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Blessed Peter To Rot’s niece moved to tears at uncle’s Australian welcome in Marian Valley

Blessed procession: Hundreds join the procession to the Chapel of Blessed Peter To Rot for the Mass to bless the chapel at Marian Valley, Canungra, last Sunday. Papua New Guinea Cardinal John Ribat celebrated Mass and blessed the chapel. Photos: Alan Edgecomb

THE niece of a Papuan catechist who was killed for preaching the Catholic faith was brought to tears as she saw hundreds of people venerate her uncle last Sunday.

Angie Kolita-Payne is the niece of Blessed Peter To Rot, a Tolai man who was killed in 1945 during the Japanese invasion of Papua New Guinea.

Her aunt on her mother’s side Paula Ia Varpit married Blessed Peter To Rot on November 11, 1936, when she was just 16.

Mrs Kolita-Payne, who lives in Brisbane, was not born when her uncle was killed, but lived with Blessed Peter To Rot’s daughter Rufina at the time of his beatification.

Mrs Kolita-Payne is completely lost for words at the global veneration of her uncle today.

“We’re in the 21stcentury and Peter was killed in the (Second) World War, and we’re still living his legacy,” she said.

His legacy is even more palpable in Australia, which is now home to the first chapel outside of PNG dedicated to Blessed Peter To Rot.

Mrs Kolita-Payne was among about 800 people who gathered at Marian Valley last Sunday for a Mass to honour Blessed Peter To Rot, and to witness the opening and blessing of the chapel.

She was in charge of creating a traditional necklace made of Tolai shell money for PNG Cardinal John Ribat, who celebrated the Mass and blessed the chapel.

Shrine: Brisbane Auxiliary Bishop Ken Howell, Cardinal Ribat and PNG chaplain Fr Paul Sireh.

The 56-year-old said she was proud to be representing Blessed Peter To Rot and her family in Brisbane, which she has called home for eight years.

“It’s not just Rabaul, it’s the whole of PNG and Australia together, honouring this man, a simple lay man from my home and, because of his faith, he’s being honoured today as someone who brought life and peace to East New Britain,” Mrs Kolita-Payne said.

“I was so proud. 

“That was just a beautiful service (on January 19) that really kicked in (his legacy).

“I was a bit teary.”

Blessed Peter To Rot is the first martyr and blessed from PNG, having been killed by a lethal injection for his staunch Catholic beliefs.

A trained catechist, Peter To Rot became the sole spiritual guide for Catholics in Rakunai in 1943, when the occupying Japanese military prohibited Christians to worship or participate in any religious gatherings.

When the Japanese military suggested to recover an old Tolai practice of polygamy, Blessed Peter To Rot publicly disagreed with the directive.

He was threatened and eventually imprisoned for his defence of traditional, monogamous marriage.

In mid-1945, while imprisoned in a cave, a member of the Japanese military posing as a doctor gave Peter an injection that eventually killed him at the age of 33.

One prisoner is said to have witnessed the tragic murder, and news quickly spread that Peter was killed for the faith.

Mrs Kolita-Payne said she knew little about the details of her uncle’s death until she and her family moved to Rakunai.

“I knew that Aunty Paula’s husband was killed by the Japanese and that he was given an injection,” she said. 

“That’s what I was told at the time, that he died because he was preaching, teaching and baptising children.”

It was reported that Peter was doing this in the village.

“I never knew that it was a big thing in the Church that he died for his faith, until I understood it more, when I was more mature,” Mrs Kolita-Payne said.

Dancing: Traditional dancers at the blessing of the Chapel of Blessed Peter To Rot.

She finally realised the international acclaim for her uncle, which was cemented by Pope John Paul II when he beatified Blessed Peter To Rot in Port Moresby on January 17, 1995.

She witnessed pilgrim after pilgrim visit the site where her uncle was killed.

“What really opened my eyes were the pilgrims,” she said.

“That kind of opened my eyes to realise how big an impact he is to the Catholic community.

“I think I just admired him more.

“You realise what he did was for the good of human kind and you go, ‘Wow’.”

Mrs Kolita-Payne said she thought of Blessed Peter To Rot whenever she read the biblical account of the betrayal of Jesus.

“You look at the Bible and there’s persecution there right there for you,” she said.

“At that part of the Bible, I just thought, ‘Wow, I know a good example’.”

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