When we were kids, we would sometimes find ourselves standing at the door of the church in the evening and peering inside. The church looked like a large, gloomy cavern. If we entered, we found ourselves stumbling over pews and often startled by large statues we didn’t know were there. Once in a while, we would be taken by surprise when we heard a snuffle or a wheeze–a signal that someone was praying in one of the pews. The church at night was a spooky place for us kids. The one familiar landmark, I remember, was the flicker of the distant sanctuary lamp in the front of the church.
On Sunday, February 4, Fr. Julio Angkel was given his episcopal ring along with his crozier and mitre in a two-hour ceremony held in the cathedral on Weno, Chuuk. He has been appointed assistant to Bishop Amando at this time and replacement for him when he retires.
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.