Two young women from Kiribati, Kawi Arebonto and Tenta Maritino, will make their first profession as Sisters of the Good Samaritan next month and both say they are feeling excited and also a bit nervous about this big step in their lives.
BY Debra Vermeer
Kawi and Tenta, both aged 31, first came to know the Good Samaritan Sisters through their ministries in Kiribati and have spent the last two years living in Australia and undergoing the novitiate program.
“I grew up in the Catholic Church,” says Kawi. “My father was a catechist and a teacher in primary school and my four brothers and five sisters, we were surrounded with the faith.
“I had known of the Good Samaritan Sisters, but I didn’t know what exactly their ministries were until I met them when I was a student at KPI.”
KPI is the Kiribati Pastoral Institute, a diocesan pastoral institute, which offers a two-year course for young leaders – either those preparing to enter religious congregations or lay people.
“Many parts of the Good Sams’ ministry attracted me,” says Kawi. “What I really liked about their ministry was going out with them and meeting people in hospital.
“After I left KPI, I started going with them on visits to people with mental illness and I just fell in love with the ministry. For me, the Good Sams are very special.”
Tenta was also raised in a Catholic family and says she too was introduced to the Good Sams through the KPI.
“The first time I joined the sisters in their ministry, we went to see the patients at the mental hospital,” she says.
“At first I felt very uncomfortable sitting with these people. I felt scared and I didn’t know what to say. But the second time I went, my heart began to open to them and I could see that we are equal and the Spirit helped me to know them as people.
“This helped me to see the ministry of the Good Samaritan Sisters.
“We also visited prisoners and prayed with them and joined with them on Christmas Day. We entertained them with dances and they entertained us with things they had prepared. They know us because we always visit them.
For the past two years, Kawi and Tenta have been based at the Good Sams’ community in Lawson, in the Blue Mountains of NSW, a vast change from their Pacific island home of Kiribati.
“I have enjoyed it, but it is very different,” Kawi says. “I’ve missed my local food, especially the salted fish, and the weather was hard in winter. In Kiribati it is hot and humid all the time, but here I had to put on lots of layers to keep warm.
“But I have loved the different experiences, like travelling around Sydney on the train. That’s fun.
“The formation has been good, really nice. I have learned much from the sisters and although it was challenging at times, with the essays and different things, I do feel more confident. I can tell that I am.”
Tenta too, says that while she has struggled with some aspects of life in Australia, she has embraced the challenges.
“I’ve enjoyed the life,” she says. “When I first arrived I struggled with the language and even though we were learning English, I found that people would speak so fast and I couldn’t catch what they were saying.
“But now I’m getting to feel comfortable. The sisters have been very kind and hospitable to us and they always talk to us and help us with the language.
“I have struggled with the cold weather and the different food. To see so many mountains has been amazing. Our country is very flat.
“The formation has been very nice. It’s been great to follow the sisters’ lives, their programs, like morning and evening prayer, and the opportunities to study the Rule of St Benedict, which is what we try to live by. It’s been very good.”
Apart from their studies, the two young women have undertaken ministry experience – Kawi in Nowra on the NSW south coast, and Tenta in Thornbury, Melbourne.
“It was great,” says Kawi. “I was at St Michael’s School and also every Friday we would go out visiting people with Vinnies and work at the soup kitchen, as well as attend a monthly gathering for people with disability. I also visited and took communion to Nowra parishioners and joined a catechist who was instructing children for First Holy Communion.
“It was really enjoyable and a good experience of Good Samaritan ministry.”
Tenta’s ministry experience was also parish-based, in Melbourne, and included visiting the sick with a sister and giving communion, providing food to the poor, being part of the RCIA group for people wishing to become Catholic, visiting the retired sisters in Marian House, taking part in the parish meditation group and spending time at St Mary’s Catholic Primary School in Thornbury.
Tenta also spent time at The Inn, a ministry of the Good Sams providing emergency short- term accommodation for women and children escaping homelessness and domestic violence.
“It was a very good experience,” Tenta says. “I found the people very kind and friendly.”
Sister Maree Nash, who is Novice Director for the Sisters of the Good Samaritan, says it has been a privilege for her to share Kawi and Tenta’s formation journey.
“For me, it’s been a time of seeing them really grow, in prayer life, self-knowledge and confidence, as well as being more at home with the Good Samaritans,” Maree says.
“It’s been a real privilege to walk with them.”
The formation program included studies in Scripture and the Rule of St Benedict, as well as the Good Samaritan Sisters’ Constitutions and Statutes.
The novices also entered into different ways of praying and learnt tools for prayer, discernment, human development and wholeness, and cultural awareness, as well as engaging in the life of the Congregation through attending various events and activities over the two years.
As they prepare to make their first profession on April 2, Kawi and Tenta say they feel ready to take this next big step in their religious life.
“I’m feeling excited and I’m looking forward to it,” says Kawi. “But I’m also feeling a bit nervous, which I think is normal.”
“I’m the same,” says Tenta. “It’s exciting and I’m really happy about it, but a bit nervous. Mainly, I’m really looking forward to it.”
Both Kawi and Tenta will return to Kiribati in the days following their first profession to take up ministry with the Good Sams in their home country.