The Sisters of the Good Samaritan marked 25 years of presence and ministry in Kiribati recently, with a joy-filled Mass and traditional community celebration, a Botaki, at South Tarawa in the tiny Pacific island nation.
The celebration was a time of thanksgiving, both for the Kiribati community who have welcomed the Sisters into their lives, and for the Congregation itself, which has embraced its mission in Kiribati, and, according to Congregational Leader, Sister Clare Condon, been greatly enriched by it.
From small beginnings, with the arrival of just one sister, Veronica McCluskie, in 1991, there are today two communities of Good Samaritan Sisters, engaged in a variety of educational, pastoral and community development ministries in Kiribati. These include running the Good Samaritan Early Childhood Learning Centre, teaching English at the local primary school, offering pastoral care to patients at the psychiatric hospital and those in prison, and supporting people with physical and intellectual disabilities.
Religious vocations from Kiribati have also been rich over the 25 years. There are currently six professed i-Kiribati sisters, three novices studying in Australia, and a number of inquirers who are exploring their interest in Good Samaritan life.
The Mass of Thanksgiving in South Tarawa was celebrated by Bishop Paul Mea MSC, the same bishop who originally invited the Good Samaritan Sisters to take up ministry in Kiribati to help with the educational and pastoral needs of the people of his diocese.
After preaching on the parable of the Good Samaritan, Bishop Mea said “our love for God is truly evident when we show our love towards others”.
“And so it’s today that we celebrate and commemorate the 25th anniversary of the arrival of the Good Samaritans to Kiribati,” he said.
“They have demonstrated that the primary purpose of their congregation is to love God with all their hearts and to love people from all walks of life.”
Among the contingent of Good Sams who travelled to Kiribati was Sister Sonia Wagner, whose association with Kiribati goes back even before 1991.
Sonia was asked by the Congregational Leader, Sister Helen Lombard, to travel to Kiribati in 1989 to assess the feasibility of the Good Sams responding to Bishop Mea’s repeated requests to establish a presence there.
“It was an amazing experience,” she recalled, “landing on this coral atoll in the middle of the Pacific and meeting all these wonderful people.”
Sonia said her first impressions of Kiribati were of “the simplicity, the uncluttered lifestyle, the great faith of the people, but also the precariousness of life there, with soil which was not fertile and little useable water”.
“I met a range of wonderful people during my stay, all of whom said, ‘do come!’ and I came away having formed the view that it would indeed be wonderful if we could go there.”
The Congregation’s leadership agreed with Sonia’s assessment and, after answering a call for volunteers to take up the ministry, Sister Veronica McCluskie arrived and began working at the Kiribati Pastoral Institute.
Sonia said the 25th anniversary celebrations in Kiribati were a joyful, but emotional time.
“It was a time that gave me a real sense of the way that God has guided us and called us and also that there was a great sense of partnership in this,” she said.
“There were so many people there who have been connected with us over the years, like a big family. It was a very brave move by the Congregation to go to Kiribati, perhaps even foolish in lots of ways, but being there for that celebration and seeing how it’s grown and developed with the local community, you can see that it’s been Spirit-driven.”
Sonia said that as a result of the Good Sams being in Kiribati, other people have also shared their gifts with the island nation. For example, in July, 14 teachers from Catholic Education in the Diocese of Port Pirie will travel the 7,000 kilometres to Kiribati to share their knowledge and experience and also to learn from the local people.
“It’s a commitment which will extend over a few years between the Diocese of Port Pirie and Kiribati, and it’s a mutual learning situation,” she said.
Sister Ameria Etuare, who was the first i-Kiribati woman to become a professed Sister of the Good Samaritan, says the anniversary celebration was an important occasion.
“For me, it signifies the great achievement of all the Sisters who have been working hard [in Kiribati] from the start until now,” she said.
“It has been a great journey for us local sisters travelling through the ups and downs, through the curving corners and the straight line pathway.”
Ameria said the local people give thanks for the life and joy the Good Sams have brought to their community and says the anniversary is also a time to look forward.
“It is really significant for me, as we are moving to a new stage of our life, from the nurturing stage to the producing stage, where we are able to stand on our own two feet, taking on responsibilities and leadership within the Kiribati context.”
Sister Clare Condon told the anniversary gathering that the Congregation’s presence in Kiribati has enriched it.
“As an Australian-founded religious congregation, we are now different because of our experience of the people of Kiribati,” she said.
“We have learnt much from you. We have experienced your family life and community, your faith and your care for one another, and your care for your island home and the precious fragility of this atoll environment.
“Today we give humble thanksgiving and ask God to bless us all, so that in the spirit of the Parable of the Good Samaritan, we can together love our neighbour and go and do likewise in the future.”
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