Faith in the Pacific

Author: Catherine Godfrey

Faith in the Pacific

Catherine Godfrey

The youth of the Church in the Spirit

New ecclesial movements and the Marianna Islands

At the close of the year 2011 anno domini, the Catholic Church is still witnessing original growth and reaffirming the reality that the maturity of the Church as an institutionalized entity established by Christ Himself is to be found in manifestations of her youthfulness. A clear example of this is the life of the Church in the Mariana Islands, in particular what has taken place through the Redemptoris Mater Archdiocesan Missionary Seminary of Guam.

The Catholic Church is not just arrived in the Mariana Islands. It was only a few decades after European explorers made contact with the native Chamorros in 1521 that Catholic missionaries landed in great hope and zeal, yet it is our own day that is showing a kind of authentic growth of the Church in the region.

Part of this might be attributed to the political history and its influence on the missionary activity in the islands. Beginning with moments of hostility between Europeans and natives, including the murder of Blessed Diego Luis of San Vitores in 1672, there followed the expulsion of all Jesuit missionaries by the Spanish in 1767, the North American occupation in 1901 and the arrival of the Franciscan Capuchins, and the departure of the last remaining Augustinian friars during the German Administration of the northern islands. Even after the canonical establishment of Guam by Pope Pius X in 1911, the islands and their missionaries would endure Japanese occupation. Not until 1965 did Guam reach the status of diocese, thereby receiving its own Ordinary in Bishop Flexberto Camacho Flores. In 1986, Guam was elevated to Metropolitan Archdiocese and given Archbishop Anthony Sablan Apuron. This present day Catholic community embraces almost the entire population of Guam. After hundreds of years of missionary commitment to the region, the Pacific Islands have a point of reference to the Universal Church through the pastoral work that takes place in Guam. The region and its initiatives are beginning to move outward, from within itself back into the world. This tiny island in Remote Oceania, that is Polynesia Micronesia and Melanesia, on the edge of the famous Marianna trench, is a pivotal point of evangelization in the totality of the island cluster but also of Asia. The evangelization of Asia has been a strong theme in the pontificate of both Blessed John Paul II and the Holy Father Benedict XVI. The self-awareness and vitality of the Church in this spot on the globe will be a light for a hard to reach but nonetheless very real human communities in the millennium to come.

Yet the real growth of the Church in Guam, an authentic growth, must be seen as an organic structure if it is to be believed. Simply put, the era of missionary work must be followed by the realization of Chammorro vocations. The responsibility of the native populations was, to some degree, urged along by its tumultuous geopolitical experience, but the success of the Catholic Church in the Pacific may also be largely due to the recent phenomenon of ecclesial realities. The Redemptoris Mater Seminary is the result of collaboration of the Neo-Catechumenal Way for the "new" evangelization of the Pacific within the magisterial vision articulated by John Paul II during his late pontificate. The petition of Archbishop Anthony Sablan Apuron, OFM Cap., for a major seminary was accepted by the initiators of the Way, Kiko Arguello, Carmen Hernandez, and Fr Mario Pezzi, and the decree of its establishment was signed on 8 December 1999 (the Feast of the Immaculate Conception as well as Our Lady of Kamalen, patroness of the Archdiocese and seminary).

More than three hundred years after the first efforts, we are witnessing the fruition of history in the mystery of the "new" identity of the Church in this region, more and more comprised of its own human faces. The first priestly ordination in the seminary took place in 2005, and with the last 2 ordinations celebrated on 19 November 2011, the number of priests from the Redemptoris Mater of Guam is now ten. The Church can now say that she is nurturing the faith of the islands as she watches 45 men prepare themselves for the presbyterate, four of whom were born in Guam, all of them, once ordained, to be incardinated in the Archdiocese of Agana, Guam. Furthermore, the Redemptoris Mater of Guam is presently welcoming several seminarians from the Samoa islands
who were sent to Guam by their bishops to take advantage of the Blessed Diego Luis de San Vitores Institute for Oceania, affiliated to the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome, for their seminary formation.

Fr Giovanni Rizzo, the vice rector of the seminary in 2009, remarks that the Way is instrumental in the growth of vocations. Yet, this Christian Initiation for the rediscovery of baptismal call is not merely understood as a facilitator of vocations, but an integral part of an individual coming to understand their Christian vocation and charism. "It is the formation to baptism, mostly in those who are already baptized Catholic", he says, "and the Church herself collaborating in the discernment process from the beginning." It is centered on the fullness of the grace of baptism, and the explicit openness of the Church to the Holy Spirit in her mission to both fully keep and fully give Jesus Christ to the world.

The Catholic Church can be seen in her beauty of youth in Oceania, both in her major seminary, which has only just celebrated its decennial, as well as in the fact that she is a witness to the beauty ecclesial movements and spirit are bringing to the Church as gifts of the Holy Spirit that rejuvenate the life and mission of the Catholic Church even after centuries of pastoral commitment. As Professor Luis Navarro of the faculty of canon law at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome has noted, in the manner of Pope Benedict XVI (as both Cardinal Prefect and Supreme Pontiff), ecclesial movements are a new reality and require a spirit of openness in charity, for when these movements are authentic they truly are of the Spirit and are "at the service of the one Body that is the Church".

The canonical reality of these movements and initiatives regarding clerical vocations must not be separated from the fact that for priests and bishops, even those who credit ecclesial movements with the health and realization of their vocations, are configured to Christ as Priest. That is, the Way, for example, does not form vocations into molds within and oriented to itself. The seminaries that serve those who are called to the priesthood are diocesan, but maintain as integral the liturgical and spiritual praxis of the charism that lies at the origin of the vocation. Once ordained, the Priests from the Redemptoris Mater are diocesan priests at the obedience of their Ordinary, with the distinctive mark of the willingness to fulfill intheir priesthood the directive of Presbyteriorum ordinis, n. to which says "... Let priests remember, therefore, that the care of all churches must be their intimate concern. Hence, priests of such dioceses as are rich in vocations should show themselves willing and ready, with the permission of their own ordinaries (bishops), to volunteer for work in other regions, missions or endeavors which are poor in numbers of clergy".

Accordingly, these priests are not members of a religious consecration, nor are they are not at the obedience of a movement. They are diocesan priests that, with the permission of their bishops, engage in the care for all churches. As Prof. Navarro says, "This consecration is a gift for all the People of God, because the sacrament of Orders allows the faithful to share in the mission of Christ and grants the capacity to fulfill some functions regarding the munera Christi". All persons at the moment of priestly ordination are incardinated within a diocese as the context of this reality of being minister in the Church. Yet ecclesial movements, as the places wherein human beings come to know their call to the priesthood, continue to lead human beings, even as priests, to Jesus Christ. As the success of any vocation is the glory of the Church, the success of a priestly vocation is a wonder of incalculable fruit that yields far beyond its human history. Formation must be a continual reality lest the Church lose the quality of her essential youth and vibrancy.

A relationship with "maternal" ecclesial movements will often be favorable to the individual priest. And canonically speaking, this is possible. The seminarians of Redemptoris Mater, for example, will all be incardinated into dioceses and their vocations will bear the character of this defined ministry. Fr Rizzo, a priest of the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey, affirms that his incardination defines his ministry. He has been in parish ministry for ten years and only recently spent a year as vice-Rector of the Redemptoris Mater in Guam as a priest fidei donum upon the request of his Archbishop, Most Rev. John Joseph Myers. His ties to the Way are a still a fundamental source of enrichment. Professor Navarro clarifies the appropriateness of these ecclesial realties in the Church: "From a canonical point of view, the position of these priests is not problematic: they are members of the movement by virtue of their right of association, recognized explicitly in can. 78". These ties have a proper place in the Church, and an indefinite spiritual value

A further interesting canonical issue arises when a priest wishes to commit himself to the work of the ecclesial movement that has fostered his vocation. There are two ways of approaching this, says Prof. Navarro. "The praxis of these agreements has become more relevant in recent years, for in the statutes of some ecclesial movements, approved by the Holy See, it is established that the Ordinary of Incardination and the president or superior of the movement will agree on the ministry of the cleric. In some cases there is even an instruction on how to distribute the ministry of the cleric. The significance of this is that, as the statutes are approved by the Holy See, whenever a movement reaches a diocese, the Ordinary has to respect their identity as it appears in the statutes. So the bishop is faced with this choice: to accept the movement as it is, including the dis-
positions regarding the clergy or not to accept it at all. The second solution, continues Prof. Navarro, "has been to create within the movement a Society of Apostolic Life or a religious institute with the faculty of incardinating the clerics of the movement".

The Catholic Church realizes herself more fully as the Bride of Christ as she continues to experience these new realities, which are related to her temporality as well as the supernatural mission guided in the promise of the movements of grace in the Holy Spirit. Hence, we are seeing these movements as novelties, as grace has often been witnessed in the history of the Church. Furthermore, these new things are contributing to other new realities, such as the new seminaries and vocations in the Pacific Islands, as well as the renewal of tradition. That is, the enriched ministry of secular priests. As proclaimed in Lumen Gentium, "Guiding the Church in the way of all truth and unifying her in communion and in the works of ministry, [the Holy Spirit] bestows on her varied hierarchical and charismatic gifts, and in this way directs her; and he adorns her with his fruits. By the power of the Gospel he permits the Church to keep the freshness of youth". With a heart open to Christ's original promise to the Apostles and gifts which are outside human anticipation and petition, the Catholic Church witnesses in herself the youthful effects of an alliance with the God who is love.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
21 December 2011, page 8

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