The Catholic Church of the Caroline Islands lost its former leader when Bishop Amando Samo, retired head of the diocese, passed away on August 7, 2021.
Amando Samo was a proud Mortlockese, born in Moch, who knew what it was like to be an outsider. First, he moved to the Chuuk Lagoon, where he graduated from Chuuk High School. But that was just the beginning. Then it was off to Hawaii for seminary, where he would tell us that often, after a day’s classes and interactions with his fellow seminarians, he would flee to his room where he would dream of his home island. Perhaps it was this early experience that made him sympathetic and unfailingly kind to the American Jesuits like myself, who knew that we would always be outsiders, however much we considered the islands our adopted home.
During his seminary training Amando spent a semester teaching at Xavier. That was where I first met him and when we became close friends. He was ordained to the priesthood in December 1977, just a few months after Nick Rahoy’s ordination. That year represented a turning point in the Caroline-Marshall Islands; it marked the beginning of a flow of local priests that has continued to the present.
Fr. Amando wasted no time in putting his personal stamp on the islands he served. His enthusiastic promotion of the Marriage Encounter program was one of the first achievements in Chuuk. In many parishes new housing units were built for the use of the couples over the weekend. Then, too, there were the liturgical adaptations he was testing to make the liturgy more responsive to the culture. There was the solemn procession of the book of readings that was used on special occasions. Sometimes at the liturgical offering of the gifts men dressed in traditional clothing carried to the altar, to the rhythm of old chants, a gigantic bowl wooden once used for pounded breadfruit. In some churches altars were remodeled to resemble this ceremonial breadfruit bowl.
Amando had fully imbibed the spirit of the Jesuit mission goal that pointed to the creation of a truly Micronesian church. In fact, that was the legacy of the one who became the first local bishop of the church of the Caroline Islands. Let the island church be truly Micronesian.
He himself became the first Micronesian bishop of that church when he was consecrated to the episcopacy in 1987, and when he succeeded Bishop Martin Neylon just a few years later in 1995.
Bishop Amando’s ministry suffered a serious setback when he was partially disabled by a stroke. Even when his speech was impaired, he continued visiting his people and their pastors, always communicating his love for his flock. We may not have always understood the words from his mouth, but we could easily grasp the heart of his message. Whatever the difficulties he encountered along the way, even after his stroke, he persisted in pointing the way to the future for us all. He, as much as anyone else, helped create the Micronesian church we had all dreamed of.