01/25/2024, 17.24
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Pope in Port Moresby in August? A possible trip to a country in crisis

With tensions running high in the country, the PNG government leaked some details about a possible visit, but the latter has not yet been confirmed. On several occasions, Francis said that he wants to visit, and a trip in 2020 was cancelled. Presently, plans are being worked out, with stops in Indonesia, Timor Leste, and perhaps even Singapore. But the visit’s feasibility will be determined later. For Card Ribat, looting is unacceptable but the “leaders in our government must own up to their people”.

AsiaNews (Milan) – Pope Francis’s visit to Papua New Guinea (PNG) could take place over three days in August, the government announced somewhat rashly, leaking the information to a local newspaper, the Papua New Guinea Post Courier, later confirmed by the country’s foreign minister.

While the details of a possible trip are still being worked out in the Vatican, it is still too early for a final confirmation. What is certain is that the pontiff wants to go to Papua New Guinea, something that he has already mentioned several times, even in very recent interviews (when he spoke about Polynesia).

Such a visit was supposed to take place in 2020, with stops in Indonesia and Timor Leste, but was cancelled due to the pandemic. Currently, the Vatican is vying for a possible trip this summer with the aforementioned destinations in mind.

Just a few days ago, Francis received in audience at the Vatican the President of Timor Leste, José Ramos-Horta, and it is not hard to imagine that the issue was discussed in meetings at the Apostolic Palace.

It is also possible that the trip may include a stop in Singapore as well, which would also take on particular significance given the ties between the city-state, China, and worldwide Chinese communities.

Nothing has been decided yet. When contacted by PNG media, the nunciature in Port Moresby had no official statement to make about the trip.

It could not be otherwise. The pope certainly wants to go, but it is easy to imagine that in the face of such a long and complex trip, the decision must be made far in advance taking into account his health conditions.

More interesting, perhaps, is how the PNG government leaked the news.

On 10 January, major riots broke out in Port Moresby over a sharp cut in civil servants' salaries, which Prime Minister James Marape blamed on “a computer glitch”.

With looting taking place, and at least 15 people killed in riots, the government responded with a state of emergency. As a result of the tense situation, Marape's government may face a vote of no confidence in parliament in the coming weeks. Thus, one may wonder if talk about a papal visit is not a diversion to shift attention elsewhere.

Cardinal John Ribat, Archbishop of Port Moresby, spoke about the issue recently. In an official statement, he condemned the looting, saying it "painted a very bad image for us”.

The prelate lamented that “What we have built with our leaders over the 49 years of independence we have destroyed in one day”.

He went on to slam the authorities for failing to address the soaring prices of basic necessities, which are not matched by higher wages. “I made an appeal to our government to subsidize the basic store goods such as rice, sugar, tea, tin food, etc.,” the cardinal writes.

Ultimately, “Someone must accept and admit that they are responsible for what had happened,” he says with respect to the violence.

“It is not good to blame one another,” he warns. “Blaming one another will not correct that problem that has caused the mess and unlawful destruction in our nation.”

“To those who have looted shops and are keeping those stolen goods, I urge you to please return [them] to the police so that they can” be returned to their rightful owners.

“The leaders in our government must own up to their people and listen to the people’s suffering, especially with the current state of our failing economy. The leaders must cut down on the cost of their travels,” and “public servants must do their work well for the good of their people.”

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