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.
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.
People sometimes think that religious things come easy to those of us who are priests and sisters. But the truth is that we have to learn how to pray. People may think that prayer, which can be so boring and dry for them, is a garden of delights for the “pros”–those whose name is prefixed by the title Father or Sister. But even those of us who have been trying to pray for many years would never claim this.
At a Christmas party thrown by the archdiocese on December 30, I was surprised when a number of people approached me holding copies of a booklet that had just been published and asked for my signature. It seems that the pastors and the heads of schools had received wrapped copies of the book at the party. For me the luncheon quickly turned into a book signing event.
“Where America’s day begins,” is how they used to describe Guam years ago. That’s what I once thought, too, during my early visits to the island in the 1970s. Guam always seemed like a marvelous shopping mall to those of us coming from Chuuk, Pohnpei, Yap and less developed islands. We could find everything there we couldn’t access in the smaller islands–air-conditioned movie theaters, fast food places, good restaurants that offered the tomatoes and lettuce and other delights we yearned for back on our own islands.
I was sitting in the back of a village church waiting to say mass when a teenage girl asked how old I was. When I told her that I was 76, she scrunched her eyes in disbelief, looked at me again, and then said “I thought you were much older. You look at least 90.”
I really did feel like 90 a couple days earlier after three one-on-one games with a basketball buddy from the Philippines. I felt at least that old many times during this trip to Pohnpei as I tried to remember the names that wouldn’t come, as friends came up to offer their good wishes. But, whether 76 or 90, I couldn’t help but be rejuvenated by the return to my old stomping grounds. At times, I felt as if I were 24 again–my age when I first arrived here in 1963.
Here we are in Chuuk once again with the diocesan priests gathered in the chapel preparing for our liturgy. Fr. Arthur Leger and I, along with two other Jesuits from Manila, are directing a week-long retreat for diocesan priests from the Carolines. The 15 clergy making the retreat range from the veterans, Bishop Amando Samo and Fr. Nick Rahoy, ordained a few months apart back in 1977, to Robert Ifamalik, who was just ordained on Pohnpei last month. They have come from Palau, Yap and Pohnpei to join their brethren in Chuuk for the event.
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!