Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, an Australian community, in a worldwide religious congregation.
Jesus loved with a human heart: with him we proclaim his love to the world.
We work to discover through advocacy, healing and reconciliation, God's presence in our world.
We are to be on earth the heart of God. God has no other heart but ours.
- Published: Sunday, 03 March 2019 22:29
PNG INDIGENOUS SISTERS – YOU MAY NOT HAVE HEARD THIS STORY
We know that quite a number of religious congregations of sisters were established with the help of MSC bishops and priests.
Indigenous Sisters, Daughters of Mary Immaculate, New Britain.
We also know the stories of the Japanese imprisonment of the many MSC priests, brothers, OLSH sisters and MSC sisters. Here is another story about another congregation and the influence of Bishop Leo Scharmach MSC of Rabaul (whose interactions with the Japanese were dramatized in the telemovie, Sisters of War).
In October 1942 all the missionaries were brought into the prison camp at Vunapope and the Japanese declared that the local Sisters were now "free from the slavery of their European masters". The invaders magnanimously declared that these indigenous Sisters could now to go wherever they liked. Far from rejoicing at their newfound "freedom" the Sisters lamented at being separated from their spiritual Mothers and Fathers. Nothing could be done for them by the missionaries; their residence had already been taken over by the Japanese. In any case the invaders would not allow these women to remain with the rest of the mission.
Bishop Scharmach gave them permission to swap their habits for secular clothes and told them to go home if they wanted to. None did. They insisted on remaining together as a group and, to the fury of the Japanese, they continued to wear the habit. They made for the village of Takabur, 8 miles away from the mission at Vunapope. Here was the novitiate of their convent where their Mother Superior and an elderly Father Zwinge, their Spiritual Director, also resided. This was all right for a few days until the Japs arrived to transport the Father and two European Sisters to the prison compound at Vunapope, again leaving the local Sisters stranded.
Before leaving, Father Zwinge appointed Sister Cecilia their Superioress. The Japs sneered at the nuns' distress then ordered them to evacuate the buildings immediately, the church included. They had nowhere to go now, so they took shelter in banana groves. There were 45 indigenous Sisters in all.
Some local boys, students of a disbanded teacher training college had built themselves houses and gardens about 20 miles away. They heard about the Sisters' plight and came to their rescue, building them houses and air raid shelters. The Japanese had not given the Sisters any rations but they soon established gardens and became self supporting under the guidance of Sister Cecilia. They met regularly for prayer and on Sundays they walked 8 miles each way to Vunapope. They continued to do this for 2 years and would bring food to the starving missionaries imprisoned in the compound. Two of the Sisters were killed by bombs and two more died of illness.
After Vunapope was destroyed and the missionaries were moved to Ramale, the indigenous Sisters transferred themselves to the same area. The students again erected houses for them and new air raid shelters, and planted new gardens. When one of the nuns, Sister Theresia, was accused of disparaging remark about the Japs, all the sisters were assembled and the alleged culprit was tortured all night with bayonets and other humiliations. Sister Cecilia refused to leave her and tried to protect her with her own body.
When the Japs threatened to kill Sister Theresia, all the Sisters promptly begged to be killed in her place. As a result the other Sisters were subjected to the bamboo torture. This involved them being ordered to form lines and kneel down. A long piece of bamboo was lain across their legs and two local police boys were forced to stand on each end to weigh it down. This appalling mass torture continued until 4 in the morning, after which the nuns were released. Seeing that it achieved nothing, the Japs finally gave up torturing them, but they would have been killed had the Japanese discovered the aid they were bringing to the missionaries.
Throughout the missionaries' internment the indigenous Sisters kept them supplied with extra food: bananas, tapioca roots, sweet potatoes and other vegetables. Regardless of the risk of cruel reprisals, they would carry these foods down the sheer side of the canyon to deliver it to their starving colleagues. They were forbidden by the Japanese to talk to any of the missionaries at any time, and they were not allowed by them to take part in a Mass though they continued their daily prayers. By sign language the Bishop would give them his blessing and General Absolution and the group of Sisters continued to come every Sunday and stand within sight, but not sound, of their colleagues.
These devout women deserve their place amongst the Brave Women of Oceania.