Papua New Guinea: “People suffer greatly in the jungle, they have nothing’
“Papua New Guinea is a distant and mostly forgotten country. Only three provinces are connected by road, the rest are isolated,” Father Martín Prado, from Argentina, told Aid to the Church in Need (CAN during a recent visit to ACN headquarters in Germany.
Father Prado was only just ordained, and still a very young man, when he arrived in Papua New Guinea. His diocese, Vanimo, is in the remote northwest of the country. “You can only get in and out of Vanimo by plane. The only roads that do exist are for 4X4 vehicles that can drive through jungles and cross rivers and mountains. Whenever I travel, I take some young men with me to help me when it gets stuck,” said the Argentinian priest. The new 4X4 vehicle he uses was funded by ACN and, “it has been my salvation,” he explained.
Papua is covered by rainforest that remains very well preserved. The great biodiversity is a treasure for the natives of Papua New Guinea, who have learned to care and take advantage of it. However, the lack of transitable routes makes it difficult to improve education, foster development and evangelize.“I visit communities that can only be reached by foot, by boat or by canoe,” said Father Prado. Now, thanks to his new vehicle, he can reach many more people.
There is much still to do in the Diocese of Vanimo. “People suffer greatly in the jungle, they have nothing. Children sleep on the ground, they help their mothers cook over open flames, bathe in the river, and walk barefoot. In my parish I am proclaiming the Gospel for the first time, baptizing people, and telling them about Jesus Christ,” the priest, who is a member of the Institute of the Incarnate Word, told ACN.
With this “truck” as Father Prado jokingly calls it , he has been able to provide the community with many other services as well. The 4X4 serves as an ambulance for women who must go and give birth at the medical center and as a hearse to transport the dead. It also carries medicine for the sick, and construction materials for building two churches and houses for four catechists.
Father Prado’s parish is in the jungle, but he is also in charge of an educational project on the coast of Vanimo, where there are two primary schools and a secondary school that is just being set up and that will cater for 1,000 pupils. This means that the priest generally spends seven days in the jungle and seven by the coast. “Thank God I have a car, but there are priests who only visit their communities once a year. I am so proud of this pick-up. It helps me with my work, and with evangelization. It really changed my life, Father Prado added.