Sentinel photo by Clarice Keating
Renee Chipen places mwaremwar around the necks of those who participated during the liturgy.
Sentinel photo by Clarice Keating
Renee Chipen places mwaremwar around the necks of those who participated during the liturgy.
It was the first time since moving to Portland that Benita Sailas heard Mass said in her native language of Chuukese.

Adding to the importance of the occasion was that the service was celebrated by Sailas’ own brother, Father Bruce Roby, who was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn., in May 2009.

“This was a time to reunite people from all over Portland,” said Father Roby, about the service held June 27 at St. Anthony Church. In fact, people traveled from up and down the West Coast to attend the Mass.

Chuuk, an island group in the southwestern part of the Pacific Ocean, is one of the four states of the Federated States of Micronesia. It was known mainly as Truk until 1990.

Father Roby is the first Catholic priest from the FSM on permanent assignment in the United States, according to the Chuuk Reform Movement website, a network of citizens striving to create a better future for Chuuk.  

Portland’s Micronesian Catholics are spread around the city – also attending St. Rita, St. Charles and other parishes – but they came en masse for what was a standing room-only Mass and the celebration that followed.

Father Roby joked that he had to speak slowly while he said his homily in Chuukese.

“I’m so used to saying Mass in English that I had to practice beforehand,” he said. He reminded the congregants of the saying, “Niwinin tipis mano,” or the wages of sin is death.

During the service, young members of the congregation carried in mwaremwar, or wreathes made of beads in ribbons, to adorn the necks of those who participated in the liturgy, and Father Roby and parish priest, Father Patrick Donoghue.
At the end of the service, Chuuk people spilled out in front of the church, a sea of colorful floral dresses.  

As is the custom when a priest visits for the first time in a parish, the post-Mass party included dancing and singing. With relish, people dug into a feast of dishes with regional Chuuk ingredients like taro, breadfruit, bananas, tapioca, fish and rice.

Alily Lisua, from the Chuuk islands, moved to Portland five years ago. Hearing Mass said in her native language reminded her of home.

“I even cried a little,” she said.

Catholicism came to the Chuuk islands in the early 1900s when German Capuchins founded a mission there, Sacred Heart. Other small parishes and schools fanned out around the islands during the next several decades, later under the guidance of Spanish Jesuits.

According to the World Factbook, 50 percent of Micronesians are Roman Catholics.