- Fr. Gianni Gattei ofm
50 years of presence in Aitape the Poor Clares Sisters
In July 1971, the first group of religious sisters from the congregation of Poor Clares arrived 4 years before PNG gained Independence. They were appointed to Aitape and had 4 Australians and 4 Irish sisters at the time.
On 25th July this marked 50 years of their presence in the Diocese of Aitape. They have 11 sisters – 2 Australians, 2 Irish and 7 Papua New Guineans serving the people.
Their arrival was supported by the Franciscan Brothers of the Province of Australia (1st Order) who arrived in PNG in 1946. The Poor Clares are the 2ndOrder of the Franciscan family and were founded by St. Clare of Assisi. The young Clare, touched by the preaching of St. Francis of Assisi, decided to leave her healthy family to follow in the footsteps of St. Francis. But, being a woman, in the 13th Century was not safe, so after praying and talking with Francis, she started a new way of life, living inside the cloister, in union with God, praying day and night for the brothers and for the whole world, trusting in the Providence of God and working with their hands. Francis placed them in a church that he himself had repaired and where the Cross spoke to him while he was praying to ask for the will of God.
The Franciscan brothers in PNG felt that the presence of the Poor Clares in PNG was important, so they arranged for them to come and made available their house of St. Paschal meant really for the Formation of the brothers. Before starting their contemplative life in St. Paschal Convent, the sisters went around Nuku and Lumi area to see the reality of the Diocese and touch with their hands the situation of the people there, before dedicating themselves to pray for the Diocese.
Like real sisters of St. Clare they work with their hands for their living. The first project started was a poultry where they supplied eggs for the people of Aitape for all those years. Now, for many reasons, their project is switching towards the production of Altar Bread, a much noble work and in theme with the Eucharistic devotion that Clare and the Poor Clares have for this Sacrament. Their silent prayer for all Aitape people and not only is a blessing for all of us. Many people go to them asking for prayers and seeking counseling. Their Convent is situated next to St. Ignatius Secondary School and the relationship between students, teachers, and sisters persist until today through mutual support. The sisters pray for them during exams, the students help them by cleaning the surroundings. Every year the sisters prepare cakes for the Graduation meal and the students feel strengthened by their kindness. During their study time, they can hear them praying and they know that their prayer helps them in many ways.
The Poor Clares don’t go out for pastoral work, but the whole world enters into their Convent and their little Cloister become their world, and through the power of the Spirit, they can reach many more people than you can reach if you walk around the world on foot.
This is Clare, patron saint of Television, that during Christmas Night, while sick in bed, desired so much to participate to the Holy Mass, that God gave her the grace to see what was happening in the church at Christmas Night on the wall of her little room, giving her immense joy. Their sisters today continue to place themselves in silence in front of the Tabernacle and there they can see, feel and care for what is happening around the Diocese of Aitape and around the world.
They are the heart of our Diocese and of the all Church in PNG, I should say; they strengthen our missionary work, they are always there, ready to listen to you with the heart of Jesus; they have chosen to be poor to make us rich; they have chosen silence to shout to the Lord on our behalf; they have chosen the Cloister, so like Mary, who made of her womb a Cloister for Jesus, they can generate to the world the love of Jesus, through their prayers and constant contemplation of Him, “ so that you too may feel what His friends feel”, Clare says to Sr. Agnes, “ as they taste the hidden sweetness which God Himself has reserved from the beginning for those who love Him”.