Salesians celebrate 25 years at the ‘end of the world’

Nestled at the end of the world are the beautiful islands fondly called by Spanish navigator Álvaro de Mendaña in 1568, the ‘Hapi Isles’.  Similar to its Melanesian neighbors, this tiny little country of about 992 islands has a population of 700,000 people, 70 different tribes and an equal number of languages.

The Solomon Islands lie on the ‘Ring of Fire’, vulnerable to earthquakes, tsunamis, cyclones and climate-change impacts like sea-level rise, high daily temperatures and heavy rainfall (Hiriasia, 2010).  A rugged country with coral islands and atolls, it is about the poorest in the Pacific Islands.

It has a per capita income of less than one US dollar a day. With limitations on the basics of water, sanitation and connectivity it can be categorized as “4th world”.

Colonized and ‘missioned’ by the British, it gained its independence from Britain in 1978.

Despite its limitations, there is always a smile on the faces of the people. They radiate joy, happiness and contentment at all times. Literacy is a little over 35% of its total population. 50% of its population lie below the age of 18 and despite the lack of connectivity it is fast losing its customs, culture and identity to globalization.

There exists that basic struggle of people trying to straddle two worlds: their own and the modern one that has become so dominant, controlling and directive.

The land is fertile, and people live on root crops, fruits and fish.  The country has its natural resources.  The people are intelligent, but perhaps they lack a rhythm and a determination to plan, stick to a job and complete the task in the allotted time.

Solomon Islands in hope

Solomon Islands is fast losing its identity, while on the other hand it is actively searching for an identity that leaves intact its roots and comes to terms with its culture, vision and traditions.  

Four systems are at work here – the chiefly system, the government, the churches and now the business-money ethos which rules their world unmercifully.  

False promises and constant handouts by government officials have weakened the political system.  The chiefs no longer have a hold on their people.  

The churches are the ones most in contact with the young and strive to give them a direction and hope for themselves. Sadly, the adults are pulled in different directions by the false grasp and the enticements of money.  

The churches are the hope of the Solomon Islands.  

Nearly every Solomon Islander belongs to one church or the other.  It is the church that brings people together for worship, fellowship, interaction, relaxation and networking.  

Christianity is just over a century old and its committed and dedicated missionaries brought with its education, health services and development. The country has just a few foreign missionaries who have made the Solomons their home.

It is up to the islander priests, pastors and people to now minister to their own flock. Women have played a major role in contributing to the peace process after the coup on 5th June 2000.

(Article continues after the photo gallery)

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Salesian Parish of Christ the King, Tetere

In 1995, Archbishop Adrian Smith sm, Archbishop of Honiara, welcomed the presence of the Salesians and assigned them the parish of Christ the King, Tetere.

Fr. Pedro Balcazar, (Mexican), Br Tanaka Yukihiro (Japanese) and Fr Nichizawa Pedro Manabu (Bolivian) were the first ones in the Solomon Islands. Fr Ambrose Pereira (Indian) arrived on the 2nd April 1999 and Fr Luciano Capelli (Italian) arrived several months later.

Earlier, the parish was looked after by the Dominicans and earlier by the Marists.

The regular visits of Fr Pedro to the villages of Sali, Komporo, Talaura, Kola Ridge and Nonou won him the respect and love of his parishioners. He spent time with them, celebrated the sacraments and would even provide daily essentials to the people at cost price.

The missionary parish, with over 50% of its parishioners below the age of 25 was an ideal ground for Salesian Youth Ministry. A large multipurpose hall that stands to this day commenced with the help of the young people and the numerous groups of Japanese volunteers. Over the years the hall has been the venue of several liturgical, educational and value-based programs.

The Salesian parish that now completes twenty-five years and has played a vital part in building the faith of the people and keeping them together. It has been a hub of activity for young people giving them a variety of opportunities to develop their multifaceted talents.  

As we celebrate the Silver Jubilee, the parish has the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, a local DMI congregation of sisters who care for the parish and animate the liturgical celebrations.

The silver years have seen the presence of many long-term as well as short-term parish priests.  They are Fr Pedro Balcazar sdb, Fr Ambrose Pereira sdb, Fr Luciano Capelli sdb, Fr Dominic Kachira sdb, Fr Fernando (Sonny) Fajardo sdb, Fr Joseph Than sdb, Fr Albert Lenon sdb, Fr. Joseph Dai and several others.  Fr Albert Lenon has been responsible for completing the village chapels of the parish with the help of the people. 

The Salesians are happy to cater to the pastoral needs of the people and have also taken upon themselves the task of catering to their minds and their bodies as well. The Rural Training Centre and the Mini Hospital are adjacent to the parish and reach well beyond not merely the boundaries of the parish but even that of the province.

This is a lightly-edited extract from communications, “Solomon Islands shines silver” sent out by Father Ambrose Pereira sdb (CBC Secretary for Social Communications, Papua New Guinea) to friends of the Salesians. To read the full story, please click here.

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