Last month, delegates from Townsville diocese in Queensland attended the 50th anniversary of their sister diocese, the Archdiocese of Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea. Neil Helmore writes about meeting and hearing the stories and concerns close to the heart of Cardinal John Ribat, Papua New Guinea's first locally-born cardinal and the first cardinal from the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart (MSC).
On night Sunday the 9th of October, Archbishop John Ribat, Archbishop of Port Moresby was settling in to relax just after 8pm when his mobile phone rang. It was the Apostolic Nuncio for Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands Archbishop Kurian Mathew Vayalunkal. “He asked me if I was home, I said I was about to retire for the evening, he said wait, I am on my way over with some important information form the Vatican” Cardinal Ribat said.
“I immediately wondered what I had done wrong.”
“When he arrived he calmly advised me that the Holy Father had named me as a Cardinal, I was overwhelmed and humbled to hear these words” he said.
“I feel that my role in working with all churches is also appealing to the Holy Father and I feel strongly about my role within Papua New Guinea in dialogue with all churches” Cardinal Ribat said. “You see it was the LMS and Methodists who were here first and then the Catholics came and we all need to work together to help the people.”
“It is also important that our voice is heard out in the world. Here is Papua New Guinea and many islands around us facing difficult times with climate change and Pope Francis referenced this in his writing of his encyclical Laudato Si' by highlighting rising sea levels. I see that I can use this position to highlight what is happening here. Up in Bougainville the church has secured some coconut plantation land to resettle people from Mono Island who are being forced out because of rising water levels but this is not easy. These people feel like refugees in their own country, but the United Nations does not recognise them as refugees and therefore they cannot get any assistance and it is difficult for them,” Cardinal Ribat said.
Part of the responsibilities of a Cardinal is the appointment as Parish Priest of a Parish in Rome. Cardinal Ribat has been appointed to the Parish of San Giovanni Battista de Rossi. “I have visited the parish and I feel that I also need to get to know the people there as in the beginning the parish priests of the roman parish elected the new pope and now it is the Cardinals from around the world. I now have a family abroad as well as my family here in PNG and the church is universal and we are all part of the family of the Lord,” he said.
The difficulty will be that the priest in residence doesn’t speak any English and Cardinal Ribat doesn’t speak any Italian. He insists that when he returns in February to take possession of the Parish he will be able to say the Mass in Italian.
Cardinal Ribat confirmed that he is looking forward to visiting Townsville in the future to welcome the new Bishop of Townsville and continue the relationship with the Archdiocese of Port Moresby. “I will come down to be part of that celebration in Townsville and it filled my heart with joy that you were able to come to these celebrations, I see this relationship between our two dioceses that the relationship is nurtured and developed in the years to come” he said.
(Photo credit: Neil Helmore)
Neil Helmore is the Communications and Vocations Coordinator of the Catholic Diocese of Townsville.