Thursday, November 16, 2017


Wedding picture of Vicente A. Pinaula and Oliva M. Paulino
St. Joseph Church, Inalåhan
(courtesy of Tente Flores)

As you can see in this photo, St. Joseph Church in Inalåhan used to have written above its front doors a Latin phrase : ITE AD JOSEPH.

The phrase has since been removed. I wonder why?

Since many people still remember that phrase, and younger ones see the phrase in photos such as this, and do not understand what it means or why it was written above the doors, here's the background.


Joseph, as an Egyptian official, deals with his needy brethren

The Church has traditionally seen the Old Testament Joseph as a forerunner of the New Testament Joseph. There are a number of similarities between them. They both had dreams; they both were chaste; both their fathers were named Jacob. And, perhaps most important of all, they both came to the rescue of their families.

The Old Testament Joseph was one of twelve sons of Jacob. His older brothers harbored a grudge against him and sold him into slavery to merchants heading for Egypt. After a series of trials and difficulties in Egypt, Joseph rose to become a trusted highest adviser of Pharaoh and was put in charge of the granaries of Egypt. Joseph stored so much surplus grain during seven years of abundant harvest that when seven years of famine occurred, Egypt did not suffer because of all that reserved grain.

The famine touched Israel, where Joseph's family had remained. Jacob sent his sons to seek food in Egypt, not knowing that the brother they sold into slavery had become the second most powerful man in Egypt. But Joseph had pity on his family and saved them.

Jacob and his family were not the only ones who sought help from Egypt. People from all over that part of the world, starving from the famine, looked for food in Egypt. When they would approach Pharaoh with their request, Pharaoh would say :

"Go to Joseph and do what he tells you." (Genesis 41:55)

In Latin, "Go to Joseph" is "Ite ad Joseph." So :


Why go to Joseph? Because he will take care of you, save you, protect you.


So, lo and behold, we find such a similarity between the Old and the New Testament Josephs. When the Holy Family was in trouble, with King Herod threatening the life of the newborn Jesus, the New Testament Joseph took the Virgin and Child to safety in Egypt, the same Egypt where Jacob and his family found salvation when they were starving.

Saint Joseph was just like the Old Testament Joseph, giving protection and safety to the family.

An angel symbolically offers the Church to St Joseph as her protector

The Church sees in Saint Joseph this role even to this day, and for another family, the family of the Church, which is like another Holy Family, because the Church is Christ's Bride, His Body, His family. Thus, Saint Joseph was made the Universal Patron of the Church, and we ask that he continue to provide us his protection. When in need : Ite ad Joseph. Go to Joseph.

Sunday, November 5, 2017


Verónica Lizama Camacho, better known to us in the village as Nan Bota, was one of my elderly parishioners in San Roque, Saipan in the early 1990s. She was born in 1908, during the German administration of Saipan. She was 83 years old when I first met her.

She is one of the reasons why, from 1991 till 1994, I had to improve my Chamorro language skills dramatically. She, along with a few others, was one of those people born so long before the American presence in Saipan began in 1944 that she could not speak English.

Learning to become as fluent as possible in Chamorro was not just a way to communicate with those who didn't speak English. Speaking Chamorro to Chamorros who could speak English connected me to them more strongly. The language is ours and it carries a feeling, an underlying message, beyond the literal meaning.

Nan Bota went to Mass almost every day.


She told me a lot of things about the past, but one that sticks out is the rule against unnecessary manual labor on Sundays, the Lord's Day.

She said that the family's titiyas (corn tortillas) which were to be eaten on Sunday had to be made on the Saturday before. You couldn't grind the corn on a Sunday to make the corn flour to make the titiyas. The grinding required real manual work. "Ti siña an Damenggo sa' fuetsa," she said. "You can't on a Sunday because it is exertion," as she stretched out her arms and mimicked the motion of grinding corn.


Nan Bota was a widow for many years already when I got to know her. She once explained to me why she married late in life.

"Åntes de gera, gi gima'-måme giya Garapan, man akihot i gima' siha. Siña un hungok håfa ma susesede gi besino." ("Before the war, in our house in Garapan, the homes were close to each other. You can hear what is happening at the neighbor's.")

"Guaha dos na umasagua na besinon-måme. Todo i tiempo mumumu i dos. Umachatfinu'e yan uma'essalåggue." ("There was a married couple who were our neighbors. They fought all the time. Cussing at each other and yelling at each other.")

"Hu deside, na yanggen taiguine i lina'la' kasamiento, ti malago' yo' umassagua." ("I decided, if this is married life, I don't want to get married.")


"Påle', bai sangåne hao, gof chatpago i asaguå-ho, lao hu asagua gue' sa' pot maolek i kostumbre-ña." ("Father, I will tell you, my husband was very ugly, but I married him because of his good character."

I'd say a very good reason to marry someone. Marry them for the beauty of their heart, which not only doesn't age but which in fact can grow in beauty, rather than for the passing beauty of the body. Makes for a more successful marriage.


When I announced that I would be leaving the parish to be transferred back to Guam, she was sad to see me go. She told me,

"Meggai na mamåle' hu li'e' lao tåya' na hu li'e' gi pumalo siha na mamåle' taimano i un cho'gue guine." ("I have seen many priests but I have never seen in the other priests the way you did things here.")

Considering that this was a lady who lived thirty-some years BEFORE World War II and fifty-some years after the war, I was very touched by what she said. I am sure that other priests did exceptional work all those seventy-some years before me, and that she was speaking in the context of seeing me leave. Just to think of Påle' Tardio, the Spanish priest of Garapan who faced gigantic challenges under the Japanese and during the war! But I still appreciated her affirmation.


I had already left Saipan but would visit at least once a year to offer an occasional funeral Mass, or lead a retreat, preach a mission and so on.

On one such visit, I went to see Nan Bota. She was getting weaker and sensed that she may not have many more years ahead. As she lay in bed, she called into the room her daughter, a few grand children and even great grandchildren who were in their early 20s.

She started to tell them all, in Chamorro, that she wanted me to inherit a portion of her land when she died. She identified specifically what lot she wanted me to have.

We all smiled and nodded and said, "Hunggan, hunggan," ("Yes, yes,") but we all knew her intention could never be fulfilled and for two, separate reasons.

First, I am a Capuchin Friar with a vow of poverty, which means I cannot own anything in my own name. Even if my own parents willed some of their land or possessions to me, I could not inherit them in my own name.

Secondly, the Constitution of the Northern Mariana Islands, in Article 12, limits ownership of land in the Northern Marianas to those of Northern Marianas descent, which I am not. It is legally impossible for me to own land in the Northern Marianas.

Still, I was touched by her kind gesture.

Rest in peace, Nan Bota.

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.