A few days in a Bomana Seminary

Rev. Michael McEntee talks about a few days in Bomana.

It’s a cool overcast day here for Easter, but the Lord is as truly risen as anywhere else. We began our Vigil liturgy at 2.45 a.m. finished at 6, had coffee, then some breakfast and have just finished the 8:30 Mass about 10.

The seminary has settled into a routine of study, prayer, pastoral work and relaxation. The students are working well in keeping the grounds attractive and will develop a vegetable garden during the two weeks’ term break which begins next Saturday. Our problems with the “raskols” seems to have dropped off since two policeman came to live at the Franciscan college next door to us. That temporary arrangement will be followed by the construction of four family homes to house four policemen and their families. Their movements to and fro and the fact they will be armed should rid us of the raskol intrusion swhich have dominated the first six weeks of term. Our own college was hit only once when my office – right beneath my bedroom – was ransacked one night at 2.30 a.m. There are currently calls from several quarters as well as politicians and the women’s movement for the death sentence to be introduced. The Archbishop went on TV on Good Friday to say that the Church would not support capital punishment. He called on people to Find the political will to improve education and employment opportunities. I hope that he gets a hearing.

Many of the students will have a week’s holiday in several coastal villages along the Gulf of Papua. I will spend the time preparing classes for next term. As well as teaching four hours each week here, I will fly twice to the Highlands for three days each time to teach in the seminary there. They have 100 students in the first three years of the course (we have only 13 in those classes), after which they come here for the last three years. They are chronically short of teaching staff, so I will present my course in half the usual number of lectures and the Rector there will tutor them while I come back to do my regular teaching here.

Easter celebrations were inspiring and eye-opening. On Good Friday the Veneration of the Cross was done in traditional manner of mourning. As well as some genuflecting and making some sign of affection and respect much as we do in Australia, four big regional groups, decked out in mud and mourning finery, came to the cross, surrounded it as if it were a coffin, and rendered most soulful chants of mourning. This morning, we had the Easter Vigil from 2.45 to 6 a.m, literally walking out of the chapel to see the first rays of the rising sun. I was the presider. It was all in Pidgin – 31 pages of text. It was also my first attempt at preaching in Pidgin, which I managed OK with some help from my priest confrere. About half the homily was my own composition and half was a good story about forgiveness which I found in a book of Pidgin English. There was a spectacular lighting of the fire as we climbed a small hill outside the chapel where a bonfire had been prepared. Higher up the hill a crew had coconut husks ali ght with diesel which they launched on a flying fox into the kerosene soaked bonfire. From there it was one surprise after another. We were piped half a kilometer by the Solomon Islanders bamboo pipe band, the Gospel book was brought in by placard waving Highlanders dressed in traditional feathers and grass skirts, the readings from the Genesis about the creation and from Exodus about the Crossing of the Red Sea were dramatised by students taking the role of an elder of the tribe telling the story of the ancestors etc. There was a very humorous and very cogent retelling of the biblical stories. We had three adults to be baptised. The font was prepared by three regional representatives coming with traditional water-carrying instruments – large diameter bamboo and an excavated coconut husk wrapped in leaves. Finally, at the Words of consecration, we were met by fire eaters from new Britain who “incensed” the Host and Precious Blood with the smoke they were exhaling!

Thursday 4 May: Exam week passed, I received some good answers to my exam questions. Getting 40 people off by 3 tonne truck for a holiday at 5 a.m. last Saturday was interesting. Next Monday, we are going off shore to a research island for a picnic. It is good to have a relaxed timetable for a couple of weeks, later rising, not as much organised time, I think we are all unwinding after a full term. Twice we have received news of the death of a close relative – a sister while giving birth to twin boys, a father – and in both instances the students involved had snuck off without telling me their whereabouts! Talk about tragedy and bad luck rolled into one. I’m always taken aback at the number of students whose parents died when they were infants or at primary school age, and by the few whose mothers died giving them birth. It makes those comparisons of different nations’ mortality rates take on a human face. One of the experienced missionaries said to me that the people live close to earth and they will quickl y sniff out whether or not someone is genuine.

We have been joined by a priest from Belligen NSW to teach moral theology. He is not living here as he is on the staff of the Theological Institute. He is good company and seems to be coping with the transition quite well. Our lay missionary is still struggling with the different culture, but that is not deterring him from making a big contribution. I just hope he can accept the differences.

So it’s time to close. I’ll get this emailed and posted in the next few days. Thanks for all your communications. They are looked forward to by me.

Rev M McEntee