Week One: Wednesday — January 25, 2017

Franciscan Formation House

Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea

The past nine days have been filled with approximately forty hours of flying. My convoluted itinerary included Albuquerque, Dallas, Hong Kong, Singapore, Saigon, DaLat, Brisbane, and finally Port Moresby. And I am dealing with a 17-hour time zone difference between Albuquerque and Port Moresby.

Truthfully, I’m not sure how I feel. Periods of exhaustion come and go throughout the day. The reason for my traveling to Papua was in response to a request from our Minister General, Michael Perry. He wishes to assist and encourage the Friars in Papua by inviting visitors to spend time with their students as a means of educating them on the international aspect of our Franciscan family.

I arrived in DaLat on Thursday, and was welcomed by the Novice Director and two of the novices. My heart was once again made whole as I feel as if Vietnam is truly my second home. I received a most kind letter of welcome from the Vietnamese Provincial, Ignacio Lam.

In his note he said: “It feels as you are a brother, coming home from a mission. It’s good to have you back.” Now, how neat is that? It truly was like a homecoming because I taught this current group of 19 novices two years ago when they were Aspirants. I brought a five-pound bar of solid Hershey chocolate with me as a “Glad to be Home” offering. I was amazed at the lightening speed with which the delicacy was quickly dispatched to the kitchen, cut up, and distributed to everyone for their culinary delight. I brought along a few more surprises for them, which I will distribute throughout my stay.

Three days after arriving in Vietnam I was once again boarding a plane. This time I was on my way to Singapore where I did have an opportunity to spend the night with the Friars at their formation house. Again, I was blessed with a profound feeling of welcome and acceptance as a Friar.

Singapore is a densely populated city state which reminded me very much of New York City. There were high-rise buildings everywhere and not much green space. The Friar community thankfully lives in one of the few green areas of the city. The green spaces are lush with flowers and vegetation and evidently home to some unwelcome creatures such as snakes. I found the sign on the bulletin board to be a bit sobering. I believe that there are approximately ten student Friars in the Custody. They are mostly from Indonesia. I found their British English to be pleasing to the ear. Singapore is definitely a 21st Century city. It is high tech and First World.

It was off to Brisbane on Monday evening with an 8:00 P.M. departure. The flight was approximately seven hours. We landed at 7:00 A.M. and my three-hour flight to Papua departed at 8:00 A.M. It was a little bit too close for comfort for my taste, but fortunately my luggage and my body got to the gate on time. After about a forty-five minute wait at the Port Moresby airport, I was greeted by Fr. Norbert, OFM, the Guardian of the Formation House.

Br. Bruce with Formation students in Papua New Guinea

He is a jovial fellow who is filled with enthusiasm and hope. The ride to the Formation House took us through some of the poorer outlying areas of the city where many small groupings of people congregated around some small makeshift huts.

My first impression is that this place is similar to Haiti. Papua is still largely unsettled and there are numerous tribes of people living in the jungles. I have been told that there are more than eight hundred languages spoken on the island. To me it explains why Pidgeon English has been adopted as the common tongue. It supposedly originated with the early German missionaries who needed to have a common language from which to use for their evangelization efforts. I’m still trying to attune my ear to the sounds, but it is difficult to pick up because the students are very soft spoken. I’m not sure yet whether it is because they are shy or whether it is just the preferred mode. Time will tell.

My room is adequate, but quite simple. Thankfully, my bed has a real mattress, which I am enjoying. On the other hand, it is a hospital bed and so I am praying that it is not an evil omen of things to come. Unfortunately, there is no air conditioning and so I have to adjust to the faithful, hardworking ceiling fan. Another plus is that the windows have screens and so most of the flying insects are kept at bay. The solar heated water showers are also a welcome relief to the heat and humidity . . . at least for the first fifteen minutes after a shower.

Since this is my first day here, I honestly don’t know what my schedule will be like. Certainly by the second week I will know better. What I do know for certain is that I feel very much at home with my Papuan Franciscan Brothers. I have been welcomed warmly and with much kindness. The twelve young Friars are most curious to hear about their Franciscan Brothers in other parts of the world. I am struck by their apparent hesitancy to explore other Franciscan missions beyond their island nation. They listen attentively, but I can sense some fear and trepidation. I suspect that my presence and stories of Franciscans in Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and the Philippines will generate a lot of discussion among them. We are truly blessed to be members of an international Order.

Peace and All Good!

Br. Bruce