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PNG gangsters kill missionary priest for $23

A missionary priest who gave 30 years of his life to Papua New Guinea has been shot dead by criminals, witnesses said at the weekend.

Fr Hubert Hofmans, 62, was shot through the left eye when he told robbers he did not have any money, Fr Frans Lenssen said.

The killers then ransacked his car for 45 kina ($A22.90), which he was delivering to parishioners in the northern city of Lae.

Fr Lenssen said: "Fr Hubert was with us at lunch in the Marianhill (order) House and went from there to the City of Joy, a youth camp in the back of St Joseph's Station, Lae. There is a house where a family is living which looks after the area. They witnessed what happened.

"Fr Hubert came down the hill, near the house of this family, and left the car to give the family some money as salary, which he carried in an envelope.

"At that moment the gangsters approached him and asked for money. It seems that he tried to ignore them, saying `I have no money'. Then they shot him on the spot, searched the car and took off.

"Only shortly afterwards the boss of a security firm passed by and went to see what was happening. Then he saw Fr Hubert lying on the ground heavily bleeding, so that he decided to take him to the hospital instead of chasing the criminals.

"He seems to have been still alive a little bit, but in the hospital he died soon. He had no chance with such a shot right through his head."

Dutch-born Father Hofmans was the second Catholic priest murdered in PNG in three months.

In August, Australian priest Fr Fabian Thom, 64, was shot dead in his bed as thieves ransacked his rooms near Port Moresby.

Fr Hofmans, a member of the Missionaries of Marianhill, came to PNG as a religious brother about 30 years ago and was ordained a priest in 1987.

"It is a great loss for the Missionaries of Marianhill, for the (Lae) diocese and all its people and fellow priests and for the country," the Bishop of Lae, Henry van Lieshout, said. "He was a great man."

Fr Lenssen, Father Hofmans' provincial superior, said: "We are all under a tremendous shock ... And it looks like the whole town of Lae is under shock. Within minutes after the sad happening the news spread through town and people started gathering at the clinic where Father Hubert was taken.

Catholic Church of PNG and the Solomons