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Peter to Rot, Bl.


Martyr, married man, father, lay catechist; b. Rakunai, New Britain Island, northeast of Papua New Guinea, c. 1912; d. Vunaiara, Papua New Guinea, c. 1945.

As the son of the local chieftain, Angelo To Puia and his wife Maria la Tumul, Peter was baptized by the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart when his father invited his people to become Catholics. During his 40 years as chieftain, Angelo promoted the faith, but felt it was unwise for his son Peteror any of the new Christiansto become priests or religious. He did allow Peter to study at Saint Paul's Mission School (193033) to become a catechist. After receiving his diploma, Peter taught effectively in Rakunai. He married (Nov. 11, 1936) another Catholic, Paula La Varpit, with whom he had three children (the last born shortly after Peter's death).

When the Japanese invaded (1942), the clergy and religious were imprisoned; however, Peter was allowed to continue his work. In the absence of priests, he led other laity in ministering to the extent permitted them: baptizing, witnessing marriages, visiting the sick with the presanctified Eucharist, conducting communion services, catechizing, and running charitable organizations. He even built a church from branches on the outskirts of the village to replace one destroyed by the Japanese.

Peter protested against the 1945 Japanese prohibition against Christian religious instruction and worship, as well as the imposition of polygamy. For this he was arrested (1945) and beaten repeatedly during his two-month incarceration in a cave. Finally he was killed for refusing to espouse polygamy. A fellow prisoner, Arap To Binabak, testified to Peter's martyrdom.

Pope John Paul II beatified him at Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, on Jan. 17, 1995. In his address to the bishops of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands during their ad limina visit (Nov. 30, 1998), John Paul II pointed to Peter To Rot as an example that young people "have a role and responsibility in the Church's life" that must be encouraged.

Feast: July 7.

Bibliography: The Martyrs of Papua New Guinea: 333 Missionary Lives Lost during World War II, ed. t. aerts (Port Moresby 1994). Acta Apostolicae Sedis (1995): 16668.

[k. i. rabenstein]

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