St. Therese Church - Papua New Guinea

St. Therese of the Child Jesus Parish Church - Papua New Guinea

From the Desk of Fr. John Pfannenstiel, OFM Cap.

About nine years ago I had the opportunity to visit the tiny village of Bitokara in Papua New Guinea.  It could not have been a more beautiful setting.  I stood near the parish church, which was perched on a rather high cliff, rising above the Pacific Ocean.  It was a glorious sight, blue water and several islands of various sizes, plush with palm trees and surrounded by sandy beaches.  I had a crystal clear view of a tropical paradise.

And then I turned to look at the parish church.  Oh, my goodness!

Bitokara is on the Papua New Guinea island of New Britain.  The village is old and weather worn.  One can only imagine what the 200+ inches of rain can do to the buildings during a single year, not to mention the tropical storms that unleash rather fierce winds.

The Catholic faith arrived in New Britain in the early 1900s.  The missionaries did stellar work among the locals, who have become very faithful Catholics.  Even through persecution, they remained true to the faith.

In the late 1930s Japan occupied New Britain.  After they bombed Pearl Harbor, the island became a base of operations for the Japanese military.  A famous battle between Japan and the United States was fought on the land and in the skies above Rabaul, the capital of New Britain.

The Japanese soldiers were vicious towards Catholics.  In fact, one of the locals, Peter To Rot (pronounced "two-row"), was martyred for the faith and is honored today as St. Peter To Rot.  He was a catechist and taught the Catholic faith, even after Japanese soldiers warned him to stop.  He prayed with the sick and visited the laborers who were forced to work for the Japanese occupiers.

For that, the 40 year-old catechist was beaten to death.  Left to mourn his passing were his wife and three children.

Today Fr. Evance is the Capuchin pastor of the village's St. Therese of the Child Jesus Parish.  He and his Capuchin brother, Fr. Nicholas, arrived just a few months ago.  They were welcomed with open arms by the people who have been without a priest for a number of years.

The parish was founded 100 years ago!

The parish consists of numerous outstations, as well.  These chapels are in remote areas to serve the poor Catholics of the region.  Fr. Evance and Fr. Nicholas are very busy and already love the people.

The people of Bitokara are poor.  Some of them work on Indonesian-owned palm oil plantations.  The work is seasonal and pays quite poorly.  Otherwise they are subsistence farmers, cultivating family gardens and raising chickens and maybe a pig or two.  They live simply, but faithfully.

When I visited a few years ago and saw that church overlooking the South Pacific, I asked Bishop Bill Fey if it was abandoned.  He said, "No! Every Sunday it is packed with people."  Bishop Bill has since passed away, but I shall never forget that day with him at St. Therese Church in Bitokara.

The parishioners can't possibly raise enough money to replace the irreparable church.  They started to collect funds a few years ago, but it isn't even enough to start.

Fr. Evance asked for our help to build a new church, and I said that our Seraphic Mass Association family will step up and do what we can.

Will you help the Parishioners of St. Therese Parish build a much needed church?

I have known Fr. Evance for several years, well before he was ordained to the priesthood in Tanzania.  He is a wonderful young Capuchin friar and one of the happiest people I know.  He sees everything as a blessing from God.

Fr. Evance is an energetic Capuchin priest, totally devoted to Christ and the Church.

His brother Capuchins recognize his abilities and eagerness to work.  As young as he is, the friars of the mission recently elected him to the leadership council of Papua New Guinea.

When I visit the mission in the near future it will be great to see him again.  Then I can meet Fr. Nicholas, who is a Capuchin missionary from Kenya.  I am hearing good things about him, too.

The people of St. Therese parish have already started a yearlong centennial celebration.

Can I count on your help to build a new church as the parishioners of St. Therese of the Child Jesus celebrate 100 years?

Every Sunday, the church is beyond packed.  People stand outside for Mass because the church is filled to the rafters - literally!  The aisles, the stairs to the choir loft and the loft itself are crowded with youngsters, as the older folks take their places on the benches.

Now picture this!  There are more children and young adults than people 50 and over in that church!  Yes, the church is growing.

Good things are happening in Bitokara.  After many years of pleading for a school, the government finally built an elementary school.  And before Bishop Bill retired and returned to the United States he made sure that Bitokara had clean drinking water.

We can build a new church for these good people!

It is unlikely that they will be able to start and finish building a church during this year of celebration, but we can get it off to a good start so that it is ready in 2025.

I think we are looking at about $300,000 to build the church, perhaps a bit more.  Much of the cost will be for transporting materials to this remote area.  And the church needs to be constructed to withstand the occasional tremors that rumble through the region.  That will require special materials that need to be shipped from abroad.

Will you help Fr. Evance, Fr. Nicholas and the people of Bitokara build a much needed new church?

You have a mission heart!  Even in tough times you think about our poor Catholic brothers and sisters all around the world.  And you pray for them.

May I count on your generosity to make this happen?

May God bless you and our Capuchin missionaries, especially Fr. Evance and Fr. Nicholas, as they serve the people of St. Therese of the Child Jesus Parish in Bitokara.

You are always in my prayers and in the prayers of our Capuchin missionaries.

Your generous contribution to build a new church in Bitokara will be a centennial blessing for the parishioners of St. Therese of the Child Jesus Church.

Fr. John Pfannenstiel, OFM Cap.