groot, 219.

Jenkins and Alpers, 249.

Ibid., 250.

This is a Pidgin term for “student.”

Jenkins and Alpers, 248.

C. Jenkins, Youth in Danger: AIDS and STDs among Young People in Papua New Guinea (Goroka: PNGIMR, 1997), 8.

Zocca and de Groot, 210.

Cf. C. Freeman, P. Anderson, and G. Morgan, “PNG Curriculum Reform Implementation Project: Report on the Pilot Curriculum Standards Monitoring Tests,” AusAID (June 2005).

Martin Kenehe, Chairman of the Commission on Higher Education, called for an immediate review of the National Education Plan (2002-2114) because of the shocking low number of those progressing to Grade 12: “from the enrolment of 125,345 students to Grade 3 in 2005, some 92.2% or 115,568 students would drop out or being pushed out of primary and secondary education system before they reach Grade 12. Out of the 125,345 students, only 9,777 students are projected to be in Grade 12 by 2014,” [“Plan Reveals Shocking Figures,” The National (13 November 2007): 6].

The data is from the United Nations Human Development Report 2004. Cf. map203_ver5.pdf, accessed 17 October 2007.

R. E. Young, “Papua New Guinea: The New Elite,” Journal of Sociology 11 (1975) 3: 39.

C. Kidu, “Reflections on Change, Ethnicity and Conflict: Family and Ethnic Violence in Papua New Guinea,”Development Bulletin 53 (November 2000): 29.

“Scores of Children Are Not in School,” The National (18 October 2007): 5.

Jenkins, Youth in Danger, 8.

Kidu, 31.

“70,000 School Leavers this Year,” The National (15 December 2005): 4.

Dr. William Targi, Director-General of the Office of Higher Education (OHE), expressed alarm over a tendency among student protesters to resort to a “seize-and-mob” mentality at the height of violent student unrest in the University of Technology over issues affecting the staff and students: “Incidents of student unrest in universities have assumed a greater enormity and significance which we believe is precipitated by a number of factors. They include academic stress, non-participation in decision-making, changing value systems of students, teacher and parental influence, contemporary national issues, welfare and ethnic problems,” [“Protest Mentality Alarms OHE,” The National (22 October 2007): 2].

Zocca and de Groot, 217.


Cf. HELP Resources Inc., 12.

Jenkins, Youth in Danger, 8.

Two girls were recently charged in Lae for breaking and entering: “One of the girls, aged 14, was a grade 3 student at a primary school while the other, aged 15, was a high school student. Police said the girls broke into a house and stole properties worth more than K300 including cash. … The girls’ parents and villagers had tried a number of times to sort out the matter in the village but they were always abused and assaulted. The villagers finally reported the girls to the police after they broke into a permanent house in the village” [Post Courier (19 December 2007): 4].

Zocca and de Groot, 222-224.

Ibid., 227.

National Centre for Development Studies, “A ‘Big-Push’ to Curb Crime in Papua New Guinea,” Briefing Paper #1 (July 1997), 2.


“Nine-Mile Youths Surrender Firearms,” The National (14 December 2007): 5.

Buchanan-Aruwafu, 7.

Cf. Salatiel and Dawanicura.

Cf. A. Dickson-Waiko, “The Missing Rib: Mobilizing Women for Change in Papua New Guinea,” Oceania 74 (2003): 99-101. The article is an interesting study of the contribution of the churches in uplifting the dignity of women in Papua New Guinea.

Cf. C. Bradley, “Family and Sexual Violence in PNG,” Institute of National Affairs, Discussion Paper #84, 49.

Cf. B. Avalos, “Women and Development,” Pacific Economic Bulletin 10 (1995) 5: 75.

Jenkins, Youth in Danger, 11.

Jenkins and Alpers, 249.

Jenkins, Youth in Danger, 11.

This is slang for parties that last until the next day. It literally implies from six in the evening to six in the morning.

Jenkins, Youth in Danger, 19.

Jenkins and Alpers, 250.

Zocca and de Groot, 103-105.

Ibid., 220.

Ibid., 99-100, 124-126.

Ibid., 103-105.

Ibid., 112-113.

The term refers to the Anglican, Catholic, Lutheran, and United Churches.

P. Gibbs, “Papua New Guinea,” in M. Ernst, ed., Globalization, 99.

Jenkins and Alpers, 250.

“Editorial: Christianity and Crime,” The National (31 October 2007): 20

Cf. C. Jenkins, HIV/AIDS, Culture and Sexuality in Papua New Guinea (Asian Development Bank, 2006), 6.

Cf. D. van Heekeren, “Feeding Relationship: Uncovering Cosmology in Christian Women’s Relationship in Papua New Guinea,” Oceania 75 (2004): 100. The author presents a particular case in Hula village.

Cf. Wilde, “‘Turning Sex into Game’: Gogodala Men’s Response to the AIDS Epidemic and Condom Promotion in Rural Papua New Guinea,” Oceania 77 (2007): 62. The article is a study of Gogodala men’s responses to AIDS prevention. They reveal a way of thinking that is quite common in PNG today.

Cf. H. Wardlow, “Men’s Extramarital Sexuality in Rural Papua New Guinea,” American Journal of Public Health97 (2007) 6: 1006-1113.

Cf. HELP Resources Inc., 24.

Cf. A. Dundon and C. Wilde, “HIV and AIDS in Rural Papua New Guinea,” Oceania 77 (2007) 1: 5-6.

“Boys also were taught not to have sex before marriage, particularly with unmarried girls or married women, because it would cause fighting between families, via sorcery or outright violence. Young men were told their strength would be sapped, they would not grow properly, and they would face other threats to their person or body” (Jenkins, HIV/AIDS, 11).

Cf. Jenkins, Youth in Danger, 13, 18.

Ibid., 24; Cf. also C. Jenkins, National Study of Sexual and Reproductive Knowledge and Behavior in Papua New Guinea (Goroka: PNGIMR, 1994), 24-36.

Zocca and de Groot, 211.

There are many studies made on this matter from 1992 to 2002. Cf. Buchanan-Aruwafu, 9.

Ibid.; Jenkins, Youth in Danger, 19-20.

Buchanan-Aruwafu, 8. It is worth noting here that already back in 1914 the Chief Medical Officer lamented that the incidence of venereal diseases in Papua was a major problem. Cf. also Dundon and Wilde, 3-4.

Jenkins and Alpers, 249.

Zocca and de Groot, 205-208.

Ibid., 203.

C. Bradley, “Family and Sexual Violence in PNG,” Discussion Paper #85 (Institute of National Affairs), 7.

Ibid., 46.


National Youth Movement Program (Ministry for Youth and Recreation, 1982) #9, #18.

National Youth Strategy Plan (Department of the Prime Minister).

John Paul II, Redemptor hominis, #14.

John Paul II, Ecclesia in Oceania, #44.

“Pastoral Letter to Catholic Youth: Youth Walking His Way (27 April 2001),” in Stephens and Maravilla, 78.

Cf. “We are Church Alive in Christ,” 5.

“Introductory Letter to the National Pastoral Plan: Sharing the Fullness of Life (June 4, 2006),” in Stephens and Maravilla, 306.


Ibid., 307.

CBCPNGSI, Minutes of the 47th Annual General Meeting (2006), 39. Hereinafter, CBCPNGSI 47.

Cf. CBC Laity Youth Desk, The Church is the Youth of the World: CBC Youth Ministry Dossier (Port Moresby: CBC Laity Youth Desk, 2004), 15-22.

Conference of Catholic Youth Workers (Port Moresby, 1969), 1.

YC Animator’s Guide (Goroka: YC National Office), 7.

CBC Laity Youth Desk, 19.

CBCPNGSI, Minutes of the 45th Annual General Meeting (2004), 6. Hereinafter, CBCPNGSI 45.

CBCPNGSI, Alive in Christ: National Pastoral Plan, 22.

CBCPNGSI 45, 16.

CBCPNGSI 47, 24.

CBCPNGSI, National Pastoral Plan, 22.


CBCPNGSI, National Pastoral Plan, 23.

Cf. Ibid., 23-24.

Ibid., 24.

Ibid., 21.

CBCPNGSI 47, 19.

CBCPNGSI, Framework, 4.

Ibid., 17.

Ibid., 10.

Cf. Ibid., 18.

Cf. Ibid., 17-22.

Cf. Ibid., 19.

Cf. Ibid., 23-24.

Cf. Ibid., 26-37.

CBCPNGSI 47, 22.

“Open Letter to Prime Minister Mekere Morauta (27 April 2001),” in Stephens and Maravilla, 133.

“Pastoral Letter to Youth: Youth Walking His Way (21 April 2001),” in Ibid., 80.


  1. Cf. I. Salatiel and L. Dawanicura, Information About Street Children—PNG (UNICEF Port Moresby), in A Civil Society Forum for East and South-East Asia on Promoting and Protecting the Rights of Street Children (Bangkok, Thailand, 12-14 March 2003), Australian Government Overseas Aid, png/png_intro. cfm, accessed 2 October 2007.


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