Hagen District

HAGEN DISTRICT

Fr Alfons Schaefer and Fr Henry Aufenanger were the first SVD missionaries to visit Mount Hagen in the Western Highlands. Shortly after, Fr. William Ross and Brother Eugene Frank were the first SVDs appointed there in 1934. The early years were spent in establishing stations and outstations, learning the languages and preparing catechisms and Bible texts and prayers and hymns. By 1939 there were large groups ready for baptism and there were trained catechists working with the missionaries. Unfortunately the early growth was disrupted by the Japanese invasion of the coast in December 1942.

Fr William Ross and Fr George Bernarding were able to return to the Highlands in 1944. Other missionaries arrived after the war and by 1953 there were over 10,000 Catholics in the Western Highlands. In 1959 the Western Highlands and Enga Districts became one vicariate under Bishop George Bernarding. Numbers grew and according to Fr Ross the growing numbers of faithful were attributable to a long and thorough catechumenate and a relationship with “mission friends” – individual local leaders who on their own initiative kept up mission interest. Schools and a Teachers College began, and as the number of church members grew and the leadership passed to Archbishop Michael Meier, Hagen became one of the focal points for the charismatic movement, Marian movements, and the Antioch movement among the youth. In 2002 Archbishop Douglas Young SVD took became Archbishop of the Mount Hagen Diocese.

Today the SVD Hagen District is coterminous with the Western Highlands and Jiwaka Provinces with some 600,000 people – a quarter of these identifying as members of the Catholic Church.

The number of local diocesan priests has grown, but there are still several SVD priests serving as parish priests. One parish has been entrusted to the SVD for community based ministry. Other apostolates include SVD formation, seminary teaching, assistance at Radio Trinity for the Archdiocese of Mt Hagen, Bible translation, education, the regional tribunal, and research work. There is engagement and involvement not only in church matters but also the social and cultural life of the province.

Hagen District has been the source of some vocations for the SVD. Currently there are four SVD priests from the Western Highlands. Fr Francis Koimb from the Jimi Valley has been in Ghana for many years. Fr. Martin Goi from East Kambia returned to PNG after several terms in Ghana. Fr. Michael Namba serves in the Hagen Diocese, and Fr. Cosmas Kombla is missioned to Paraguay.

Missionaries today live and work in the midst of rapid social, technological and religious transformation. People are very involved in business ventures and politics. Family life and values are changing. Modern mission must take this into account if it is to continue to spread the Good News.