Against all expectations, Ron Sams departed from us for a better life on June 27. Most of us thought of the man as timeless, one untouched by aging. I suppose in later years his hair greyed and thinned a bit, but when you looked at the man you wondered if he would ever grow old. Ron’s spirit seemed just as impervious to old age as his body. His enthusiasm even in his 80’s reminded you of the quality that endeared him to so many in his younger days. Ron Sams was a boy scout in the best sense of that term–one of three Eagle Scouts working in Micronesia in the 1980s, with Dan Mulhauser and Tom Smith being the two others.
Remember these two men shown with me in the photo? The tall one is Fr. Jim Croghan, former director of Xavier who worked in Micronesia for many years up to 2010. In that year he returned to the US to work in Jesuit education in the New York area and hasn’t shown up in the islands until just the other day. He is with us for the summer in his new role as Assistant to the Provincial for the International Apostolate (what we used to call missions).
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.
Happy Easter to you who may be reading this post! I’ve always thought that Easter is an under-rated feast. None of the songs that make Christmas so special, and the gift-giving is confined to Easter eggs and chocolate for the kids. Not so much of the glitz and glamour associated with Christmas. But still–for us church-goers and mass-sayers at least–Easter has more significance than Christmas. It’s a celebration of the end of the struggle, not the beginning. That alone should count for something.
That’s John Howard in the photo sitting in a conference room at Adelup. Over the past several months John has become the new face of Chuuk youth on Guam. His photo is beginning to appear in the paper almost as often as it did in the days when he was winning 100 meter sprints as a regional track star. Nowadays, though, John is known for organizing youth groups, setting up competitive sports events for Micronesians, and serving as the link for the Chuukese community with GovGuam.
Building a wall along the southern border? Rallying the police to arrest undocumented immigrants? Threatening the deportation of “aliens”? Is this what will define our country–“the land of the free and the home of the brave,” as we Americans like to think of ourselves–in the years to come? What about that warm welcome to the “poor and huddled masses” that our old schoolbooks use to proudly proclaim?
A couple of nights ago I attended a wake for a Pohnpeian youth who had been stabbed to death two days earlier. It happened in a drunken fight here on Guam outside the Hemlani Apartments–a low-end unit situated right next to what looks like might be the island dump. The Hemlani Apartments have made the front page of the local newspaper quite a few times over the past year, usually because of some minor crime or drunken brawl.
Old age and Christmas season are a tough combination. The old Yuletide favorites–with their “silver bells” and “sleigh bells” and “jingle bells,” their wistful “I’ll be home for Christmas,” not to mention the familiar melodies themselves–are dripping with nostalgia. As if an old-timer like me, head packed with fond memories, needed any more reminders of happy days past and marvelous holiday seasons!