For the past two years I’ve been serving as assistant to the pastor here at Santa Barbara, the largest parish on Guam. A week ago we have lost one of our parish assistants, leaving the pastor and myself as the only “full-time” parish priests. (I use quotations because, as those who know me might guess, I have picked up a few other things to do on the side.) Since pastors–Latin for shepherds–are supposed to feed their flocks, let me share with you a few recent experiences during this Easter season.
Last Friday I went from our usual weekly mass at the local hospital back to the parish for a funeral mass, then drove off to the university for a meeting to create a new vision for the university research center MARC. The meeting was inspiring for all, I think, but it left me hustling to get back to the parish to do the evening mass. No basketball that day.
The next day began with a 6 AM mass (not my best time of the day). This was followed by another morning mass for the kids in religious education program, 200 strong, and their teachers. At the mass I shared with them my old tale of the hunt for the golden Easter egg–the prize that, as a kid, I longed to find on the White House lawn, but eventually did find a few thousand miles away long afterwards. After a quick getaway, I made a short stop to pray over the body of deceased parishioner. Then followed a long but productive afternoon working on our video documentary of the earliest history of these islands as we decided on visuals over the narration in the script.
Always in the mix are calls to the hospital–occasionally in the middle of the night but usually at odd times of the day–that our parish is responsible for. Yesterday I arrived just a couple of minutes too late to anoint an expiring patient. Today the call came after the patient had died, so I met old Chuukese acquaintances in the viewing room as they bade their farewell to a woman who had died of hypertension.
Then there are the blessings–cars, rosaries, water, oil, homes, even towels. Yesterday I was driven to a renovated home by a young man wearing a face mask since his jaw had been cut away due to cancer. Usually there are lit candles, garlanded statues, and the devout anticipation of the household. But this was a very different experience. When I walked into the home I found the occupants in front of the TV, all eyes glued to the screen. No one moved until I ordered them in my in my best drill sergeant’s voice to STAND SO THAT WE CAN PRAY.
Office duty twice a week gives me a chance to meet some of the folks in the parish–would-be godparents, couples who hope to get married in church some day but can’t do it now, a few seeking spiritual advice or confession. The more people I meet here, the greater respect I develop for the church here on Guam. Like all of us, both saints and sinners in the same package. And like all islanders I’ve known, prodigally generous and ready to claim the parish priest as their own.
Did I mention that there are also the party times? Dinner with old friends like Minoru Ueki, an old buddy from Palau. Breakfast with Manny Mori, former student at Xavier and past president of FSM. Dinner with Lou Klitzky and the Camacho sisters just a few days ago. Karaoke at a despedida for Fr. Mario before his return to the Philippines, with the Dominican Sisters as our guests and all of us belting out the old favorites like “La Bamba.”
All of this may be seem to be an odd mix, but that’s the way shepherding is. I just hope the sheep are really being nourished.