By BERNARD DALY
FR. JEAN BELAND'S congregation will come to Christmas Midnight Mass in grass skirts, and Fr. Antonio Isquierdo's in fur parkas. They will stand before altars at opposite ends of the world.
In their eyes, the Infant will have the image of their own children brown-skinned Papuan of Australian New Guinea, or ruddy, black-haired Eskimo of the Canadian Arctic.
They'll all dance for ChristMKS, before and alter sharing an the Liturgy newly brought to them by priests of the Universal Church,
Members of the Awin tribe will join a distinctively virile warlike dance in a jungle steaming from the hundred-degree heat of midsummer, and rains that average twenty inches a month all year round.
The Eskimos will laugh their Way through a twist-like shuffle to the music of mouth organs, clapping hands and stamping feet, while outside the little community hall at Sachs 'Harbour 400 miles north of the Arctic Circle, it will be twilight at high noon, for the sun set almost four weeks ago and isn't due to rise again for a fortnight after Christmas.
For all their differences, Markomnai in Papua and Sachs Harbour are alike in the fact that both are new missions.
The Canadian Province of the Montfort. Fathers sent its first priests to Papua in the summer of 1959. The mission was started at Kiunga and built up gradually, and this is the first time that it has been possible for a priest to be at outlying Markomnai for Christmas.
The Oblate Fathers have been in the Canadian Arctic since 1848, but the mission on Banks
land Island has had a resident priest only for the past three years, since Father Isquierdo, who is in his early thirties. came from Madrid to volunteer for service in the Arctic with the Canadian Oblates.
Neither priest has a church. Father Beland's Midnight Mass will he in or near a house of bush materials, with palmleaf roof and bamboo walls and floors, raised about five feet above the ground as protection against humidity and reptiles.
Father Isquierdo lives in a twelve by sixteen foot house built of lumber carried to tile remote post by the Arctic summer patrol boat of the Canadian government. ills altar is at one end of the room behind a curtain, and the fifteen or twenty Catholics among the hundred members of the local Eskimo community will stand around him in the little room as he celebrates Midnight Mass. The two priests also will have in common the fact that their immediate superiors will just have returned from the second session of the Vatican Council, with intimate news of the struggle of the Church to know and perfect itself. At Fort Smith, where the farenheit marked forty degrees below zero last Christmas, but which is eleven hundred miles south of Sachs Harbour, Bishop Paul Piche will be presiding at a
Pontifical Mass in the cathedral serving 1,200 Catholics in the town's population of two thousand.
Bishop Plebe is the Vicar Apostolic of Mackenzie, in the part of Canada known as the Northwest Territories. The community has been a mission since 1872, and a permanent residence for bishops since 1914.
At Kiunga, five hundred and thirty miles up the Fly River from the southern coast of Papua, Monsignor Gerard Joseph, the thirty-four-year-old Prefect Apostolic of Daru, will also preside at a Solemn Mass. But his church is made of bush materials like Father Beland's house, and the 200 Papuans who crowd into it will sit on squared togs, while outside the midnight temperature will be about eighty degrees above zero.
The church was the second building raised by the Montfort Fathers after they moored their fifty-foot launch near the Australian government station at Kiunga in 1959. The termites destroyed the mission's first building. a house for the priests, and have so weakened the better-built church that it too must be rebuilt soon.
Christmas is a recent discovery for the Papuans. Before the missionaries came they used to gather at the government station at Kiunga for a year-end celebration.
They were drawn there by the fact that officials then paid those who had been doing some work for the government.
The subsequent festivities were called the Christmas dance, because the people knew the whites gave that name to the season, but they themselves attached no religious significance to the occasion.
The missionaries have tried to adapt some of the native ceremonies, and the crowd at
Kiunga, as at Markomnai, will gather near the mission and dance on Christmas Eve.
Then the fifty or so who are baptised, and a number of their friends, will gather in the church for the Mass; and after midnight the dancing will resume until morning. Before Mass, Monsignor Deschamps will carry the Infant in formal procession to a crib built Papuan style, of palm leaves and bamboo.
At the Mass, the people will sing hymns in the Motu tongue that is the lingua franca of the area, set to some of the Christmas melodies known throughout the world. And they will chant
in Motu the people's parts of the Mass, including the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei.
The six Montfort Sisters who have come from Canada to teach in the six-room mission school and work in the
maternity and infant-care hospital, both built of bush materials, will be present at the Mass, and the mission's one lay brother will play the small organ.
The next day the mission staff will sit down to a Christmas meal of rice and tinned meats, with perhaps some frozen foods recently flown in and stored in the kerosene refrigerator.
The Papuans for the most part will eat what they do all year: bananas and sago, a meal made from fern leaves and formed into crude cakes.
Perhaps the mission aircraft, flown by Father Guy Gervais, will bring Father Beand back from Markomnai for the day. The outpost used to be a twoday walk along forest trails north from Kiunga, butPapuans working for the mission with axes, saws and shovels carried into the area have cleared and levelled a small landing strip at Markomnai, and also at Garandimok, further into the jungle.
The mission at Kiunga likely will have another Christmas Day visit from natives at Daru on the coast, who have been corning to perform their dances, which are more sophisticated and refined than those of the people at Kiunga itself.
Daru, the district capital, and flosset, an older community where there are natives baptised by the Sacred Heart Fathers who worked in the area earlier from what was then Dutch New Guinea, also will have Christmas Masses.
Father Isquierdo's Christmas company will include the two members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and three employees of the Canadian Department of Transport who are stationed at Sachs Harbour.
The Eskimos, who in this western part of the Arctic have been in contact with whalers and other white traders for 80 years and have abandoned igloos to live in lumber houses, are chiefly hunters, managing to take seals in spring and summer and polar bears and white foxes in winter. A few have government jobs as well.
The government station is in wireless contact with Inuvik, at the mouth of the Mackenzie River, and an aircraft can link the two communities in less than two hours if need be. It will bring Father Isquierdo and the others their Christmas mail.
The isolation of former days is being further broken for the missionaries by a wireless hookup with their bishop at Fort Smith. At eight to nine o'clock Christmas evening, as they do every evening during this hour that they have been allotted for unrestricted broadcasting, eleven of Father Isquierdo's fellow missionaries in the Mackenzie vicariat will exchange news and greetings by two-way wireless sets. Father Isquierdo's set will be on next year's boat.
Meanwhile, he has an ordinary receiving set, on which he was able earlier this fall to follow the main fines of developments in the Council through broadcasts by Radio Vatican, easily heard at Sachs Harbour, where Radio Moscow also comes in loud and clear.
The Eskimo population, for their part, will have their usual basic meat diet of seal and bear, supplemented, if fresh meat is short, from the meat and fish they dried during the summer. They will also have flour, tea, sugar and jam from the trading post, and Father Isquierdo and the others will likely manage a few candies for the younger folk.
It is perhaps with the youngsters that the biggest difference will be noticed by Father Beland and Father Isquierdo.
They'll all be there, at Markomnai—toddlers sitting on their mothers' shoulders and holding onto their hair, and almost-naked older children. There is a mission boarding school at Kiunga now, following the English-language course laid down by the Australian government, but the 60 boys there are from the villages close at hand.
Sachs Harbour is much too mean to have its own school, and the school-age children left by air last September for boarding schools at Inuvik, and they will not be back until June.
Their parents want it this way. Most of them also went out to school, at Aklavik, a community now relocated at Inuvik.
But when the Christmas moon turns the Arctic night to silver and white, and the houses rock with the fun of blowing up balloons, a favourite indoor game for young and old, there will be someone missing 'from the families at Sachs Harbour, and the mothers may withdraw a little, to think about Inuvik, and Christmas.