Working Joyfully to Spread the Gospel
Jozef Roszynski SVD
In 2015, I was in Madang, Papua New Guinea, after a short vacation in our country’s island province of East New Britain. My return trip by boat across the open sea had been harrowing. I was recovering from a serious leg infection and a high fever. One morning, I received a call from Archbishop Michael Banach, the apostolic nuncio. His news was stunning! Pope Francis had appointed me bishop of the Diocese of Wewak. Was this a bad dream?! ME, the bishop of Wewak?
American Divine Word Missionaries Bishop Leo Arkfeld SVD and Bishop Raymond Kalisz SVD faced many challenges and made significant contributions to the Wewak province, the Church, and the well-being of the people from 1948 through 2002. Bishop Arkfeld, in particular, was the famous “flying bishop” who built up the Church in the Diocese of Wewak and established many schools and medical aid posts. Even today the fruits of his missionary labors are still being seen. The spirit of Bishop Ray Kalisz continues to empower the people through the Small Christian Community Pastoral Program.
The Catholic Church began its missionary work in Papua New Guinea in the nineteenth century. Until that time, island was left untouched because of its rough and swampy terrain and its population of indigenous peoples with their own languages, customs, and traditions.
Divine Word Missionaries arrived in Papua New Guinea in 1896. There were many struggles as our missionaries reached and evangelized the people. The country, with a population of almost seven million people, has over eight hundred languages. One challenge was to decide which language to use for the country, the Church, and school work.
The Diocese of Wewak is located in the East Sepik Province along the northern coast of Papua New Guinea. The diocese was established fifty years ago on November 15, 1966, and it is the largest of the nineteen dioceses in the country. It is spread out across the East Sepik Province and encompasses over 14,259 square miles. The latest statistics show that the number of Catholics is about 229,000. The diocese provides pastoral and social services to Catholics in forty-eight parishes. There are sixty community elementary schools, eighty-two primary schools, two high schools, two secondary schools, two vocational schools, a distance education center and teachers’ college. The diocese also recognizes the importance of health services and is in charge of three health centers, twelve health subcenters, twelve clinics, and five aid posts.
On April 25, 2015, I was ordained the bishop of the Diocese of Wewak. The diocese did not have leadership for a few years. Added to this is the fact that government services totally deteriorated or collapsed in East Sepik Province and in Papua New Guinea as well. Most of the foreign missionaries who supported the diocese through personnel and finances have returned to their homelands. The majority of the clergy in the diocese are now local priests, of which nineteen are in active ministry. From the expatriates who remain, I have two Pallotine priests, five Divine Word Missionaries, and one Spiritan priest. There are only four Brothers involved in the work of the diocese and one lay missionary. With the population growing so much and the cost of everything rising, it is a struggle to do our work effectively.
Unfortunately, more than fifty percent of people are illiterate. Over eighty percent of the population lives in remote bush areas without access to electricity, fresh water, or health services. This includes the parishes, schools, and health facilities I described previously. To make the situation worse, many of those parishes, schools, and health facilities are not connected by roads. Access to them is possible only by canoe or on foot.
Divine Word Missionaries recognize that Papua New Guinea is a nation in transition. The Church here is also in transition. It is alive in Christ, yet in need of material support and prayer. Awareness is growing that we are the Church, and that we have a role to play.
In the Diocese of Wewak, a lot was done by my predecessors, Bishop Arkfeld and Bishop Kalisz, and the countless number of missionaries from all over the world who have served here. My main objectives are to establish a viable education system through our Catholic schools, to provide medical care through our Catholic health services, and to improve the water supply for the people. There is great need for trained personnel, whom we hope to educate in our pastoral centers, teachers’ college, and vocational schools.
It is through the grace of God, the generosity of good people, and the dedication of local priests, teachers, nurses, and lay leaders that we bring about change in tangible way. We could not meet the daily challenges and do all that we do here in the Diocese of Wewak without the prayerful support of our friends and co-missionaries near and far.
I invite you all to the mission of Christ, which comes from the mandate received in the sacrament of baptism, to be a missionary in whatever way you can be. Thank you for your kindness and readiness to work joyfully to spread the Gospel among the nations.
Josef Roszynski SVD is from Nidzica, Poland. He professed first vows in 1982 and was ordained a priest in 1989. His early pastoral work was in Poland, followed by language studies in Ireland. In 1992, Father Josef began his mission assignment to Papua New Guinea. He has served for twenty-three years in the Diocese of Wewak in parish ministry and in various leadership roles in the Papua New Guinea Province of Divine Word Missionaries. Those roles included district superior and acting provincial superior. Father Josef was ordained bishop of the Diocese of Wewak on April 25, 2015.
Divine Word Missionaries Magazine, Vol. LIX, No. 3 Summer 2016, issued quarterly.