When the Good Samaritan Sisters were invited to Kiribati in 1991 by Bishop Paul Mea, most of us had probably never heard of the small Pacific nation, let alone know where it was. We also probably never considered the gift and challenge of being Good Samaritan in a country facing so many challenges with so few resources, writes Sister Meg Kahler.
Thirty years on, Kiribati has found itself on the world stage as a country impacted by climate change. It is constantly challenged by the economics, politics and isolation of the Pacific region. Yet our small group of Sisters have navigated their way courageously and safely through many challenging situations, including the recent challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the past five years, there have been many developments. The Good Samaritan Early Childhood Centre at Abaokoro is now a government registered centre.
With the generous support of Saints Peter and Paul Bulimba Parish the centre has expanded to include a new school building and toilet block. The Sisters have upgraded their qualifications, and Sisters Tenta and Juniko are teaching, supported by Sister Tibwau in the role of Director.
The community in Temaiku is ready to move into a new house, built on the same site and near the sea. It is a significant upgrade from the current accommodation. The building projects have been impacted by COVID-19 restrictions. The government of Kiribati has kept the country COVID free by closing the borders so no one has been able to arrive in Kiribati or leave the country for nearly 18 months, except on government charter flights. This has meant that building advisers have done much of their work through phone calls and ‘phone walks’ around the site. It has also slowed the arrival of materials.
While that may have slowed, the Sisters have continued to develop in their ministries. Sister Ameria is a lecturer at Kiribati Teachers College and Sister Kawi is a teacher at the Kiribati School and Centre for Children with Special Needs. Sister Kakare has a role in formation, looking after the young women inquiring into life as a Good Samaritan, as well as volunteering and supporting other ministry activities.
COVID-19 restrictions have meant that the two most recently professed Kiribati women, Sisters Katarina and Taabeia, are still in Australia.
In a recent conversation with the Sisters about Good Samaritan life in Kiribati for 30 years, they were able to share what they saw as the gift of the way of life for Kiribati. They value the opportunity to spread the Gospel through a different charism and live a faith life in a new way.
Apart from their formal ministry, the Sisters have found opportunities to minister to people who are sometimes excluded from Kiribati society. For many years the Sisters, and a band of faithful companions, have visited the hospital for the mentally ill and run the Faith and Light group for adults with disabilities.
In more recent years, the Sisters have established a presence in the prisons in Kiribati, which has led to opportunities to connect with the families of prisoners. They visit the sick, elderly, grieving and disabled in their homes. Both communities have people who come seeking their assistance in many ways – an expanding ministry of hospitality.
The Sisters also spoke of their personal journeys as Good Samaritans. The gift of discovering the Good Samaritan spirituality and finding their life within it is deeply valued. As one of the Sisters said: “It supports my inner world and expands my outer world … the opportunity to live outside Kiribati has helped me to know my own country better. Being in Australia I learnt about the diversity of cultures, people, situations, life and learnt new skills.” Another of the Sisters said: “I feel that my life has been formed well, valued and nurtured to become who I am now as a Good Samarian Sister with a passion for teaching.”
The Sisters see their ministry, wherever they are, as an opportunity to care and support people through charitable work and to bring joy and peace to their lives.
The communities in Kiribati have grown and developed with the support of many people, although there have been no visitors or Australian Sisters living in Kiribati for the past 18 months. The communities have missed gathering with the various teacher and parish groups who had been visiting, as well as Sisters who gave retreats and assisted with various projects.
The next few years will continue to throw up challenges for Kiribati. The Sisters are mindful of the impact of climate change and have supported many initiatives such as mangrove planting, rubbish recycling and composting. When the building works are complete, the Sisters would like to support the local communities in learning to grow a wider variety of food and to improve their diet as diabetes continues to be a significant health issue in the country.
Good Samaritan life in Kiribati is a gift to all of us. It is an example of the charism finding new ways to bring life and everyone who shares in that spirit, no matter where they live, is enriched. The future of the nation of Kiribati is difficult to predict and will need some courageous decision making soon – Kiribati will need the assistance of Pacific neighbours. Our Good Samaritan communities are uniquely placed to accompany their Kiribati families, friends and neighbours into their future.
In a recent address to the LWCR Assembly called Creating Space for the Future, Sister Mercedes L Casas Sanchez FSpS said: “Creating spaces for hope involves discovering the seeds of the future that are present here and now … Creating spaces for the future does not mean something strange will befall us, but rather what belongs to us will blossom and bear fruit.”
Thirty years ago, Good Samaritans took seeds and found fertile soil in Kiribati, may they continue to blossom and bear fruit for all.