Papua New Guinea Earthquake 2018

Papua New Guinea, one of our earliest mission countries, has been hard hit this year.

FB_IMG_1519911552899The calendar had barely turned over to 2018 when the small volcanic island of Kadovar erupted on January 5. Kadovar is located about 80 miles due east from the northern coastal city of Wewak, one of our bases of operations in this South Pacific island nation. The 600 residents of Kadovar were relocated to the mainland for shelter and aid.

Bishop Joe Roszynski SVD, head of the Diocese of Wewak, remembers the aftermath of the eruption. “The ashes were coming out for weeks, and we lived in fear of a tsunami and God knows what else would have happened. The sea was roaring; the ashes were covering the sky.”

Instead of a tsunami, the region was rocked weeks later by a 7.5 magnitude earthquake. The quake hit February 26 at 3:47 a.m. “I was woken up by my mission cross banging on the wall of my bedroom, and then I was aware that the whole house was shaking violently for a very long time,” Bishop Roszynski says. “I was wondering what I should do. Earthquakes are very common here, but this one was long and very violent.”

Wewak, located approximately 160 miles north of the epicenter, was spared the worst of the quake’s damage. “Thousands of people have been displaced and are suffering in disaster-affected areas in the Hela and Southern Highlands provinces,” Bishop Roszynski says.

Those provinces make up the Diocese of Mendi. The leader of that diocese, Bishop Donald Lippert OFM Cap., reports that while all mission personnel were reported safe, many churches, convents, diocesan schools and support buildings were damaged or destroyed.

Describing the scene, Bishop Roszynski says the earthquake “split the earth, sliced the airport, broke bridges and blocked rivers. Many homes and food gardens were destroyed. Water in the rivers turned brown and oily. For some it looked like an apocalypse was coming.”

By mid-March the death toll had reached 145 and was still likely to rise. Bishop Roszynski says many victims died in their sleep when landslides crushed their homes.

UNICEF reports that 270,000 people, including 125,000 children, require urgent humanitarian assistance in the quake’s aftermath. Although landslides have hampered relief efforts, relief workers arrived soon after the initial quake.

“In times like this it is wonderful to hear and see the relief efforts by many, the generosity of the ones whoFB_IMG_1519936211744 come with help,” Bishop Roszynski says. “In this time of Lent even more it calls us for reflection on what really matters in life when death may be at the door.”

Aftershocks have been felt for weeks, and Bishop Roszynski says people remain “in tremendous terror and shock not knowing if the ground they are stepping on will not sink in and pull them under as it happened to some of their relatives.”

Divine Word Missionaries first arrived in New Guinea, as it was then known, in 1896. Several legends of our order, including Archbishop Leo Arkfeld SVD, “the flying bishop,” have served there. Regular readers of our magazine, Divine Word Missionaries Mission Update, should be familiar with Bishop Roszynski’s name. He loves to share stories of mission life in Papua New Guinea and is one our most reliable contributors. It breaks our hearts in the Mission Center to read his accounts of these recent disasters and tragedies. Please remember the people of Papua New Guinea in your prayers.

As Bishop Roszynski concludes: “We pray for the victims and the grief-stricken families; we pray for all those who do all possible efforts to help out. We can always do something to help. It is such a time like now that gives us opportunity.”