Good Samaritan Sisters were among many locals who gathered to welcome Australia’s Governor-General, Quentin Bryce, during her visit to the remote Pacific island nation of Kiribati last month.
The half-day visit on March 28, Her Excellency’s first to Kiribati, was part of a nine-day trip to eight Pacific nations.
According to the sisters, in the weeks leading up to the vice-regal visit there was a frenzy of preparation and much excitement among the local people.
Good Samaritan Sister Marie O’Shea, who has lived in Kiribati since 2006, said the Governor-General was given a very traditional and warm Kiribati welcome. The conch shell was blown to herald her arrival and she was introduced to the Unimwane, “the old men from Bonriki Village, who traditionally welcome visitors to their land”.
The Governor-General also visited the Eita Village Maneaba, a sacred place honouring the ancestoral spirit of the Tarawa people. Here a local dancing group ‘crowned’ her with a floral head-dress.
“Many people, especially school children lined the road and greeted her enthusiastically,” said Marie. “She was obviously very touched by her welcome.”
Marie, along with fellow Australian Sisters Judy Margetts and Marella Rebgetz, were also among invited guests at a State reception for the Governor-General hosted by the President of Kiribati, His Excellency, Anote Tong. During the reception Marie and Judy were able to engage the Governor-General personally.
“It was a tremendous joy to meet her and to introduce ourselves as Good Samaritan Sisters,” said Marie.
As they chatted with the Governor-General, Marie took the opportunity to talk about the April 20 fundraising breakfast in Brisbane for the Good Sams Foundation, at which Her Excellency will be guest speaker.
Marie also gave her a DVD about the Good Samaritan Early Childhood Centre which has provided I-Kiribati children from the village of Abaokoro on North Tarawa with pre-school opportunities since 2009.
While Brisbane-based Good Samaritan Sister Bernardina Sontrop missed the Governor-General’s visit due to flight delays, she arrived in time to represent Congregational Superior, Clare Condon, at Sister Tibwau Matia’s renewal of vows ceremony on March 31.
The ceremony was held at Abaokoro, where Tibwau lives and works at the Good Samaritan Early Childhood Centre, and was attended by all Good Samaritan Sisters in Kiribati.
After Tibwau renewed her vows (in her own language), she was ‘crowned’ with a floral head-dress, a very traditional ritual in Kiribati.
“I felt a real willingness to serve God as a Good Samaritan Sister,” said Tibwau.
“It was a simple and solemn ceremony in evening prayer, but [there was] something very significant about the commitment on the eve of Holy Week,” said Marella.
“Then we all pitched in and cooked tea, including barbecued nightfish which Tibwau had requested and we had brought over from South Tarawa… We had a lovely, simple but fun-filled meal to celebrate.”
Tibwau said she was “very touched” as Marella read the congratulatory messages from sisters around the congregation – all by the light of a kerosene lamp because the sisters were observing Earth Hour.
“I felt enriched that so many sisters remembered me on my special day,” said Tibwau.
Born and raised in Kiribati, Tibwau has known the Good Samaritan Sisters since they first arrived in the country in 1991. She began her pre-novitiate in 2005, became a novice in 2006 and made her first profession in 2008.
Tibwau is one of a growing number of I-Kiribati women interested in the Good Samaritan way of life. Just this week (April 15), Tuniko Toaua and Karaitiata Tabeara were also welcomed into the pre-novitiate stage.
Meanwhile, in Brisbane, as Bernardina Sontrop looks back on her two-week visit to Kiribati, her first time there, she said the experience was “informative and challenging”.
What stood out was the “commitment, dedication and hard work of the sisters in a particularly challenging social, cultural, political and ecclesial environment”.
“My admiration for the sisters’ life and ministry in Kiribati rose 500%. While I had heard many stories of life in Kiribati, it is only when I experienced it first hand that I really appreciated what it meant for the sisters there,” she explained.