Thursday, December 26, 2013


San Francisco de Borja Church
Songsong, Rota

In the summer of 1974, I made the decision to transfer from Saint Francis School in Yoña to Bishop Baumgarter Junior High School, just down the street from my house in Sinajaña.

This affected my confirmation in the Catholic Church.  Saint Francis (at the time) was a parochial school and had its own confirmation class.  Had I stayed at Saint Francis, I would have been confirmed with my classmates.

But since I switched to Baumgartner, which was not a parochial school and did not have a confirmation class, I was now left without a solid plan for receiving that important sacrament.  My own parish, Saint Jude's, had a CCD program of course and a confirmation class, but I had never attended it because I always went to Catholic school, with daily classes in religion.

Then entered Auntie Ana.  Ana Torres Reyes (the lady below) was my grandmother's sister, married to Judge Vicente Camacho Reyes (the man below).  She had many miscarriages and one baby boy lived long enough to be baptized and receive the name Vicente, but they had no children otherwise.  So Auntie Ana often went right in and made arrangements for others in the family.

I remember clearly the event.  One afternoon in the summer of 1975, Auntie Ana said to me, "I am going to call Bishop Flores about your confirmation.  Let Uncle Ben (her husband) be your nino (godfather)."

I was 13 years old, so I said, "OK."

Auntie Ana did not wait one second.  She walked right into Uncle Ben's little office, a room in their house with book shelves, a desk and several filing cabinets, and picked up the phone.

She gabbed and gabbed away in Chamorro with the Bishop, whom she got by phone without any trouble.  I didn't understand a lot of it at the time, and of course I couldn't hear what the Bishop was saying.

She put the phone down and she said, "OK, you're going to be confirmed in Rota."  My heart leaped up into my throat.  Not out of rejection, but rather shock!  I didn't expect that!

Long story short, Auntie Ana and the bishop were wondering when and where I could be confirmed.  Most parishes had their confirmations right after Easter.  That was all done by the time Auntie Ana was calling the Bishop in July or August.

But the Bishop said, "Ah but there is one more confirmation I am doing."  It doesn't happen right after Easter.  This particular parish is Rota, the island just north of Guam.  That island, with its one parish at the time, combined their patronal fiesta in October (San Francisco de Borja/Saint Francis Borgia) with their confirmation.  That way, the Bishop down in Guam could kill two birds with one stone and fly up once for two events.

Now there remained one last item on the agenda : my confirmation name.

Very quickly I decided I wanted to do something to honor my father, whose name is John.  So within minutes, I had it settled.  My name would be John.  Now, which John?  John the Baptist?  Or John the Evangelist?  With that question I struggled, for both seemed equally desirable.

But in the end, I decided on John the Beloved Disciple, because somehow I entertained the notion that maybe, one day, I could be as good a disciple of Jesus as he was.  I did, however, tell John the Baptist in prayer that he was not totally out of the picture, being Second Runner-up.

The two Johns
The Evangelist (left) and The Baptist (right)

So off we flew one October Saturday morning to Luta (Rota).  We took a small propeller plane.  In those days, there were only two "hotels" in Luta.  One, the larger of the two, was more like a concrete apartment building, two stories.  My mom and dad stayed there.

But my Uncle Ben, Auntie Ana and myself stayed at Rota Hotel.  It was a two-story house, with the bottom floor (concrete) serving as a convenience store, and the upper floor (made of wood and a tin roof) serving as a two or three room hotel.  At least there was air conditioning.  Uncle and Auntie had one bed; I had the other.

I remember we were given floral leis at the airport and the sweet aroma filled the air conditioned room the whole weekend we were there.  We also either bought or were given local melon, and that fragrance filled the room, too.

Auntie Ana picked out and bought my clothes for the big event, and boy did she do a number on me.  A snow white suit, shirt, jacket, pants, socks and shoes.  And to top it all off, a huge red bow tie.  I mean, I'm white to begin with.  But, red and white - the colors of the Holy Ghost.  Except that I looked like a polar bear wounded at the throat.

I was told to stand at the very end of the line of Rotanese boys, all in their simple white shirts, black ties and black trousers, who stared at me as if I was something out of a movie.

Then came the moment to be confirmed.  The bishop was the stately, dignified Felixberto Camacho Flores, Bishop of Agaña.  I was last, at least among the boys, and remember well the little tap on the cheek that he gave me, that we were all told about beforehand.  I was expecting something a little harder, but it was just a tap.  Years later I found out that that gesture was eliminated in the reformed ritual, but Bishop Flores, something of an old-schooler in some things, thankfully kept it in. 

Bishop Felixberto Camacho Flores

I remember a party we went to at some residence and listening to my nino, Uncle Ben, conversing with Saipan civic leader William "Bitlin" Reyes.  They probably knew each other since the war, when Saipanese men were forced by the Japanese to go to Guam to serve as interpreters.  My Uncle Ben, being the district leader of Barrigada during the war, had to deal with the Japanese and the Saipanese interpreters.  I recall Uncle Ben asking Bitlin if he thought the Covenant between the US and the Northern Marianas would go through, and Bitlin said it would.  And it did.

I also remember that Auntie Ana and Uncle Ben took me along on another visit to another family, local Rotanese.  Though my Chamorro wasn't really that good at the time, I distinctly remember them talking about a priest that they did not like, who lasted on Rota only a short time and the people were glad to be rid of him.  The man said, in Chamorro, "If they ever assign that priest to Luta again, I myself will go and nail the church doors shut!"  The priest eventually left the ministry altogether, and the church doors were never nailed shut.

I do remember very vividly hearing the Luta accent.  I loved it.

Finally, I got to see more of the famous Luta pastor, still alive at this writing, in his 90s, Father (now Monsignor) Louis Antonelli, always in a white cassock and a rosary around his neck, with a long, flowing white beard.

Rev. Louis Antonelli

My dad, John Dennis Forbes, long-time teacher at Father Dueñas Memorial School.  I took his name for my confirmation name. 

I am so grateful I was born early enough to catch these glimpses of old Chamorro life; even in Rota in 1975.  I am grateful for Auntie Ana taking a great interest in my confirmation and the way it happened in Luta.  And I wanted to show my appreciation to my dad by taking his name at my confirmation, and of course to ask Saint John's help in life.

After all, if Saint John, the Beloved Disciple, intercedes for me, the Lord, his best friend, will listen.

From the sacramental records of my home parish, Saint Jude's.  It shows I was confirmed on Rota on October 10, 1975.  To the right of it is the notation about my diaconate ordination in 1990.

Friday, December 13, 2013


In Washington, DC, the Franciscan Friars of the Custody of the Holy Land built a monastery in honor of the main sacred places in the Holy Land.  Surrounding the church is the Rosary Portico, and on the inside walls of this are placed the Hail Mary in many languages.
Keep in mind that these multi-lingual plaques were put in place many years ago when orthography was not as standardized as it is today.  You will definitely see deviations here from the way the language is written today.  The prayer itself may not be version normally said today.