Our visit to Nagasaki was soul-stirring for me. The place is distinguished by suffering and, even more touchingly, by the noble response to this suffering. It’s as if the sweet smell of sanctity (as they would have put it back in the old days) is everywhere. The city and its surroundings are the site of a couple massacres. There was the well-known devastation wrought by the atomic bomb in 1945 that took over 70,000 lives–nearly 150,000 if you include those lost in the explosion in Hiroshima just a few days earlier. Then there was the other lesser-known wave of killings that began about 400 years ago with the persecution of Christians, concentrated mostly in the area of Nagasaki. The estimated number of Japanese Christians killed over the years is 250,000.
I just finished a week-long trip to Japan arranged by Shoiji Sato, the former Japanese ambassador to FSM and now the head of APIC. The main purpose was to do a presentation that might remind people of the era in which Japan governed Micronesia. It was a magical time in many ways: the introduction of public schools, the growth of an economy that was able to pay government costs, the spread of power lines and bicycles throughout the towns.
When I first arrived at Xavier in 1963 to begin teaching, basketball was all but unknown in the islands. Baseball was the sport of that era, dating back to the Japanese administration before the war. By the end of my first year, the Xavier team had uniforms and were playing the Filipino workers around the island. The next year they were playing Truk High School, which also had put together a team. Basketball in Chuuk was on its way to becoming the popular sport it is today.
I’m in Saipan for a few days, nominally to consult with the bishop here on his pastoral planning but also to break out of the confines of Guam for a change of pace. And a great change of pace it is, truth to tell! The bed in the rectory is beyond comfortable, so for the past two days I’ve been huddled in it for hours, day and night. But only until I am restored to full energy, I tell myself, as I sniffle and cough myself to sleep.
Saipan was a happening place this past week, even apart from the election campaigns that are in full swing. A team of archaeologists under Mike Carson and Hsaio-chun Hung has been working on an excavation site at Laulau Bay. The pit in which they were digging is one of the oldest settlement sites on the island. We watched them bring buckets of dirt to be sifted through a fine screen. We saw small bits of red pottery, sometimes even a sharpened stone cutting tool or two, and a curious looking stone ear pendant that looked like a miniature fishhook.
July 31, the feast of St. Ignatius, was the first of the two. On that morning, just a few days after celebrating my cousin Ken’s 50th anniversary of priesthood on Saipan, I landed at Newark to begin a couple weeks of visiting friends and family in the US. I spent the whole day at the province infirmary, Murray-Weigel, where a growing number of my peers are to be found. Fr. Dick Hoar, who spent years in Palau, has just moved there from Buffalo this past year. Joe Billotti and Jim Gould, who both spent years in the Marshalls, are among the more active residents. We shared stories as we sipped coffee together that morning. Read More
I was in Kosrae for a week, just to give a speech on FSM Law Day that took less than an hour. What was I going to do with all that time on my hands, I wondered? Kosrae is a small place with only 6,000 residents. Chuuk and Pohnpei are bustling cities by comparison, with their population, their traffic, their “glitter.”
“Here are your favorite enemies,” someone said before the photo above was snapped. Right he was. The two are my favorite duelists: Tony DeBrum and Peter Christian. One of them is a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize for the work he has done on calling attention to climate change in this part of the world. The other is a former student who is now President of FSM. Both sharpened their debating skills at Xavier High School a few decades ago, and have practiced on me over the years.