A White Weekend

Fran Hezel, SJ, after mass in Sokehs, Pohnpei, with the Deacon and Nahnmwarki.

On each of the three weekends?I’ve?been here on Pohnpei,?I’ve?done three masses: the English mass on Saturday evening and two village masses in Pohnpeian on Sunday morning. This week the color of choice at all three masses was white, with the honored guests spanning the age spectrum.? On Saturday evening it was young kids (dressed in the traditional white garb) making their first communion, with singing in Chuukese, Pohnpeian and English.

At the early Sunday mass here in Kolonia, there was another sea of white in the pews. This time it was women, mostly those who were alums of the parish girls’ school that had its origins more years ago than most us can remember. They were the song leaders, the presenters of the gifts at the offering, the readers, and did just about everything else that lay people could do. The occasion was the celebration of the parish feast day, Our Lady of Mercy.? Outside the church after the service my back was stiffening up as I shook hands with one white-clad woman after another. Incidentally, I don?t know how churches in the US are doing these days, but all these masses here were packed.

The second mass on Sunday morning was at a nearby parish where youth leaders were waiting to be blessed.? There were scores of them, great blocks of white in a a crowded church, that made you wonder: If these were all the leaders, was there anyone left to be followers?? The color palette in dress was broader here, I noticed, because some young people were wearing red.? They were Yapese from the college, who had also been invited to join in the ceremony. I told the congregation that I would give half a homily in Pohnpeian, before addressing the final remarks in English to the youth leaders. My pride in being able to do even five minutes in Pohnpeian came to a crashing halt when I was greeting the congregation outside the church and an old friend remarked: ?Good short homily, but no homily would be even better.?

But the weekend?wasn’t?entirely white. On Saturday evening a group of old friends, about 30 or 40 of them, came over to the Jesuit house for a party.? They came wearing blue loincloths, gray cutoffs, and just about everything else. The important thing is that there was laughter and song, even a bit of island dancing–just the kind of thing that islanders love, and I have learned to like as well.? ?It?s been a long time,? many of them said, and I quickly agreed.? Parties like this are a tonic for the soul, theirs as well as mine.

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About the author

Francis X. Hezel, SJ
Francis X. Hezel, SJ

Francis X. Hezel, SJ, is a Jesuit priest who has lived and worked in Micronesia since 1963. At different times he has served as high school teacher, school administrator, pastor, and regional superior to the Jesuits of Micronesia. He spent thirty years directing the Micronesian Seminar, a non-profit, non-governmental organization based in Pohnpei, Micronesia. He has written and spoken widely about social change and its impact on island societies. He has also written several books on Micronesian history, including The First Taint of Civilization, Strangers in Their Own Land, and The New Shape of Old Island Cultures. His most recent book, Making Sense of Micronesia: The Logic of Pacific Island Culture, is available through University of Hawaii Press.