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Children and youth to play central role in Pope Francis visit to Papua New Guinea

By Kristina Millare. Originally published on CNA Newsroom on May 8, 2024.

Children and youth will be central to Pope Francis’ visit to Papua New Guinea from Sept. 6–9, according to Father Giorgio Licini, secretary-general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Solomon Islands.   

Licini, who is on the organizing committee of the Holy Father’s 2024 visit, said young people are central in the planning of the papal trip to Papua New Guinea. In the Catholic Church, “the level of participation by laity and youth is high,” he said. “Everything is ‘young’ in PNG: church, country, modern civilization.” 

“It was only in early October 2023 that our bishops’ conference was told that the pope still had a great desire to visit Southeast Asia and Papua New Guinea in Oceania,” Licini told CNA. 

As part of his apostolic journey, Pope Francis is expected to visit a safe house for young girls in Vanimo and then, in the nearby village of Baro, greet missionaries, staff, and students of a school he helped develop. In Port Moresby, the Holy Father intends to meet with children supported by the archdiocese’s ministries for the care of street children. 

“The youth here greatly suffer for lack of education and employment opportunities. The breakdown of the family adds to neglect, poverty, and micro-criminality,” Licini explained. “Besides education and health, nowadays the social services of the Catholic Church focus on family life, child protection and promotion, domestic violence, and sorcery accusations related [to] violence, corruption awareness, and justice, peace, and reconciliation, mainly in [areas affected by tribal violence].” 

The last appointment of the papal visit in Papua New Guinea will be a youth festival at the city stadium in Port Moresby.

Isabella Saleu, a young laywoman working for Caritas Papua New Guinea — the justice, peace, relief, and development agency of the Catholic Church in the country — said she looks forward to the youth festival planned with the pope and believes his visit will be a “spiritually enriching experience” that will reinforce the Catholic identity in the country.

“The world needs us young people and all the enthusiasm we have to make it better, safer, happier and more Christ-like,” Saleu told CNA. “Over the years, the Church has not only evangelized but [also] has contributed immensely to delivering basic services by providing schools and institutions, hospitals, clinics and aid posts, safe houses, and facilities for pastoral and social services.” 

“Considering also the recent fateful events of ‘Black Wednesday’ on Jan. 10 that resulted in deaths and hospitalization, as the country came to a standstill when thugs took over the streets of the capital city Port Moresby who looted and burned down shops and caused the city to tremble in fear as police ceased duties, we hope that the papal visit raises our spirits to continue to move forward as a nation,” she added. 

To date, over 98% of Papua New Guinea citizens identify as Christian. Catholicism represents the largest Christian denomination in the country with an estimated 4 million people — about 25% of the total population. 

Pope Francis’ visit to Papua New Guinea will be his first trip to the country as part of his 11-day Asia Pacific apostolic journey in September. Pope John Paul II visited Papua New Guinea in 1984 and 1995.

Children look on during a procession at the General Assembly that was held in Mingende in the Kundiawa Diocese in 2022. | Credit: Photo courtesy of Catholic Bishops' Conference of Papua New Guinea & Solomon Islands

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