Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The Martyrs of New Guinea

Almighty God, we remember before you this day the blessed martyrs of New Guinea, who, following the example of their Savior, laid down their lives for their friends; and we pray that we who honor their memory may imitate their loyalty and faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

I don't know enough about the Martyrs of New Guinea, and almost everything I could find was basically the two paragraphs written by James Kiefer. I found the following reading from Celebrating The Saints: Devotional Readings For Saints' Days by Robert Atwell and Christopher L. Webber. The passage is from The White-Robed Army of Martyrs by David Hand, the first Archbishop of Papua New Guinea:

As the thrust of the Japanese invasion approached Papua New Guinea in 1942, Bishop Philip Strong broadcast over the radio a message to his staff which has become famous in the annals of missionary history. He said,

We could never hold up our faces again, if for our own safety, we all forsook him and fled when the shadows of the passion began to gather around him in his spiritual body, the Church in Papua. Our life in the future would be burdened with shame and we could not come back here and face our people again; and we would be conscious always of rejected opportunities. The history of the church tell us that missionaries do not think of themselves in the hour of danger and crisis, but of the Master who called them to give their all, and of the people they have been trusted to serve and love to the uttermost. His watchword is none the less true today, as it was when he gave it to the first disciples: "Whosoever would save his life will lose it, and whosoever will lose his life for my sake and the gospel's shall find it." We could not leave unless God, who called us, required it of us and our spiritual instinct tells us he would never require such a thing at such an hour. No, my brothers and sisters, fellow workers in Christ, whatever others may do, we cannot leave. We shall not leave. We shall stand by our trust. We shall stand by our vocation. Papua is a body, the Church: God will not forsake us. He will uphold us; he will strengthen us and he will guide us and keep us through the days that lie ahead. If we all left, it would take years for the Church to recover from our betrayal of our trust. If we remain --- and even if the worst came to the worst and we were all to perish in remaining---the Church will not perish, for there would have been no breach of trust in its walls, but its foundations and structure would have received added strength for the future building by our faithfulness unto death. This, I believe, is the resolution of you all. I know there are special circumstances which may make it imperative for one or two to go (if arrangements can be made for them to do so). for the rest of us, we have made our resolution to stay. Let us not shrink from it. Let us trust and not be afraid. To you all I send my blessing. The Lord be with you.

What happened? To a man and woman, all the bishop's staff stood by their people until it became clear that the course might imperil their people. The Bishop himself was bombed and machine-gunned. He escaped injury, despite traveling freely and fearlessly around his diocese to care for, and encouraged his staff and people, as well as acting as senior chaplain to the military. Among those who died were the two Gona sisters, teacher Mavis Parkinson and nurse May Hayman. They were handed over to the Japanese, and bayoneted to death at Ururu where an altar-shrine now marks the spot. Elderly and holy Father Henry Holland, having served in Papua New Guinea for twenty-five years, first as a lay evangelist, and latterly as a priest at Isivita, stacks of whose translations of the Scriptures into the Orokaiva language were scattered and lost when the Japanese looted his station; he and John Duffill, his close colleague, were both killed. Father Vivian Redlich of Sangara, who refused to abandon his Sunday Mass when warning came that the Japanese arrival at this camp was imminent and Lucian Tapiedi, his devoted teacher-evangelist who had said to his married colleagues: "Take your wives and families to the bush and hide. I am single; I'll stay with the fathers and sisters; it doesn't matter if the Japanese get me;" the Sangara missionary-teachers Lilla Lashmar and Margery Brenchley, who had laid the foundations of the Church's educational work in the Orokaiva area, all perished. John Barge, recently posted to open up work in a totally un-evangelized area, refuse to "go bush" with the nearest Roman Catholic priest. Forced to dig his own grave he was then shot into it by Japanese guns.

Many people blamed Bishop Strong for not taking out all his staff to safety. But it was, ultimately, their own choice. To the world, it seemed a waste, a tragedy, a failure like Calvary. But look what God has done with it, with their "defeat." He has turned it into victory. Look at the rise of the Martyr's School in their honor---a living organism, not just a memorial, serving God and the nation. Look at the fruit of martyrdom in the ability of the Orokaiva Church to resurrect after the Lamington eruption. Look at the post-World War II leap forward into inland Papuan areas, the New Britain Resurrection and the great "putsch" into the New Guinea Highlands. Yes, "the blood of the martyrs" has once again proved to be "the seed of the Church" here in this country. Thanks be to God. Archbishop David Hand

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