Today, 7 Jul 2012, is the anniversary of the death of Blessed Peter To Rot, who was killed by the invading Japanese in 1945, shortly before WW2 ended, because he was a fearless catechist and because he openly defended marriage against those who wanted to promote polygamy. A native of the region around Rabaul, Papua New Guinea, 2012 marks the centenary of his birth.
Blessed Peter To Rot was born in Rakunai, New Britain, which is an island off the north-eastern coast of Papua New Guinea in 1912. His father was the village chief, and his parents were adult converts to Christianity, being baptised in 1898, and part of the first fruits of missionary work in that area.
Understanding the value of education, Peter’s father made sure he went to the local community school. Peter grew to be an apt pupil, and his father and others recognised in him natural leadership qualities and a maturity beyond his years. As Peter became proficient in reading, writing and arithmetic he also grew in prayer, obedience and responsible behaviour. Ready for his First Holy Communion at a little younger age than usual, Peter began going to daily Mass and began serving as an altar boy. His parish priest was very impressed with him and wondered if he might have a vocation to the priesthood or religious life.
In the meantime, the need for trained catechists was great. So Peter was enrolled at St Paul’s Catechist Training College at Taliligap in 1930 and studied there for 3 years. Returning to Rakunai, Peter began his role as catechist; getting to know the needs of parishioners, assisting with catechetical instruction and teaching people how to pray. He was of great assistance to the missionaries. Proving to be a gifted teacher, Peter constantly carried and taught from his Bible. He also had the gift of being able to visit those in need, the poor, the sick and the lonely and to convey God’s love and care to them so that they felt understood and uplifted and didn’t feel like charity cases.
On 11 November 1936 he married Paula la Varpit, and God blessed them with three children. One child died in infancy, another after WW2 finished.
In 1942 all the foreign missionaries were arrested, and Peter continued on his own to serve as best he could by helping the sick and poor, baptising and teaching Catholic doctrine. Peter also organised food for the prisoners and managed to obtain consecrated hosts from the priest-prisoners and take them back to the locals for communion services and for the sick. As the war progressed local rule was replaced by military rule, and a climate of religious persecution grew. During WW2 the Japanese tried to win favour with the locals by encouraging polygamy and limiting Catholic influence.
Some people, even one of Peter’s brothers welcomed the relaxing of morals and took advantage of it. Peter publicly opposed these changes, and was arrested in Eastertide 1945. Initially he was only supposed to serve 2 months on the Vuniara concentration camp. He said, “I am here because of those who broke their marriage vows and because of those who do not want the growth of God’s kingdom.” Visits from his wife and mother were permitted. Knowing he was in danger, Peter asked his wife to bring him his good clothes, so that he could appear before God properly attired.
When Peter learned that a Japanese doctor was coming to give him medicine, he became concerned because he felt perfectly well. Sure enough, the ‘medicine’ was a lethal injection which took longer than expected to work. The murder of July 1945 was covered up and explained as a death from infection. Despite this, a large crowd gathered to pay their respects to Peter at his funeral. Within a month of his death, the Japanese surrendered, thus ending the War in the Pacific.
Blessed Pope John Paul II beatified Peter To Rot on a visit to Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea on January 17, 1995. In our current day when the institution of marriage as a sacred bond between one man and one woman for life is so under threat, Blessed Peter To Rot stands as a luminous witness and as an encouragement to not give up in marriage’s defence.
To read more about Blessed Peter To Rot, the following two articles are very good: http://www.catholicpng.org.pg/faith/ToRot.html and http://www.misacor-usa.org/component/content/article/156.html
Blessed Peter To Rot, pray for us.