Monday, March 28, 2016


Then-Bishop Felixberto Flores
Early 1970s

Before we end Mes Chamorro (Chamorro Month), I'd like to briefly touch on the Chamorro language advocacy efforts of the religious leader of the Chamorro people, on Guam and even in the Northern Marianas until 1984, the late Archbishop Felixberto Camacho Flores.

Flores took the helm of the Church in all the Marianas just at the time that the Church allowed the use of the vernacular in the Church's liturgy. Although the Church, in its official documents, retained Latin as the liturgical language of the Church, with some use of the vernacular allowed, in practice, Latin was ignored altogether by most bishops and priests.

On Guam, dropping Latin meant the switch almost entirely to English in the liturgy. The techa in the pews still lead the rosary and devotions in Chamorro. On a weekday Mass and at the early Mass on Sunday, the man åmko' continued to sing the traditional Chamorro hymns while the priest said Mass in English.

The story was different in the Northern Marianas where the Chamorro people were still attached to their language. For people born there in the 1920s, 30s and earlier, English was very much a foreign language. The Diocese of Agaña set up a Chamorro Language Liturgical Commission to translate the Mass into Chamorro and Flores, among others, sat on that Commission.

Flores did not like what he was seeing on Guam, though, with the loss of the Chamorro language even in church. Ordained in 1949, he was, for a while, one of only two Chamorro priests, besides Monsignor Oscar Calvo. Even though, in short order, several more Chamorro priests were ordained, Flores was one of the main Chamorro orators and translators. Bishop Baumgartner did not speak any Chamorro at all, and left it to Calvo or Flores, mainly, to address the community in Chamorro.

Not only was Flores eloquent in Chamorro, he was a captivating public speaker.

When Calvo became too sickly to do it, Flores wrote many articles in Chamorro for the church newspaper, the Umatuna si Yuus.

Besides writing articles, Flores translated one of the most popular Christian classics, the Imitation of Christ, into Chamorro. This book, of some 470 pages, was published in 1962 as I Madalalaken i Kristo. The book, written right at the time when the switch to English in nearly everything on Guam was happening in the late 1950s and early 60s, is a testimony of Flores' attachment to his mother tongue.

When Flores became Bishop of Agaña in 1970, he increased his efforts to keep the language from dying in the religious sphere. He said Masses in Chamorro and encouraged it in the parishes. He sometimes preached exclusively in Chamorro and at other times in both Chamorro and English. He made it known that, in more important parish Masses where he was to preside, he wanted the processional hymn to always be Katoliko, and the recessional always to be Atan Jesukristo, two Chamorro hymns.

One of his initiatives was the printing, in 1976, of a thin booklet entitled I Mas Man Impottante na Tinaitai gi Fino Chamorro, the Most Important Prayers in Chamorro. His idea was to pass these booklets out to all the students in Catholic schools and all students in the catechism classes in the parishes and teach the basic prayers in Chamorro to all the children receiving Catholic instruction. "The vast majority of our young Catholics cannot properly recite the very basic prayers in Chamorro," Flores wrote, "a situation which we would like to do something about."

In his introduction to this collection of basic Chamorro prayers, Flores said :

"It is a known fact....that much of our Chamorro culture and customs is fastly (sic) disappearing, and while in some cases these are being supplanted by correspondingly good things, it is still nevertheless disheartening to admit that many of them are needlessly vanishing." He continued, "One area in which we are definitely losing grip of our people, especially the young ones, is the knowledge of our Chamorro language." Flores was saying that this was the current situation back then in 1976. Imagine the situation today.

The fight goes on today to interest the people in learning their own language, and we experience mixed results today, as Flores did in his day. But his efforts should not be forgotten as we carry on what he also endeavored to do.

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