Little Sisters of Jesus in Papua New Guinea, In Lae

Most of the peoples living in the compound come from small villages of the Highlands in the hope of a better life, and life in Bumbu is not easy. There is no running water, no electricity and no sewage system. Malaria is prevalent, and affects practically everyone.

The subsistence economy which was the way of life in the highlands is not possible here because people are squatting on a land they do not own. Employment in Lae is difficult to find, most of the people in the Bumbu have little or no schooling and feeding one’s family is a daily struggle.

The bonds of kinship which extend beyond the immediate family are often an added hardship. It is the tradition to care for anyone with whom you have a blood connection.

More than 650 different clans constitute the Papua New Guinean population, each one with its own language, and its traditions and customs. Life is hard and there are many occasions for conflict. Unity among the different groups is a challenge and because Gertrude has shared their life for so many years as well as because of her age, she is often called to mediate between groups or members of one family to help solve conflicts. Many of the younger people call her ‘Bubu’ or ‘Grand-ma’.

Quite simply sharing the conditions of life of the people around her, Gertrude leads a life of prayer, of friendship and is attentive in every way to the people of the Bumbu, especially the sick.  

Like most of the women in the compound she sews dresses, makes ‘billums’, traditional bags from the country or bakes bread to sell at the market or at the entrance of the compound with the other women.

The conditions of life are harsh and there is real poverty. The climate is hot and humid and endemic malaria are part of the daily struggle. Her people have an amazing ability to face hardship and keep hope. They know how to put aside worries and difficulties to rejoice and enjoy life.

I experienced this amazing ability to be joyful at the occasion of the celebration of the 40th anniversary of Bishop Henry, the first bishop of Lae. Almost 3000 peoples gathered at the stadium for a solemn Mass to express their gratitude. Each one of the 28 parishes of the diocese sent a delegation and presented the Bishop with a gift characteristic of their tradition, accompanied with dancing and songs. It was amazing to see the colourful assembly, to hear the songs and witness the joy of the crowd.

 The All Saints Parish of Bumbu presented the bishop with a live pig, the traditional way to recognize leadership. It was a very generous gift. In the Bumbu the preparation took more than a week. The parishioners gathered at the church every evening and the entire compound was echoing with song. On the morning of the big day, we got up at 4:00 am. With a group of people we prepared food for the parishioners. It was so joyful! All hardship and problems were put aside for a day. It was very moving to witness this explosion of joy as well as the love and gratitude expressed to the Bishop.