Project Canterbury

South Sea Epic: War and the Church in New Guinea

Compiled by Ruth Henrich

London: Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, 1944.

Chapter IV. The Bishop's Broadcast

On January 31st, after completing the move to Dogura, the Bishop broadcast a message to all his staff. The Secretary of the Australian Board of Missions made this statement about the circumstances in which the broadcast was given:--

During the latter half of January, with the rapid advance of the Japanese and their known intention of attacking New Guinea, almost the whole of the white population of New Guinea and Papua left the Territory. An atmosphere of panic prevailed. Stores, Bank, Post Office, etc., all suddenly closed, and the Bishop of New Guinea was urged to leave the country, together with the staff of the Mission. This the Bishop and his staff refused to do. We give below the full text of the Bishop's message to his fellow workers on that momentous and (as we think it will turn out) historic occasion. The Bishop spoke over the air for those who had radio sets to receive it, but his message later was printed and sent to each member individually. The Mission staff consists of the Bishop, fifteen clergy, three laymen and eighteen women.

Bendigo Church News, May 18th, 1942.

Message to the Staff by the Bishop of New Guinea. (Given over the air on Saturday, 31st January, 1942.)

As you will know, it became necessary to move our office and base. We have successfully accomplished this now, [21/22] thanks to the splendid co-operation, hard work, and calmness of all our boys without exception, who have been absolutely exemplary.

The move is now complete, though naturally it will take some, time to get everything straightened out. Archdeacon Thompson will now carry on his work at Dogura as Secretary of the Mission. I am glad to say he is better, but the last few days have been a big strain upon him after his severe illness. I hope he may be able to have a week's rest before setting up the office and getting things in order again.

You will get to know the reasons and circumstances of this move in due course. It will be sufficient for me to say now that it was obviously the right thing to do. There was no point in remaining where we were as most of the former reasons for being there no longer apply--indeed all.

Now I would like a heart-to-heart talk with you. As far as I know, you are all at your posts, and I am very glad and thankful about this. I have from the first felt that we must endeavour to carry on our work in all circumstances, no matter what the cost may ultimately be to any of us individually. God expects this of us. The Church at home, which sent us out, will surely expect it of us. The Universal Church expects it. The tradition and history of missions requires it of us. Missionaries who have been faithful to the uttermost and are now at rest are surely expecting it of us. The people whom we serve expect it of us. Our own consciences expect it of us. We could never hold up our faces again if, for our own safety, we all forsook Him and fled when the shadows of the Passion began to gather round Him in His Spiritual and Mystical Body, the Church in Papua. Our life in the future would be burdened with shame and we could not come back here and face our people again; and we would be conscious always of rejected opportunities. The history of the Church tells us that missionaries do not think of themselves in the hour of danger and crisis, but of the Master Who called them to give their all, and of the people whom He trusts them to serve and to love to the uttermost, even as He has served and loved to the uttermost. His Watchword is none the less true to-day, as it was when He gave it to the first disciples--"Whosoever will save his life shall lose it, and whosoever will lose his life for My sake and the Gospel's shall find it."

No one requires us to leave. No one has required us to [22/23] leave. The reports some of you have heard of orders to this effect did not emanate from official or authoritative sources. But even if anyone had required us to leave, we should then have had to obey God rather than men. We could not leave unless God, Who called us, required it of us, and our whole spiritual instinct tells us He would never require such a thing at such an hour.

Our people need us now more than ever before in the whole history of the Mission. To give but two examples:--

(1) Our Native Ministry: We have accepted a big responsibility in the eyes of all Christendom in founding a Native Ministry. We have given birth to it. We are responsible before God and the Church for its growth and development on sound Catholic lines. It is still but in its infancy. We cannot leave it to sink back into heathenism. We must stand by that to which we have given birth.

(2) Our Papuan Women: Our influence is just beginning to tell with them. How would they fare if all our women missionaries left? It would take years to recover what the locusts had eaten. Our Papuan women need the influence of women missionaries to-day more than ever before.

No! my brothers and sisters, fellow workers in Christ, whatever others may do, we cannot leave. We shall not leave. We shall stay by our trust. We shall stand by our vocation.

We do not know what it may mean to us. Many already think us fools and mad. What does that matter? If we are fools, "We are fools for Christ's sake." I cannot foretell the future. I cannot guarantee that all will be well--that we shall all come through unscathed. One thing only I can guarantee is that if we do not forsake Christ here in Papua in His Body, the Church, He will not forsake us. He will uphold us; He will sustain us; He will strengthen us, and He will guide and keep us through the days that lie ahead. If we all left, it would take years for the Church here to recover from our betrayal of our trust. If we remain--and even if the worst came to the worst and we all were to perish in remaining--the Church will not perish, for there would have been no breach of trust in its walls, but its foundation and structure would have received added strength for the future building by our faithfulness unto death.

[24] This, I believe, is the resolution of you all. Indeed, I have been deeply moved and cheered more than I can say by letters I have received from many of our staff this week who have been in a position to communicate with me, and I have reason to believe that others who have not had that opportunity think and feel the same. Our staff, I believe, stands as a solid phalanx in this time of uncertainty. Their influence has already had a stabilising effect on the community, and, though harm has already been done, counsels of sanity are beginning to prevail again in the Territory before the damage has become irretrievable. However, let us not judge others, but let us follow duty only as we see it. If we are a solid phalanx, let us see to it in the days to come that it is a phalanx of Divine Grace, for only so can it remain unshaken.

I know there are special circumstances which may make it imperative for one or two to go (if arrangements can be made for them to do so). For the rest of us, we have made our resolution to stay. Let us not shrink from it. Let us not go back on it. Let us trust and not be afraid.

To you all I send my Blessing. The Lord be with you.

A.B.M. Review, May, 1942.

Writing later to the Secretary of the A.B.M., but before the invasion took place, with its subsequent sufferings, the Bishop gave two further comments on the broadcast.

I am quite sure that at times such as we faced at the end of January and in February (and may we never have to face such a time again), material considerations have to be thrown to the winds and decisions based purely on spiritual and moral grounds, even if these for the time being seem to fly in the face of reason and all that seems practical. Only so can there be ultimate revival and permanence. Writing as I am on Easter Monday seems to remind me that it is after all what happened on Good Friday, finding its justification on Easter Day. We thank God that in those terribly difficult, trying and dark days He saved us and kept us from what would have been a selling of the pass, and that as it seems now, we are to be preserved from suffering to the uttermost--an end to which we knew our decision might lead us, and which, even if we naturally shrank from it, we were, I hope, ready to go through with in the firm confidence and belief [24/25] that we should be borne up and enabled to endure whatever should come.

A.B.M. Review, May, 1942.

Many thanks for sending me a printed copy of my message to the staff. It may be of interest to you if I tell you of the inside, as it were, of its origin. It was Saturday, January 31st, the day after we had arrived here from Samarai, after the trying and hectic days and nights there before finally leaving the Rectory. I have already told you of all the conflicting forces and influences at work at that time and the rumours flying about. On the morning of Saturday, January 31, it occurred to me that it would be, perhaps, a good thing if I spoke a word to the staff over the air. At that time, of course, we still had the radio here, and J. D. Bodger used to contact the staff--or as many of them as were able to listen in--every afternoon at 3.30, so I asked him in the morning to mention that I had something to say to them that afternoon. At the time I had not the least idea of what I would say, beyond telling them that we had left Samarai and were now at Dogura, and advising them to be very careful in the use of their resources, as we would probably be unable to get further supplies. However, after lunch that day it suddenly came to me to give them a message of a deeper nature--more of a pastoral kind, and I came up to my house, sat down and wrote off immediately almost word for word what you have now in print. I felt that that message was divinely given to me and came, as it were, straight from Our Lord.

A .B.M. Review, September, 1942.

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