Wednesday, February 7, 2018


Father Cornelius Murphy was the lone Capuchin missionary priest of Luta (Rota).

In 1967, Luta had less than 1000 people. Very few residents were not native-born, and Father Cornelius was one of the few Caucasians living there. He was also the one and only Catholic priest, at a time when virtually all the islanders were Catholic.

Being a priest, Father Cornelius prayed his breviary at least twice a day, in the morning and in the evening. The breviary is a prayer book made up largely of psalms.

Father Cornelius decided to pray his breviary one day while walking outside on the grass.

So focused was he praying from the book, "attente et devote," as they say in Latin (attentively and devoutly) that he did not notice the rush of feet coming up behind him. A bull had gotten loose and started charging at the priest.

Right when Father Cornelius bowed his head at the Gloria Patri (Glory Be), the bull smacked Father's behind, and now Father Cornelius was flying in the air, closer to heaven.

Fortunately, the only thing injured was Father Cornelius' priestly dignity. He lived to tell the tale by way of Ham Radio, which the missionaries on the different islands used in those days when telephone service was unreliable.

Father Sylvan, listening to the story on Saipan, let his pipe fall from his mouth and said into his microphone, "Repeat, please, repeat....hahaha."

Another missionary, Father Emery, had a hard time deciding which headline to use when he wrote a little article about this incident :



Saturday, March 11, 2017


Vicente Camacho Reyes being sworn in as judge by Governor RADM Pownall in 1947
The US Navy still ran the show

Looking back, I must say that I could ask rather bold questions when I was young. But, the elders in my family usually humored me with a response.

Uncle Ben was married to my grandmother's sister and we all lived in three houses in one cluster. Grandma's house, my mom and dad's house and Uncle Ben's house. Uncle Ben and Auntie Ana never had grown children (she lost them all in infancy or in miscarriage) so I was partly raised by them.

By the time I was old enough to understand anything, I knew that Uncle Ben was a judge. I'd even hang out at his judge's chambers and watch him preside over hearings and trials in court when I was 8 years old. But it was only much later, when I was a teen, that I learned that Uncle Ben had been a judge once before, right after the war. That's when he was first made a judge, in 1947 by Governor Pownall.

Once, when I was already a teen, I asked Uncle Ben a bold question.

"Uncle, what is your one regret in life?"

I was not prepared for the answer. Uncle Ben always answered honestly, and, even though I was just a kid, he treated me with the kind of respect one gives an adult.

He replied, "My one regret in life is that I sent a man to his death."

The only information I got from him was that he was a judge at the time. A man, a Filipino, had been found guilty of murder and off he went to the gallows.

I do not know if Uncle Ben had any choice in the matter. At times, the law mandates the death sentence for certain crimes. Certain kinds of murders, for example. But what I do know is that despite the man's guilt proven in court, and despite the legality of capital punishment and the Church's teaching about its moral permissibility, Uncle Ben wished he had never sent the man to his death.

I pondered over Uncle Ben's answer. I imagined myself being in Uncle Ben's shoes. A man no longer lived, and I made that happen. His family could write to him, speak to him, see him. All the potentially good things the man could have done, were now all gone. I sent a man to see his Creator. Wow. I could start to feel Uncle Ben's regret. I know the Church's teaching on capital punishment, and recent Pope's statements that modern circumstances negate the need for it. But I am still sorting out my feelings over the issue. One thing's for sure, no matter how guilty a person is, I could never inject the poison or let swing the trap door. Not even for Hitler. To have that kind of control over life and death, I just cannot take that on myself. If my life were threatened, my mind says to find a way to save my life without taking one, but in the moment, with human instincts and reflexes more in charge, God knows what I would do.


Now that so much is available on the internet, I dug into this case of the hanged murderer.

His name was Mariano Genetano. All we know about him so far is that he was Filipino, one of hundreds of workers brought over to Guam after the war to work on the military build-up of the island.

In a tavern fight, according to one newspaper, Genetano killed a Marine, Hubert Oliver, on November 8, 1947. He was arrested and locked up. Then he escaped on May 24, 1948 and that's when he killed again. He met up with a Chamorro, Santiago Santos, asking him for clothing. Santos, probably sensing or even knowing that this was an escaped prisoner, refused. Genetano killed Santos and fled into the jungle but was captured.

In those days, since the island government was run by the US Navy, the Secretary of the Navy in Washington, DC had to confirm the death sentence. He did, and Genetano was hanged on January4, 1949.

Great Falls Tribune, January 5, 1949

Rest in peace, Uncle Ben, Mariano Genetano, Hubert Oliver and Santiago Santos.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017


Whenever I have to show my passport at some airport, I am often asked, "Do you own Forbes magazine?" or something similar. To which I sometimes reply, "If I did, would I be flying commercial?"

Most people don't know that the Franciscan tradition for us friars is to DROP FOREVER our family, or last, name. NO MORE FORBES

Have you ever noticed? Saint Francis OF ASSISI. Saint Anthony OF PADUA. Saint Padre Pio OF PIETRELCINA. All Franciscans.

No last names.

Yes, yes. In the time of Saints Francis and Anthony, last names were just appearing but appear they did, and Francis was called Francesco di Bernardone, and Anthony was of the Martins (and possibly the Bulhoes) family. But they aren't known by their last names, and neither are all the subsequent Franciscan saints known by their last names. They are known, instead, by the towns and cities where they were born or the towns they were most identified with.


Why did a man drop his family name when he joined the Franciscans?

In order to become a brother to everybody, rich or poor, high or low.

Like it or not, our last names often tell others about our social background. Depending on the country or area, a last name immediately tells others, "Oh, he's from a rich family, a poor family, a banking family, a political family," and so on.

Last names thus can be a sort of barrier between people. Saint Francis saw himself as a brother to everyone, even to the animals, the sun and moon and everything that God created in this world. He didn't want to be higher than anyone, and he called his community the Friars Minor.

Friar = brother

Minor = lesser, lower

Last names could make one elevated above others, so we dropped our last names. Even if a friar came from a humble family, the last name was dropped because last names, whether of a rich or poor person, point to our earthy family ties. Keeping a name that connects us with just our blood relatives defeats the purpose of becoming a brother to everyone, as is the ideal of the Friars Minor.

So, in case there were two Friar Johns or two Friar Josephs, the home town was added to their name.


These are the names of Spanish Capuchins who used to work on Guam. The very old may remember their names.  But the names the older people remember of these Spanish friars are of their TOWN NAMES, not their last names.

Let's start with the best known Spanish friar on Guam, Påle' Román María de Vera. Was his family name de Vera? No. His last names were Dornacu Olaechea. The town where he was born was called Vera. Román de Vera means Román OF Vera (of the town of Vera).

Another Spanish example. Brother (Fray) Jesús de Begoña was the secretary and assistant to Bishop Olano. Was Begoña his family name? No. His family names were Jáuregui Aranzábal. But he was born in the town of Begoña, so when he became a Capuchin, he became known as Jesús OF Begoña (Jesús de Begoña).


If you're from Santa Rita, and are older, you will remember the name of the pastor there in the 1950s, 60s and part of the 70s. His name was Father Ferdinand. His family name was Stippich (a German name), but he signed his name "Ferdinand of Wauwatosa," because his home town was Wauwatosa in Wisconsin. This letter was in Latin so he signed it with the Latin form of his name "Ferdinandus a Wauwatosa."

Just to show you how that would be in English, here is a letter signed by the superior in Detroit, Father Theodosius, whose last name was Foley (Irish), but who was born in Yonkers, New York.

So now I hope you can see why sometimes I sign my name like this :

This was a book I wrote translated into Spanish, so my name is Fray (Friar) Eric de Sinajaña (of Sinajaña), the village I grew up in.

If something is in English, I might sign it "Fr Eric of Sinajaña."

If in Chamorro, I could make it "Påle' Eric gi Sinajaña."

And, most times, I just say "Påle' Eric" or "Father Eric," and nothing else follows after, since I am the only priest named Eric (so far) on Guam. No need to ask, "Which Påle' Eric?"

Only when truly necessary, for people to know who I am, will I go ahead with using my last name, but I often tell people, "Just drop the last name."

Diocesan priests are (in an English-speaking context) properly known by their last names. Father Crisostomo, Msgr Quitugua, Father Gofigan.

But not Capuchins.

We are properly known by our given names and our tradition is to avoid using our last names. But most Capuchins today use their last names all the time.

Except for me.

I hope you understand why now. It's a Franciscan tradition.

If anything feels like a kick to my stomach, it's to be called Father Forbes.

Saturday, October 29, 2016


St Jude Procession in the late 1950s or early 60s with Fr Kieran

A lot of what I am about to say cannot be proven with documents.

It's what I heard from a few older people, but older people who I believe, because they were in positions at the time that lend credibility to their story.


It's a mysterious thing, because, prior to the founding of Saint Jude's in Sinajaña after the war, the Chamorros had no devotion to Saint Jude. Most never even heard of him, except perhaps when they would, at times, hear or read of the full list of Twelve Apostles.

Before the war, the Chamorros had no nobena to Saint Jude. No one had ever seen a statue of Saint Jude on Guam before the war. The Chamorros didn't even have a Chamorro hymn to Saint Jude.

How, then, did this saint, unknown to the Chamorros, get to be the patron of the new parish in Sinajaña after the war?


It wasn't just the Chamorros before the war who didn't know much at all about Saint Jude. The great majority of Catholics all over the world in those days knew almost nothing about him. This was the case for two reasons.

First, most of the individual Twelve Apostles were given little attention. What do you know, for example, of Saint Bartholomew or Saint Simon?

No; most of the attention went to the "biggies" among the Twelve Apostles. Saint Peter, Saint John and then in decreasing order, Saint Matthew, Saint Andrew, Saint James (two of them) and so on.

The second reason is due to another "biggie" among the Twelve Apostles, but a biggie in a bad way. Judas the Traitor. Because Judas Iscariot the Traitor and Jude Thaddeus have the same first name (Judas; Jude is just another version of the name Judas), poor Jude Thaddeus suffered from negative association with the bad Judas. It's something like unfortunate people who had the last name Hitler, who were not even related to the bad Hitler (Adolf) but who had to change their name after World War II because of Adolf.

In a similar way, people tended to ignore Saint Jude Thaddeus, so as to avoid the whole topic of Judas Iscariot.


But Jude Thaddeus was a separate person, the opposite of the bad Judas. Jude Thaddeus became a martyr and saint, and not a traitor like the other Judas.

Jude Thaddeus preached in Armenia, and he is highly venerated by the Armenians to this day. Many centuries later, the Dominican priests went to Armenia as missionaries and there they saw the great devotion of the Armenians towards Saint Jude Thaddeus. The Dominicans started to promote the veneration of Saint Jude all over the world, wherever the Dominican Order was present. If Saint Jude is better known today in the Church, it is due in large part to the Dominicans.


One place the Dominicans were was Hong Kong, a British colony at the time.

In the 1930s, a man from Guam, with Manila connections, found himself in Hong Kong doing business. His name was Francisco (Paco) Muña de la Cruz, son of Eulogio de la Cruz. Eulogio was a Filipino living on Guam, married to a Chamorro. Eulogio seems to have engaged in business and had Manila connections. Paco went to Manila in the 1920s and 30s to also engage in business. He then branched out into Hong Kong. In Hong Kong, Paco became acquainted with Saint Jude, thanks to the Dominicans who were in Hong Kong. Paco personally began a devotion to this saint during his time in Hong Kong.

Dominican Priory in Hong Kong


After World War II, Sinajaña changed from a small, agricultural village of 1300 people to a crowded town of 9000 people in 1950. It was the biggest village on Guam for many years, competing with Barrigada which at times was also the biggest village depending on what year in the 1950s and 60s.

The Church decided to establish an actual parish in this new main village of Guam. The old and small chapel before the war had been under the title of Dulce Nombre de Maria, the same as the Hagåtña Cathedral. The Church wanted to build a bigger church and give it a new patron.

From a small group of elders, I learned that Paco de la Cruz, and his half-sister Ana Pérez Torres (wife of Judge Vicente "Ben" Reyes), suggested that Saint Jude be chosen as the patron of this new parish. Ana had also spent time before the war in Hong Kong with Paco, and may have become acquainted with Saint Jude that way.

Ana Reyes was a resident and parishioner in Sinajaña. Paco was, as well, till he moved to Hagåtña, where he opened the Guam Academy of Music and Arts, with his Filipina wife, Carmen (Meling) Romuladez de la Cruz.

A nobena to Saint Jude was translated into Chamorro, but a Chamorro hymn to Saint Jude was not composed until the early 1970s by Jesus Arriola Sonoda of Saipan, who was, at the time, a Capuchin brother named Brother Marion. I was told that it was Paco de la Cruz's copy of the English novena to Saint Jude that someone translated into Chamorro.

In the photo above, you can see Paco de la Cruz on the far right. There are also people connected to his half-sister Ana Reyes. Ana's sisters Asunción Torres and María Limtiaco are seen, as well as Ana's brother-in-law Antonio Artero. Photo was taken in Sinajaña right after the war. American military men are also in the pic.

Paco's half-sister, Ana Reyes, and yours truly

As I mentioned, I have no documents to prove any of this. But the older people who told me this information are credible. And it does explain why this unknown saint became Sinajaña's patron. The dots are all connected.

Saint Jude - Armenia - Dominicans - Hong Kong - Paco de la Cruz - Sinajaña

It's just that few people knew the story. It wasn't considered a big deal who made the suggestion. People didn't take "credit" for those things in those days. So people didn't talk about it, and thus the information was not passed down except to a few.

If this story is right, and perhaps we will never know while here on earth, at least I won't die and not pass on this story.

Monday, September 19, 2016


"Erat latro"
"He was a thief"

Lazzaro Pisani's depiction of the Good Thief is not just art; it is a catechesis.

The Good Thief accuses and condemns himself, holding the sign of his crime above his head. The sign describes who he was. A thief. Christ, hanging on the cross next to him, opens a door to what the Good Thief can be. A saint. "This day thou shalt be with me in paradise." (Luke 23:43)

The story of the Good Thief (San Dimas, in Chamorro and Spanish), is a clear explanation of the way God is both just and merciful; God punishes, yet forgives the sinner who repents.

Many times, God's punishment is the very means He uses to move the sinner to repent.

By striking the less important (our temporary, earthly life), God tries to save the more important (our immortal soul). By punishing the earthly, God tries to get us to heaven.

God punishes. Dimas is put on a cross to die for his crimes. He is a thief (Mt 27:38) and, according to ancient tradition, a murderer. God used the civil powers to punish Dimas. Saint Paul teaches that the civil government can be God's instrument, punishing evil. (Romans 13:1-4)

If we do not punish and correct ourselves, someone else will. It is helpful for us who are punished to see God's hand in this.

In the Old Testament, God even used pagan kingdoms to punish the Chosen People, Israel, when Israel went astray. Assyria was God's instrument in punishing unfaithful Israel. (2 Kings 17:18-20) (Isaiah 10:5-6)

When God punishes us, what are we to do?

If God is the one punishing and correcting us, can we oppose that and expect to win?

The only wise thing to do is to submit, as Christ, who was innocent of all sin, submitted to punishment for our sake.

Because "For whom the Lord loveth, He chastiseth." (Proverbs 3:12) "He scourgeth every son whom He receiveth." (Hebrews 12:6)

If we allow God's heavy hand to bend us low, God Himself will lift us up after we have been purified. "Be humbled in the sight of the Lord, and He will exalt you." (James 4:10)

The Good Thief was punished. But, in the end, he was right where he should have been. Next to his Savior. Dimas' punishment placed him exactly where he could obtain paradise.

There are only two kinds of punishment given out by God.

The first is the eternal punishment of hell. Out of that, no good for the soul is possible.

The second is the temporary punishment on earth and in Purgatory. Out of these, God can accomplish much good in the punished souls on earth, and God definitely accomplishes a good thing in the punished souls in Purgatory.

Since you and I are reading this while still on earth, isn't the wise choice to allow God to accomplish the good He is trying to achieve when we feel the heavy hand of His justice? It is His way of opening a door to His gentle hand of mercy.

By giving us a little less than what we deserve (condemnation), God is trying to give us, if we allow Him, an abundance of what we do not deserve at all (mercy).

Tuesday, August 30, 2016


Luke 4:31-37

Jesus went down to Capernaum, a town of Galilee. He taught them on the sabbath, and they were astonished at his teaching because he spoke with authority. In the synagogue there was a man with the spirit of an unclean demon,  and he cried out in a loud voice, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are–the Holy One of God!” Jesus rebuked him and said, “Be quiet! Come out of him!” Then the demon threw the man down in front of them and came out of him without doing him any harm. They were all amazed and said to one another, “What is there about his word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out.”


The Scripture passage above has one main teaching purpose - to show that Jesus had authority. 

What is authority?

It is the ability to command things - and be obeyed! Many people, even with titles, bark orders and no one obeys. Not much authority there.

Authority also means the ability to get things done. The man needed to be freed from demons, and, in the end, he was indeed freed from demons. Jesus gets things done. Demons obey Him.


It strikes me how less concerned the Lord is with titles.

For many Jews, Jesus enjoyed no titles. He was not a Jewish priest or levite; not a scribe, not a member of the Sanhedrin. He was the son of a carpenter from Nazareth. Not even worth mentioning.

Even when someone in the Gospel story above wants to throw out a title, "the Holy One of God," Jesus tells them, the demons, to shut up.

Someone once called Jesus "good teacher," (Luke 18:19) and Jesus questions the man, "Why do you call me 'good?'" Jesus isn't all that moved by the mere mention of titles. He wants to make sure we understand what we're saying when we call Him by a title.

"You call me teacher and lord, and rightly so," Jesus tells the Apostles (John 13:13), but do you understand what you're saying when you call me those things? If the teacher bends down and washes feet, then so must you, the student.

The Lord even warned us that getting His title(s) right doesn't mean we get saved in the end. "Not everyone who calls me 'lord, lord' will enter the kingdom of heaven. (Mt 7:21)" What will save us? "Doing the will of my Father." 

Titles are not the Lord's focus. What title can we even given the Lord? Is it we who name Him? Or rather is it God who names us? Does man name God? Or does God name us, giving us His own name Christ-ian, just as He changed Abram's name, Jacob's name and Simon's name. What do we call Him but titles that He Himself has given us. "I am who am." "I am the Good Shepherd." "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life."

Jesus is fine with titles. He even informs us which titles we are to use. But His focus is on getting things done (saving us) and in gaining our obedience to His authority, because it is an authority that saves us.

And isn't it true that we know a few people who have few or no titles at all, but who have great authority? People respect them, listen carefully to their advice, follow their example? That is authority.

Monday, August 22, 2016


Bishop Ishigami at his priestly ordination (2nd from left) in 1952

Tadamaro Ishigami was born in 1920 in the Northern Ryukyu islands of Japan.

At the age of 7, he was baptized a Roman Catholic and given the Christian name Augustine.

At age 13, he was already off to a minor seminary in mainland Japan.

Then World War II broke out and Tadamaro was drafted into the Japanese Army. When the war ended with Japan's defeat, Tadamaro went back home to his little village on a little island in the Ryukyus.

The tiny Catholic community was without missionaries, due to the war. The faithful still gathered for prayers. Tadamaro was one of the lay leaders of the community, having had some seminary training.

In 1947, Rome entrusted the Catholic mission of Okinawa (Ryukyus) to the American Capuchins. Of the two Capuchins sent to Okinawa that year, one had been a missionary on Guam before the war, Father Felix Ley, and was thus sent by the Japanese to prisoner of war camp. For the three and a half years he was a prisoner in Japan, Father Felix picked up a little Japanese. He was very willing to go back to Japan as a missionary.

Tadamaro was at the dock when the two American Capuchins arrived.

Although Father Felix spoke a tiny bit of Japanese, it was not enough for him to communicate well with Tadamaro. Tadamaro could not speak English at all. What to do?

They spoke in Latin. That was the language that united two American Catholics and one Japanese Catholic.

Tadamaro greeted the missionaries and said, "Est maximum gaudium mihi servire vobis." "It is my greatest joy to serve you."

Ishigami as a layman meeting Guam's Bishop Baumgartner. Okinawa was under Guam's Catholic jurisdiction for a short time right after WW2.  Baumgartner ordained Ishigami a priest in 1952.

Ishigami later joined the Capuchins and was given the religious name Peter Baptist. Twenty-some years later he became Bishop of Okinawa.