Where’s Fran? The answer to that blog-site question is, happily…on Guam. I have a long-term assignment on the island to assist the archbishop and work with the migrant communities. For a week now I’ve been settling in at my new home in the Dededo parish of Santa Barbara where the three diocesan priests have been very welcoming. Here I have a room and a car and, best of all, real work to do!
Dededo is home to a sizable Chuukese Catholic community and not far from another parish with a fairly large Pohnpeian congregation. So it didn’t take long for things to happen. Three days after my arrival, I was helping Chuukese fill out the parish forms for baptisms and first communions. Soon there were confessions–dozens of them, many more than I had heard in the past year and a half in New York. Then, on Saturday, baptisms for 20 or 30 young Chuukese, some of them already teenagers. (Many of these transplanted Chuukese clearly get a late start in their church life.) The day after that, we had 40 or 50 first communions. As I stood outside the church watching a pregnant woman dressed in white dress adjusting her veil, I asked someone if she was being married. No, the answer was; she was just one of those getting ready for her first communion.
The problems are obvious as I talk to some of the Chuukese. As new migrants, they don’t know their way around the parish routine. They don’t feel comfortable sending their kids to English training programs. In any case, they’ve got other things to worry about: getting housing and a job. They might go to church regularly, but getting their kids set up to go through the parish program isn’t their first priority. Still, they have some excellent support from Chuukese deacons, catechetical teachers and others.
On Sunday I had two masses: a mass in Pohnpeian for about 70 people in another parish and a mass for a couple hundred Chuukese here. The Chuukese mass was followed by a gathering with music, talks and food in the parish hall–almost as if we were back on one of the islands of Chuuk. The program was simple and the gifts inexpensive, but I had that familiar feeling that here were good people doing good things. At the end of the day–and the end of a busy weekend–I was tired but satisfied. It felt great to be exhausted doing something useful. And it felt great to be doing something useful for people so close to me.