Margaret Suter – Goroka

Margaret Suter
Goroka, Papua New Guinea

New Guinea is the second largest island in the world and is located just north of Australia. The island is comprised of two countries: Irian Jaya, which is part of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, which claimed their independence from Australia in 1975. Papua New Guinea is a Christian country. There are around five million people who populate PNG, with one million Catholics. The country is divided into 19 Province and for the most part, each Province has its own Diocese.

I arrived in Papua New Guinea in November of 2002. After spending three days in Port Moresby, the capital, I flew to Goroka. Papua New Guinea has two land regions – the mountainous inner region, called the Highlands and coastal region. The coastal areas are hot and humid. Goroka is a small town in the eastern Highlands Province. Goroka has very pleasant weather – they say it is perpetual springtime in Goroka. It rains quite often in Goroka, so it is always green.

I do the bookkeeping for the Catholic book store called the Liturgical Catechetical Institute (LCI), which is under the arm and subsidized by the Catholic Bishops Conference of PNG. Fr. Alfred, SDB is the director of LCI. LCI sells religious education materials, mostly books, to religious institutions throughout PNG. LCI also has a Printshop which prints religious materials. I live and work on LCI property. There is a rental house on the property which is currently being rented by three University of Goroka women students. Through these women, I have met other students and have become friends with some of them.

After working hours, I am involved with my Parish Church which is a five minute walk from LCI. Town is about 20 minutes walk from LCI. (Goroka is referred to as "town" – they don’t use the word "downtown"). On Saturday mornings I pray with the Junior Legion of Mary. On Sunday mornings I teach Sunday school. The local language is called Pidgin, which is a combination of broken English and German. There are two Masses, the 8:00 English Mass and the 9:30 Pidgin Misa. The university is close to the Parish so the university students lead the liturgy for the English mass. I go to the English Mass and teach during the Pidgin Mass. And yes, I teach in Pidgin. English is taught in the schools but most of the kids don’t pick it up until about Grade 5.

After the Pidgin Mass, I sometimes meet with the Mama group. The term "Mama" (and "Papa") does not necessarily mean a woman is a mother. "Mama" is more of a term of endearment, or a term of respect. The younger generation never refer to their elders by their names but instead call them either "Mama" or "Auntie". The Mama group is involved with the parish.

My Parish Priest, Fr. Darius, is from Poland. Fr. Alfred is from the Philippines. The best part about my job is getting to meet other people from different parts of the world. There is a strong Australian influence and many Australians in PNG. I have met many religious from Europe, a few from South America and quite a few from the United States. There are two other American religious in Goroka – Fr. Jonathan, a Franciscan Capuchin from Kansas and Sr. Catherine, who is in her 80’s and still teaches, from New York.

The people, for the most part, are very warm and friendly. Music and sports are a big part of their lives. The more popular sports are rugby, soccer, volleyball and basketball. Both men and women play sports. The two biggest adjustments I have had to make are their simple way of life and the slow pace. I have come to appreciate the simplicity of their lives. The slow pace I am still adjusting to and don’t know if I’ll ever adjust to it.

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