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Catholic Heroes… Blessed Peter To Rot

June 27, 2017 saints No Comments

By CAROLE BRESLIN

Papua New Guinea is an island nation about 175 miles north of Queensland, Australia. The capital, Rabaul, is on the eastern tip of a smaller New Guinea island that sits just east of the main island. It is an island with a dark history of witchcraft, cannibalism, and violence against women. Into this bleak place, the light of Christ had a bearer of good news: Blessed Peter To Rot.
Peter To Rot (pronounced Toe Rote) was the third of six children born to Angelo Tu Puia and his wife, Maria la Tumul. Shortly after their marriage, Angelo, a highly admired chief, and his wife had converted to Catholicism and raised their family in the small hamlet of Rakunai lying just outside of Rabaul.
Peter was born in 1912 after his brother Joseph and his sister Therese. His younger brother, Gabriel, survived, but the youngest boy and girl died in their infancy.
As Peter grew, Angelo held him in a special place in his heart because they were so much alike. This did not mean that Peter was spoiled since Angelo demanded just as much from Peter as his other children. The chief knew Peter had great leadership potential, so, at the age of seven, Peter went to school.
The school was probably a Catholic school where part of the students’ daily routine was to keep a journal. Peter’s teachers were impressed by his academic skills, but even more appreciative of the list of daily activities recorded in his journal. He listed his first activity of the day as morning prayers. Likewise, his last activity of the day was evening prayers.
Peter found many friends among boys his age. Together they served Mass, engaged in sports, helped with chores for their families, and, of course, played the practical jokes that are common among active boys. Peter became a leader, but he never became bossy or arrogant.
When Peter turned 18, Fr. Laufer, MSC, their parish priest, visited Angelo To Puia. Fr. Laufer also recognized the fine qualities of Peter, so he asked Angelo if he would allow Peter to become a priest.
Angelo responded in a surprising way — most likely inspired by the Holy Spirit. Angelo believed it was too soon for a man of Peter’s generation to become a priest. Instead he told the priest that perhaps one of his grandchildren would be a candidate for the priesthood.
Angelo did promise, that Peter could be a catechist so in 1930, Peter traveled to the Catechist School in Taliligap run by the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart. Once again Peter diligently approached his studies fortified by a deepening prayer life. He not only attended Mass daily and received Holy Communion, but he also stopped into the church periodically to pray before the tabernacle.
He continued using his gift of leadership at the school, encouraging others to pray more. Just before he completed his third year of the catechist course, Fr. Laufer urgently asked Peter to return to Rakunai. The youth then became the youngest catechist on the island at the age of 21. In addition, he visited the sick and the shut-ins taking time to pray with each of them.
His serenity, calmness, and encouraging ways quickly endeared him to the people. He made use of every opportunity to talk about the Church and her teachings. Furthermore, by the way he lived his life, he gave substance to his teachings, as he was holy and compassionate.
As a catechist, Peter met Paula la Varpit and won her heart. They were married on November 11, 1936 at the Catholic church in Rakunai. Peter and Paula continued the routine of morning and evening prayers as they became a shining example of Christian marriage. Paula also became his confidant as he expressed his growing alarm over Japanese aggression, and she consoled him when his father died in 1937.
Peter and Paula had their first child on December 5, 1939 naming him To Puia in honor of Peter’s father. He doted on his son, taking him wherever he went.
Three years later their daughter Rufina was born — just about the time World War II came to Rabaul. The people who had never seen planes before watched in horror as the Japanese destroyed their villages with bombs and then landed, bringing much sorrow to New Guinea.
When the Japanese soldiers rounded up all the missionaries and sent them to a prison camp at Vunapop, Fr. Laufer begged Peter, “To Rot, I am leaving all in your hands. Look after these people well. Help them so that they don’t forget God.”
The Japanese persecution of Christians escalated as the war dragged on. Peter continued to guide the Catholics and held prayer services in caves. He also preached against the Japanese who encouraged polygamy.
Although the Japanese threatened him if he did not stop criticizing them and holding prayer services, Peter kept holding the services and did not stop reprimanding those people who took second wives.
Incensed by Peter’s disobedience and interference, the Japanese arrested Peter and his two brothers for continuing to practice their faith. Telo, Peter’s younger brother, was hung on a tree and beaten senseless for being an Australian spy. He was released two weeks later. Tatamai, his older brother, was beaten for attending Mass and released one month later.
However, Peter was the subject of their greatest wrath. They beat him and held him for a few months when Peter realized he would not leave the prison alive. When his wife visited him, he asked her to bring his rosary and his catechist’s cross. She brought them as well as their son and daughter to say goodbye to Peter.
He informed his wife that it was his duty to die in the name of the Trinity for his people. He also told her the prison guards had called for a Japanese doctor to come and give him medicine even though he was not sick.
That evening, all the prisoners except Peter were led out of the camp and were told to sleep in a distant location. Three of the prisoners were worried about Peter and so returned to the camp. They found Peter on the porch lying mangled and wounded, with evidence of needle marks on his arm and the back of his head. The prisoners kept silent, fearing punishment for their discovery.
The Catholics came and took Peter’s body to hold a Catholic funeral. In silence they filed by his remains, paying Peter the tribute of being a great chieftain. They revered him as a martyr who fearlessly defended the Church’s teaching on marriage and for holding prayer services for the people.
In 1995, Pope St. John Paul II beatified Peter To Rot in Papua New Guinea. His feast is July 7. Blessed Peter To Rot was declared the patron of World Youth Day 2008, which was held in Australia.
Dear Peter To Rot, just as in your time, Holy Matrimony is now under attack both within and outside Holy Mother Church. We beg of you to obtain for us the special graces needed to uphold and defend all the wonderful teachings of the Catholic Church on this most holy sacrament. Amen.

+ + +

(Carole Breslin home-schooled her four daughters and served as treasurer of the Michigan Catholic Home Educators for eight years. For over ten years, she was national coordinator for the Marian Catechists, founded by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.)

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