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News inserted on 28/01/2012

A Short History of the Catholic Church in Vanuatu

In January 1887, five priests were sent to the New Hebrides. Two of them with four young Caledonians disembarked at Mele; another at Banam Bay in Mallicolo and finally the remainder of the group in Port-Orly (Espritu Santo).

SMSM SistersFrom those beginnings evangelization would be undertaken by the Catholics, island by island, in the midst of great difficulties, the climatic conditions, lack of any comfort, the hostilities encountered and also because of the lack of any preparation for this type of mission.

The first two Missionary Sisters would arrive on the 13th of March 1898 accompanied by two Filles de Marie (Melanesian Sisters). Two of them would settle at Lamap, (Mallicolo) and two of them at Olal (Ambrym). Other Sisters would arrive later and would join them. They looked after the sick, the schools and the promotion of women.

SMSM SistersThe Role of the Church
The Churches played a significant role in the development of Vanuatu. Given its status as a Franco/ British Condominium, the two Colonial Powers portrayed little interest in it. The Islands continued to live according to the customary rhythm while integrating Christian principles little by little. The English opened schools for English speakers and the French opened schools for French speakers.

SMSM SistersBecause the islands where small groups of people were living were scattered, there was a great need for good Catechists. At last near Port -Vila in July 1903 a school for Catechists was opened. The buildings were rudimentary but this did not matter. In the beginning education concentrated less on the human side than on the passing on of the Faith. Catechists played an important part in evangelization; their formation has developed and almost everywhere they are still today the animators of small Christian communities.

The first Vauatuan priest, Father Cyriaque Adeng was ordained in 1955. Since then a number of priests have replaced the Marist Fathers. Priestly formation takes place in the Seminary of the Conference of Bishops of the Pacific in Suva, Fiji.

Bishop Michel Visi was the first Vanuatuan Bishop. His Episcopal ordination took place in Port Vila on the 12th April 1997. He took as his motto “I did not come to be served, but to serve”. He was appreciated by everybody. Unfortunately he died suddenly on the 19th May 2007.

Bishop Michel Calvet, the Archbishop of Noumea assumed the responsibility in the interim.

On the 14th February 2010 Bishop John Bosco Baremes, a Marist priest, who was born on the 30th June 1960 at Tiarani, Arawa, in Bougainville became the new Bishop. His motto: “Like Christ, journey to the Father”. The Bishop does his best to lead the faithful, his brothers and sisters, who have been entrusted to him to the Father.
The Church is very alive. The Christians take responsibility for the life of the parish. Many groups have been formed; Legion of Mary, St Vincent de Paul, prayer groups, scouts, different groups for young people, etc.
SMSM SistersEvery year the youth meet together at the local level for a weekend of reflection, and every two or three years for a week at the diocesan level.

Unda-Vanuatu transmits religious broadcasts and the publication of the bulletin Eklesia. This diocesan bulletin is published every two months.

On the Cultural side, Father Jean Rodet SM has collected a number of items and in a small museum has highlighted their significance. These items are classified according to a theme: Where do you come from? Where are you? Where are you going?

Ecuemenism: is present through the Vanuatu Christian Council. But a number of recent Churches do not form part of this and those Christians who are not sufficiently formed move easily from an established Church to one of these new religious movements.

Teaching has always been a priority for the missionaries. The Catechist’s school at Montmartre, near Port Vila continues to expand, a primary school, then, in 1981, a secondary school. The Brothers of the Sacred Heart have worked there since 1976. At St. Michel, on the island of Santo there is a technical school for boys and girls.

Catholic Education is becoming established little by little but the financial situation is always difficult. Today many young people have gone to university either at Port-Vila or in New Caledonia and they are able to take on responsibility with competence. All schools are now run by local staff.

Marist Brothers of the Schools (Champagnat) following a first foundation 1894-1902 returned to run a Vocational centre, the Centre for St Martin de Porres at Lololima which they left in 2010. They have also been present for some years at the Technical School on Santo.

The Missionary Sisters of the Society of Mary have played a very important role in catechesis and in the development of women almost everywhere throughout the islands. More and more women are taking on an important place in society.

An Interdiocesan Congregation (N. Caledonia and Vanuatu): les Petites Filles de Marie are engaged in various ministries.

One can find many opportunities for mission today.

Vanuatu has as a motto: “Long God Yumi Stanap” (bishlemar)
“In God let us stand Tall”.

My hope is that in these modern times the people will keep their values; of faith in the presence of God, of the family, of interdependence, of their respect for nature and of their sense of celebration.

Sr Marie Jose de Preville smsm

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