Chapter 23: Building and Rebuilding the Catholic Church

As mentioned earlier, Wautogig’s first Catholic church was built on Dagububu. The second Catholic church was located at Litali, the site where Wautogig was rebuilt after the war. Father William Kemmerling was the parish priest at this time.1 Narokobi continued his work as teacher and catechist. I learned how to read and write from him there.

The Catholic church was rebuilt yet again when Wautogig moved to Huraimbo, the third village location where Wautogig moved under the leadership of councilor John Nindim and where it remains today.23 Anton Narokobi’s adopted son or nephew, Peter Robui, took over Narokobi’s role as catechist in 1950. It was from these humble beginnings that the men and women of Wautogig, by the grace of God, acquired a hunger and thirst for learning that continue to this day.

The third village church, the one at Huraimbo, was replaced by the fourth where the present church is located uphill from the awagehʷ. The fifth church which replaced it was built with an iron roof. The sixth church is a permanent church that is currently being built at Urumih. Thousands of kina have been spent on this fine church. It is not yet complete.45

These sixth Catholic church building was constructed at Gori. This is another instance of a building that was constructed entirely with the effort of the Wautogig and Walenduom believers. They cut long kwila ‘ironwood tree’ posts with their own mobile chainsaws and timber from their own forests and constructed the frame. The back of the roof was designed in the shape of an old tambaran or spirit house. The sides and the top roof are similar to the German shape of the haus lotu at Boikin. The building was constructed under the guidance and direction of Gɨraut of Walanduom, himself a grandson of a Wautogig woman who married into the Walanduom community.

The interior, side walls, and floor are still under construction.6 Although the house is not yet complete, it has already been used.7 When Michelle Mari, sister of Bablis, made her final vows as a Notre Dame sister, a Mass was celebrated there with more than ten priests, as well as two bishops, His Grace Michael Marai and His Grace Cherubim Dambui. I have proposed that the church be called St. Anthony Church in memory of Anton Narokobi, the first catechist and teacher of Wautogig village.8

The church holds two human sized statues, one of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Wautogig, and her beloved son, Jesus of Wautogig and Walanduom. These sacred statues came from the Republic of the Philippines and were donated to the village by Antonio and Chichi Go, both naturalised Papua New Guinean citizens.9 It should be noted that in the exercise of constructing the church, our own Wautogig sons and daughters contributed generously. It is estimated that they have given about K50,000.

Still today the majority of Wautogigem are Catholics. They remain firm in their faith. In 1997 the Vicar General of Wewak diocese, Father Cherubim Dambui, granted Wautogig and Walanduom a separate sub-parish status distinct from Banak. They created Wautogig-Walanduom as a subparish of Boikin parish. The Catholic Church of Wautogig is a member of the Catholic Church with its headquarters in Rome. But it is also true to say that the church in our village or nation has a life of its own, and it faces many challenges. The most significant challenge comes not from Islam or Judaism, or from Buddhism or Hinduism, but from two other main forces.

The first of these is other Christian religions such as the Assemblies of God (AOG), Seventh Day Adventists (SDA), Israel Ministries, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Revival Centre of PNG (RCPNG). Their presentation of new ideas of faith is welcome. But in a close-knit community based in extended families, any departure from communal worship on Sunday (opting instead for Saturday), or different rules about to what one may or may not eat, or new ideas about the institution of marriage—to give but a few examples—do in fact present a threat to the community’s well-being. Where a church insists on miracles rather than human effort, or on pain and suffering as an integral part of human experience, enduring faith and hope become threatened. Despair creeps in when the awaited miracles are delayed or postponed. Desperation follows.

The second challenge is indifference to the community. Someone deliberately severs himself or herself from the mainstream Catholic Church. For a while, he or she is backed and supported by other faithful. The faithful then go away to a town or to another place. The believer is left alone and without support. Soon, that person attracts a handful of new supporters and together they move away from the mainstream believers. This creates friction. Community cooperation may prove difficult. But if the new faiths are followed by a support system in church worship or in any other services, and the system becomes firmly established, the believers may come to understand that social interaction and family cooperation or collaboration must go on. If they are solidly established, other churches may allow real life, so to speak, to go on.10

In Wautogig today, the main church is the Catholic Church. The other Christian faiths are not established to the same degree. The new churches do not yet have pastors or programmes to enhance their belief. We do not as yet have a Muslim or a Hindu or a Bahai church.11


1 Father Kemmerling was known to come to Wautogik from Boikin following a bush track on his horse. Listen.

2 Jacob and Tony debate whether his Christian name was John or Johannes. Listen.

3 Nindim was the first Native Local Level Government Councilor, after the era of tultuls and luluais. Listen.

4 The design of the church was provided by the Wewak diocese. But funding and work came from the community. Listen.

5 Jacob and Tony comment on the disappointing outcome of this major community building project. Listen.

6 Joseph Sallun and Josepha Kogimale discuss why work on the big church at Gori was discontinued. Listen.

7 Joseph Sallun explains that while the villagers tried using the new church at Gori, it didn't work out well and they went back to worshipping in the village. Listen.

8 Different names for the church have been proposed but none has been officially adopted. Listen.

9 These were friends of Narokobi’s who lived in Moresby. Listen.

10 With both of these points Narokobi seems to be expressing concern about how communal harmony and joint activity can be preserved despite villagers being pulled in different directions by their churches.

11 There are several other churches in the village today: Israel Ministry, Revival Centres of PNG, SDA, and others.

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