During the last full week of February (20-24), Palau held a national health summit attended by guests from throughout the region and beyond. Jimmy Arriola from Saipan and I were among those asked to speak at the summit. Jimmy talked about various behavioral issues, while I spoke on suicide and social change. It’s an old theme, but still relevant to Palau these days as its suicide rate continues to climb. But that was not the only problem troubling Palau, as I learned from the old friends I ran into. Many pointed to the population decline in recent years: more locals leaving for the US and Filipino workers having a difficult time re-entering after the Covid years. Then, too, the number of deaths now surpasses the number of births each year, we were told.
A few days before my return, Bishop Julio and Fr. Kelly Yalmadaw arrived in Guam to celebrate Diocese Day with us. All day long cars were pulling up to Guma Pedro, where the bishop and his vicar were staying, each bringing enough food for a month or more, it seemed. On Saturday the Chuukese organized an all-day gathering with talks, songs, dances, more food and plenty of good cheer. The next day, Bishop Julio offered mass at Santa Barbara Church for a Micronesian congregation that packed the church. Somehow I had a chance to meet with Julio and Kelly privately to brief them on the deeds and needs of our community. But what did I really have to offer them after all the good vibes they had picked up during their week on island?