Land Of Islands
By Fr. Nilo Resco MSP
I am an MSP missionary in the Solomon Islands, a country of islands that lies in the southwestern part of the Pacific region. To get from one island to another, one has to brave the sea by boat or dinghy. Solomon Islands is inhabited by people called Melanesians. They used to be called “natives” before but the Legislative Assembly changed this to Islanders in 1974, as the word “natives” had colonial and racist overtones.
I am assigned at Takwa Mission Station under the Diocese of Auki, in the island of Malaita province. Under my care are more or less 6,000 Roman Catholics scattered in 32 islands and bush villages. In several cases, there are ten or less Catholic families in an entire village and the rest are under different denominations. I can only visit Catholics outside Takwa mission station a few times a year because of the vastness and ruggedness of the area under my parish, which makes travel difficult and expensive. The local catechists are my precious helpers. They keep the Christian life in the villages alive. Having the advantage of a more accurate knowledge of the local language and of their fellows, they are able to succeed where the missionaries might easily fail.
Whenever I am needed
Most villages are located along the seashore, that is why dinghy is the most practical means of transportation. Once in a while I sail out in the waters with my catechists whenever my ministry needs me. Village visitations that last for about a week may mean a journey on foot over small paths going to the bush villages on traveling by dinghy to the island villages on rough seas, especially during rainy season.
But what really impressed me when I set foot on my mission station is the scenic beauty of its stalls and lagoons that are the delights of most of the photographers. What is more amazing is that people build their own artificial islands. In my parish alone there are about eight or nine islets made by the hard labor of the saltwater people of the lagoon. The islets in which they live have been enlarged manually by using stones and corals from the sea. From a distance, they look like fortresses.
A missionary here in Solomon Islands must master the local language of the villagers if they were to understand and be understood. Aside from the malaria that they have to deal with, one should learn from these saltwater people the hazards of reefs and islets. And most of all one must know the realities of sailing, paddling the dinghy between reefs, winds and waves, sky and frigate birds, treacherous currents and must know how to save oneself if worse comes to worst during sea travel. Such elements would become a revelation awaiting the interested missionaries in Malaita. Anyone?