Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Laef blong Solomons

I am still puzzling out why I can't upload pictures from this internet cafe in Honiara, but I guess you'll just have to wait until I get to another country! Lots of great photos, friends!

"Laef blong Solomons" is Solomon Islands pijin for "Life in the Solomon Islands."

February 15 I traveled out to our training house on West Guadalcanal, called Hautambu. 45 Franciscan brothers gathered there for the regional chapter. My arrival as Minister General was celebrated with a "warrior's welcome." This welcome means 12 men wearing loin cloths and body paint, brandishing axes, spears and knives leaped out of the undergrowth shouting in their native languages. My attention had been distracted by a comment from the driver of the truck so I didn't see the men, and I was startled! They circled the truck, shouting and threatening us, forcing it to come to a halt. I was surrounded and herded up the path where more men, similarly dressed, were gathered under a flower-decorated arch and chalked sign board: "Welcome to Hautambu." They began playing bamboo flutes and pan pipes, and with welcoming smiles places a huge wreath of flowers on my neck and led me into the friary courtyard. Everyone then began to sing a song of welcome and I was given a bundle of betel nut and green coconuts as a traditional welcome gift.

Clenching my fists so I wouldn't burst into tears, I finally responded with gratitude and joy and we all prayed for a happy time together as we met in chapter.

That night there was a huge Island feast for me and the other guest of honor, the Regional Minister of Papua New Guinea, Br. Laurence Hauje, SSF. We had wonderful pudding, chicken, pork, melons and pineapples. After dinner there was a pan pipe concert with much singing and dancing.

Saturday we feasted again, welcoming all the members of the regional chapter, and then Sunday we had the opening Eucharist for the Chapter.

It was a remarkable meeting, listening to the huge variety of things the brothers are doing in the Solomon Islands and the challenges they face in their daily living. They are involved with hospital visits and prison visiting on Guadalcanal, Malaita and Makira Islands. The brothers carry out many missions to remote villages, often hiking hours up slippery trails to conduct Bible Study, youth work and healing work among the sick. In addition to this evangelism, they plant and maintain huge gardens, since food is too expensive to buy. Every friary needs to grow kumara, cassava, varieties of greens, papaya, bananas and coconuts, which is the daily diet, supplemented with fish or chicken when it is available.

Afternoons after the meetings, there was time for "sport," some playing soccer, or in my case, going for long runs along the road threading it's way along the coast through fabulous villages. It was a bit disconcerting to have children burst into tears of fright at seeing a white man, but after a few days of seeing me jogging they happily waved.

The last night of the Chapter, Saturday February 23, I was presented with a beautiful necklace with a large shell carving of the Franciscan coat of arms. The necklace, I am told, is traditional bride price for Malaita Island. So in some happy way the necklace is a symbol of love, commitment and fraternity.

Returning to Honiara I have been sharing the brother's life and ministry, and experiencing life in Honiara--power cuts, water shortages, garbage pile ups. The brothers visit the Central Hospital every Sunday and Wednesday morning to give Holy Communion. I hope never to have to stay in this hospital: I noticed a frog in the hall way and the wards were crowded with people. Every patient has numerous people sleeping nearby or under the bed. The families provide food and crucial nursing assistance to the patients. But it was noisy and hot in the wards.

I am very proud of the brothers and their commitment to pastoral work and providing a refuge for all comers to the urban friary, Patteson House.

The power has cut three times while I've been composing this, so I will post it while I can!

Saturday I go to Papua New Guinea: the pilgrimage continues.

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