Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Solomon Islands

I arrived in the Solomon Islands Saturday February 2. It was wonderful to see the brothers at Patteson House in Honiara, the capitol of the country. Our friary is located among a cluster of Church of Melanesia buildings: the Archbishop's office, a house for the sisters of the Church, a household of the Melanesian Brotherhood. The friary is a very active place with people sleeping on the floor of the main building, others storing their luggage, dropping by to talk with the brothers. All of this activity and the demands on the brothers wearies them, yet it is a beautifully Franciscan life and ministry.

Tuesday I left for the Malaita province, traveling on the Solomon Express. It is a highly air conditioned ship; I was fairly miserable. It was a relief to get to Auki on Malaita Island. Br. Steven and an inquirer, Andrew, met me at the wharf and took me up the hill to the friary. I was greeted by Br. Clifton, an old friend. That evening we walked to one of the neighborhoods of Auki, Kokum, and I preached at St. Hugh's parish.

Wednesday was Ash Wednesday, and after a 6:00 a.m. liturgy most of us got into a pick up truck for a bone-jarring three and a half hour journey to Malu'u to see Br. Noel Nikki. Noel spend 6 months with the brothers at Little Portion Friary in New York, and it was a great joy to see him and the place where he is studying to become a nurse's assistant. Speaking with the Director of the program he expressed real worry that there would be insufficient funding for the next term. During the trip I was thinking about all the different ways I have spent Ash Wednesday. This year's observance with it's long trip and the central concern for healing seemed an appropriate theme for prayer and repentance for me as an American for all the people who have inadequate roads and health care. My personal preoccupation was with persistent diarrhea, forcing us to stop occasionally. Rather than dust to dust, I think water to water...A nurse I requested Immodium from said they didn't have such medicines and not to worry as this is the season for diarrhea. I would be okay in 3 days. And she was right.

The next day was another trip, this time by foot up a mountain to a small village where our oldest Solomon Island Brother lives, Br. Colin. He has lived in Fou'ala for many years and has built up a school for girls there that attracts young women from all over the Solomons. When he started, girls were often neglected educationally. I was delighted to be able to celebrate Eucharist that evening and later to meet all of the villagers; long lines of them formed across the playing field and I walked along shaking hands with each of them!

Friday we were up and slipped our way down a rain soaked path to the road. We returned to Auki in time to refresh ourselves for a 3 mile walk to Busa, a village in the hills behind the town. It was a fiercely hot day. The brothers were given land there, and have built a beautiful friary. In addition to raising their own food they assist in the local parish teaching Sunday School, working with youth, and visiting the sick.

The return trip to Honiara on Saturday was on a miserable ship that had no air conditioning and hundreds of people, and inadequate sanitation, creating many ripe odors. This is the way most people in the Solomons travel island to island. Often they are on such ships for day at a time.

Sunday found us driving through pounding rains, over rivers swollen by rain and full of mud from eroding forests caused by poor logging practices. We went out to Vuru so tht I could preach and celebrate there. The weather cleared, and we had a really fantastic lunch with the local people who come to mass at the friary. The brothers built the house themselves, and also run a kindergarten with about 25 students and 3 teachers.

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