Bougainville or bust...
The sound of gunfire rips through the thick forest on the Pacific island of Bougainville, off Papua New Guinea, as Kingsford Thraitsi is loaded into the waiting car by his anxious mother. It’s late 1989 and fighting between the Bougainville government and resistance forces has intensified. Five-year-old Kingsford watches as his father, a resistance leader, bids a tearful goodbye. The young boy promises himself that he will one day return to Bougainville.
Kingsford’s memory of those days plays out like a dramatic war film. He recalls being whisked from their private vehicle to the wharf, where a docked ship would eventually take them away from Bougainville. 'As we pulled out from the shore, I looked back and could see the Bougainville Resistance Army planes firing at the Papua New Guinea forces,' Kingsford says.
Now, 27 years on from his daring escape, Kingsford is nearing the end of his formation at the Holy Spirit Seminary. He says his inspiration to become a Catholic priest came when he returned to Bougainville later in his childhood. 'When my family and I returned, at the end of the Bougainville Crisis, we could still see people carrying guns and other weapons constantly,' he says. 'They were still traumatised and could not trust each other. They could kill each other very easily based only on suspicion.
'I wanted to change this situation; to be a ‘middle man’ and relieve the tension among these people. For me, being a priest was the most natural way of becoming that person.'
Now in his third year of theology study, Kingsford is putting the finishing touches on his nearly decade-long formation. There are no prizes for guessing where he’d most like to serve as a priest. 'The most urgent thing I would like to do,' says Kingsford, 'is to help those with great spiritual need following the Bougainville Crisis.'
Having had his family torn apart when he was barely school-aged, Kingsford is very interested in ensuring it doesn’t happen to other families in his homeland.
'I still hold deeply in my heart that separation with my father, and because I was so affected by it, I understand just how important it is for children to be properly cared for. For this reason, I will particularly look after those children who are at risk of being neglected.'
He also wants to promote intercultural dialogue. 'I want to help change the attitudes when cultures encounter one another,' he explains. 'My aim is that they won’t clash anymore, but can instead accommodate other cultures and traditions. All cultures have uniquely positive traits. There is no need to battle over which culture is best.'
Kingsford believes that education is the key to achieving this goal. 'The best way to help the people is to educate them. Without education, it is almost impossible to change attitudes.'
Due to be ordained next year, the keen gospel music fan is thankful to his Australian supporters who have helped to provide for both the Holy Spirit Seminary and the committed young men who study and live within. 'Thank you very much for your support,' he says. 'With your donations, you help the seminarians and you help the Church.'