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PNG seminarian Br Joseph Liaia passionate about giving back to his people

Passionist Brother Joseph Laiai

Br Joseph Liaia: “(That sense of giving back) was strong in me growing up as a kid, and, from that, I saw that being a priest would be the best way that I can serve God and serve the people as well.”

ANYONE watching on as Br Joseph Liaia kicks a football around the grounds of a monastery in Brisbane most likely won’t realise it’s part of his preparation for priesthood.

Apart from the fact he’s having fun and getting some exercise, when the 29-year-old from Papua New Guinea is kicking the ball he’s also thinking of the life ahead of him.

“I was actually kicking the ball around by myself yesterday,” Br Joseph said as he chats during his pastoral placement with the Passionist Fathers’ community in Oxley, south-west of the Brisbane CBD.

He had previously been studying and in formation in Melbourne for the past three years, and he had plenty of opportunity there for kicking the football with other students.

“I think that’s one thing I miss about Melbourne, because there were a couple of more students there so we used to kick the footy around every now and then in our free time or in the afternoon but here, it’s only myself, so I create my own fun,” he said.

“Yesterday I got a wooden stand, put it down and put my bottle of water on it, and was kicking the ball across to try to knock it off.”

He laughed at the idea – “creating my own fun”.

“That’s one thing I like about being here, apart from the fact that there are certain ministries that I have to do, I try to be creative, in the sense that I have time for some of my hobbies and I do something that I like and I keep up with my exercise.

“I haven’t done that for a long time, and I know it’s going to be really important when it comes to my ministry, because it’s really concerning for me back home to see how very bad it is when priests or brothers don’t look after themselves and get into different habits.

“So I don’t want to fall into the trap, and I just want to create the rhythm when I’m here, and when I go there (into full-time ministry) I can just work around it, so it’s made more part of my life and something that I enjoy and hopefully it will help support my ministry as well.”

It’s part of a journey that Joseph’s been on since he was a boy growing up in Rabaul. It’s on “a beautiful island about an hour and thirty minutes by plane from Port Moresby”.

“That’s where I grew up and all my family’s back there, so it’s always lovely to be home, to be with the family and everyone,” Br Joseph said.

He’s the eighth child of 11 born to Juliana and the late Camilus Liaia, and he was in primary school when he started thinking of becoming a priest.

“Firstly I grew up in a very strong Catholic family,” he said.

“My mum’s very devoted in the community and serving the Church, so I felt that sense of giving back something to my community was there.

“(That sense of giving back) was strong in me growing up as a kid, and, from that, I saw that being a priest would be the best way that I can serve God and serve the people as well.

“That sort of inspiration or something that was in me at that time, it just stayed with me and it just grew inside me, and I was feeling more attracted towards the priesthood.

“I was more just attracted to become a priest and serve my own people back home.”

Before finishing high school Joseph was accepted to go to the seminary to become a diocesan priest but he had begun to wonder about joining a missionary order.

“(After the final high school exams) my offer came from the university to go and study there so I decided to write to the parish priest and the bishop that I’ll just go spend a year, get a diploma, and come back and join the diocesan seminary,” Br Joseph said.

He left Rabaul for the PNG mainland to study for a Diploma in Tropical Aquaculture in Fisheries.

“After about a year and a half at university, I came back to Port Moresby and stayed with my older brother there, and that’s when I met the Passionists,” he said.

His way forward became clearer.

“I was attracted to the charism of our (the Passionists’) founder, St Paul of the Cross, and the charism is to preach the love of God manifested in the crucified Christ,” Br Joseph said.

“I was attracted to the charism mainly because I’ve seen growing up as a kid back home, back in the village, and seeing my mother suffer, and even going through that struggle, I feel like this is the life I want to live.

I felt so strongly attracted to it. I feel like maybe I can preach that love of God that Christ died for, and that’s why I said I’ll try this life out.

“It wasn’t like an immediate decision that I made at the time. I took it as more of like a discerning process for me, seeing where God wants me and wants to take me.

“But the longer I stayed when I came and joined and reflected on the life, my desire to be a Passionist just grew and grew with time and with the formation that I went through.”

What appealed most about the Passionists was that he “wanted to serve God in that way, to preach the love of God in the crucified Christ, through, I think also, with the mission that we do …”

“Part of our mission is to do that either in parishes or also working with youth, but our main mission that our founder did in his time was to preach retreats,” Br Joseph said.

“He was kind of like a missionary as well, but doing it that way – preaching retreats – and that’s what I feel I want to do, and it’s part of why I’m here at ‘The Fort’ (the Passionists’ community on Fort Road at Oxley) – to learn from all the guys here who are doing retreats and missions in parishes, and to learn from them and get some skills on how to do it, and may be able to adapt it to my culture when I go back home to Papua New Guinea, which I’m likely going to do in the near future, in about a year or two down the track.”

Br Joseph said he felt ministering through retreats and parish missions was the best way for him “to reach out to those people who are vulnerable out there in society – to those who need to know God’s love for them, and God’s compassion”.

“It helps you reach out to the young people, also those who live in the margins of society,” he said.

“It’s always been that way in the days of our founder. He used to go to very isolated places to work with people there, and that’s exactly what (it’s like) in one of our places in Papua New Guinea, in Vanimo …

“People there live out in the bush, and back in the old days, (and) our missionaries used to go and walk along, climb mountains, go across rivers to reach out to these people, so that’s the kind of thing I want to do when I go back home – to reach out to those people in isolated places and bring God’s message of love and compassion to them.”

Br Joseph is halfway through his six-month placement in Brisbane, and he’s likely to be ordained a deacon early next year.

He would then be on track to be ordained to the priesthood at the end of next year of early in 2020.

In the meantime, he’s joining a local touch football team so he can stay fit and well.

Written by: Peter Bugden
Catholic Church Insurance

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