Christmas Greetings from Guam

In the Pacific, the snowmen are beachside, and made of sand, not snow.

Christmas greetings from Guam?”Where America?s Day Begins,” as they once called this island. Since my return to the Pacific in September I have been residing here, living in the rectory attached to the cathedral with three other priests, two diocesans and Fr. Tom McGrath, a fellow Jesuit. Besides doing masses and other pastoral work for the parish,?I’ve?been teaching a course at the local seminary on Pacific Church History. The greatest challenge for me so far has been getting up on time to say the 5:30 AM mass, something that requires a serious change in lifestyle for an old night owl like me.

People here are generous and friendly, as you would expect of islanders, but there is no shortage of work to do. Stand still for a couple of minutes, we all joke, and ten people will approach you asking for pastoral help. This is not very much of an exaggeration. Just a few days ago I remember thinking to myself that I had just crossed a threshold: I had become as busy here as I was on Pohnpei when directing MicSem. The day before I worked on the displays for the cathedral museum for couple of hours, ran over to the seminary to give the last class in our Church History course, zipped off to say mass for freshmen girls from the Academy of Our Lady who were finishing their retreat, concluded the main portion of the book to be published on the church in the Carolines, and went off to celebrate a memorial mass in Pohnpeian for someone who had died the day before. I?m not complaining; I?m walking tall, happy to be working to capacity once again.

I still make occasional forays into the islands to the south for special projects?Pohnpei for a Catholic School Administrators Conference last month, a forum in Palau on new directions in the Pacific, and even a week in Fiji for a symposium on the Pacific. The bonus of this last trip was a chance to spend time with the five seminarians from the Carolines.

Then there are the writing assignments, including the history of the Diocese of the Caroline Islands that I?m finishing at the request of Bishop Amando. But there?s always more to come: a monograph on migration from the islands to the US; and another long article, spiced up with splendid historical photos, celebrating the centennial of the conclusion of German rule in the islands in 1914.

Life here, as anywhere, is full of surprises. The other day I was on the basketball court guarding a man older than me, a guy with a wicked outside shot who told me afterwards that he was 74 years old.? But that was just the beginning.? By the time we finished our games, I had been introduced to four other men in their 70s, one of whom was 79 and looking 30 years younger. A “Master?s tournament” on Pohnpei might mean snaring guys in their late 40s, but here on Guam they run games between people in their 70s.? And all this time I thought I might be the oldest person in the world still on the court. Another myth shattered.

Whether wrapped in surprises or not, peace is the gift that the Lord offers this Christmas and always. My prayer is that you will find it and revel in it.


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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.