A religious sister from Texas who has been serving the people of Papua New Guinea since 1986 will soon complete a website to raise awareness about the Church's apostolates to children in the Melanesian nation.
“The Catholic bishops of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands, at their annual general meeting in Madang, approved and created the Catholic Children's Ministry PNG in April, 2013,” Fr. Giorgio Licini, P.I.M.E., head of the bishops' conference's social communications, told CNA Sept. 1.
It was at that meeting that the Papua New Guinean bishops asked Sister Mary Claude Gadd, of the Sacred Heart of Jesus congregation, to further develop children's ministry in the country, securing the vision of a child-safe country. She has a background in both education and hospital ministry.
“Thus far I have identified close to twenty (20) special Programs being carried out across PNG by Catholic individuals or organizations on behalf of disadvantaged and needy children,” Sr. Mary Claude said in an interview with the media office of the bishops' conference. “The plan is to allocate, on the website, a page or more to each of these activities and organizations.”
She added that “the website will also have a small space with contact information related to that particular organization or activity. People out there might be interested and wish to contact those concerned and even donate to support that activity.”
“On the other hand, the primary purpose of the website will not be fundraising as such, but awareness. I have written to those in charge of the various projects asking for information: how did it start, the purpose, goal, vision/mission… plus as many photos as possible.”
The website, http://www.catholicchildren'sministrypng.org.pg/, which is not yet online but should be operational by late October, will be updated regularly, “with opportunities for everyone to send in new stories and photos of recent activities.”
“Once this website is up and running all of us can make reference to it, where people can see what we are doing to help build a child-safe Papua New Guinea,” Sr. Mary Claude said.
“And by the way, we also hope to eventually link the website with Facebook and Twitter so many more can see what God is doing in PNG!”
She explained that she chose to build a website when commissioned to develop children's ministry by the bishops because “if we want to evangelize the world, then we have to go where it is and most of it is on the internet!”
“I think it was Pope Francis who said we must go where the sheep are and we know that many sheep spend a lot of time on the internet.”
The website, she said, will “showcase to the world Catholic activities being carried out in PNG on behalf of our most vulnerable children … we hope to create something interesting, inspiring and hopefully beautiful as well for the world to view.”
Papua New Guinea is a Pacific island nation, consisting of the eastern half of the island of New Guinea, as well as numerous other, smaller, islands; it is located north of Australia and east of Indonesia.
A poorer nation, in 2013 its adjusted per capita GDP was estimated at $ 2,800.
Children's ministry there is thus focused on such things as “helping children in need, feeding them, and sheltering them in a place of safety.”
Apostolates to children are well distributed across the country of more than 7 million, Sr. Mary Claude said, adding that “they're mostly present in the bigger cities though I am confident we will eventually find some meaningful programs in many smaller places as well.”
She cited in particular programs in Port Moresby, Lae, Mt. Hagen, and Kundiawa, all of which are cathedral cities.
Among the programs are a “hospital school” in Kundiawa run by Dr. Fr. Jan Jaworski, MD, where “the ambulatory young patients attend classes every day” and “the bedridden one have the teachers come to their bedside.”
Across Papua New Guinea there are apostolates to the disabled; a program to prevent HIV/AIDS transmission from mother to child, and to care for children with the virus, run by the Missionary Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit; catechesis by the Missionaries of Charity; and education about HIV/AIDS for secondary school students.
Sr. Mary Claude noted that 15 of the Papua New Guinean dioceses have multiple Diocesan Child Protection Officers, and that more than 600 volunteers will soon be trained to assist them.
And “on the drawing board for the Archdiocese of Mt Hagen is a new family home for abandoned and neglected children.”
“What emerges from all this is a portrait of the 'integrated human development' of the most vulnerable members of our society.”
The website, Sr. Mary Claude said, “will try to mirror to the world a bit of the good work being done in our Catholic Church for the children.”
She concluded that while much is being done already, “there is a lot more to be done yet.”
She cited an “alarmingly high number of abandoned babies in our hospitals,” as well as displaced victims of sorcery and children with disabilities who need skilled caregivers.
“Finally,” she said, it is important to develop a strategy on “how to salvage from further harm the young children already engaged in the sex industry of Night Clubs in Port Moresby.”
While challenges for Papua New Guinean children persist, the website is meant to draw attention and awareness to the good being done by the Church to meet these challenges.