Tuesday, July 26, 2022




I was early for a Mass in Tanapag in Saipan so I decided to park by the beach as the sun began its descent.

Out of my rear view mirror, I saw a huge utility truck pull up behind me. I lowered my window and, since I didn't want to assume the driver spoke Chamorro, I asked in English, "Do you need me to move my car? Are you doing work here?" He said, "No, no, you're good." I could tell from the accent he was not from another country but was someone local. He went over to a couple of ladies sitting nearby and sat down.

The scenery looked inviting so I got out of my car almost immediately after the man sat down with the ladies and I heard him tell them, in Chamorro, "Mamaisen este kao para bai facho'cho' guine," "This guy asked if I'm going to do some work here."

I walked out further from my car, which was partially hiding me from them, and now they could see I was a priest, and I smiled at them and said, "Adahe sa' siña ha' yo' fumino' Chamorro!" "Be careful because I can speak Chamorro!" And they laughed and we started a conversation.

The ladies had gotten to the beach first and were eyeing the tall talisai tree. The nuts looked ripe for the picking. By the grace of God, the man was just knocking off from work and drove his utility truck, the one with the buckets to lift workers up to the top of utility poles, to the beach. The ladies saw an opportunity. Let's climb on the truck and reach the nuts with our pole.

One of the ladies got up and used a pole to knock down the nuts. The others collected the fallen nuts, and cut them open.

"Estague' kandin-måme åntes!" "This was our candy before!" they kept saying.

People would either eat the seeds of the nuts "as is" or cook them in sugar in a pan. The taste of the talisai is like almonds, and one of the English names for it is "sea almonds" because the trees often grow on the shore.

Talisai (scientific name, terminalia catappa) has many health benefits, both the nut and the leaves. It is one of the plants used in the old days for medicinal reasons. The wood of the tree is also used and the tree itself is desirable for the abundant shade it provides.

There are places called Talisay, both on Guam and in the Philippines. The talisai more than likely was brought to the Marianas from the Philippines, since our name for it is the same as the Filipino.


Coming upon these friendly people in Tanapag purely by happenstance taught me a nice lesson of island life. To enjoy the talisai staring right in front of you, free of charge, a gift from God, so unappreciated by modern generations; to speak our language, laugh and be cheerful, and to be made a part of the gang instantly, hearing them say, "Let the priest try," several times. This is the kind of spirit we once had everywhere in our islands, unseen now in many parts, but which can still be found in the quiet, breezy shore of Tanapag if you manage to slow down and just park at the beach waiting to see what might happen.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022



The man who told me this is long gone, so I can't go back to him and verify the story. But when he told me this anecdote twenty or more years ago, he seemed very serious.

He said he was a teenager when the Japanese occupied Guam. He was old enough to earn a few sen (Japanese coins) as a kind of errand boy or runner.

One day, he said, he was told by a Japanese civilian official to run to so-and-so's house and deliver a written message to a Japanese living at that house, which belonged to a Chamorro family but had been taken over by the Japanese. The Chamorro family preferred to live at their ranch to feed themselves and avoid the Japanese, anyway. 

The boy gave the message and waited for the Japanese man to write down his response for the boy to take back.

While the boy stood there waiting, his eyes moved to the open door of the restroom. There he saw a Japanese soldier kneel in front of the toilet and wash his face! That soldier got up, and was replaced by yet another Japanese soldier kneeling down and washing his face in the toilet.

Later the boy found out that Japanese toilets were very different from American ones. Either the Japanese soldier didn't know what this ceramic seat filled with water was used for, or he didn't care.

Wartime creates some very interesting stories.

Monday, July 11, 2022



Perhaps it was 1992 or 1993 when I was stationed in Saipan. I walked into the sanctuary at Kristo Rai Church in Garapan to start the 6AM Mass and was startled when the singers began the entrance hymn because I hadn't even reached the altar yet when I thought they were singing to me!

The line they sang went, "Pot kuentos Påle' ina ham...." "Through Father's words enlighten us...."

What were they referring to?

So I asked them to tell me the whole verse. It ended up being a prayer to the Holy Spirit to teach the people through the priest's words. More about that later, but here is the audio and lyrics, with English translation.

O Såntos na Espiritu, i kandet Tåta, må'gas Yu'us.
(O Holy Spirit, light of the Father, great God.)

Pot kuentos Påle' ina ham, doktrinan Yu'us fanå'gue ham.
(Through the words of the priest enlighten us, teach us the doctrine of God.)


This little verse was introduced to Saipan by the German Capuchin missionaries who were in the Northern Marianas from 1906 to 1919. It appears in a little hymnal they published in 1915. It's possible that the melody is borrowed from a German hymn.

It's such a short verse that it was probably composed to be sung outside of Mass (which was said in Latin). It would have been an appropriate verse to sing right before catechism or before the priest preached a sermon. In the old days, sermons were not preached just during Mass. Sermons were preached as a stand-alone event, or as part of a devotion, such as a novena or the Stations of the Cross.

In fact, an old custom, not done all the time, was to put a dove above the pulpit where the priest preached. The idea was, as long as the priest was teaching the doctrine of the Church, he was teaching what the Holy Spirit ensured was God's truth. You can see in the picture at the top of this post a dove above the pulpit.

Tuesday, July 5, 2022



This receipt for church funeral services was issued to prove that a member of the deceased's family shouldered that cost. It was needed in a court case in 1925 to settle a family dispute over the estate of the deceased.

For much of the Spanish period, the missionaries published a schedule of fees for many church services, and not just for spiritual services. This schedule of fees was called ARANCEL in Spanish.

Sacraments cannot be bought; it is against Church law to do so and any priest who tries to sell sacraments, blessings or blessed objects will be punished by the Church itself.

But churches and priests also had to pay bills, and a fee for a baptismal certificate, for example, meant the parish had to buy paper (rarely were blank certificates printed before-hand, another expense). A priest had to buy food and supplies and, on occasion, give monetary support to someone doing work or a service for the church. These fees met those expenses.

In those days, most people grew or caught their own food, made their own household tools or items, or traded goods for goods, that they had less reason than today to use what cash they had. That unused cash often went to their local church for Masses. American Navy officials sometimes "complained" about it.

The poor were never deprived of church services on account of their inability to pay fees. To do so was against Church rules. Fees were sometimes paid with a dozen eggs or a sack of corn meal. Many cashless people paid others in general this way.

The priest who wrote the receipt was Father Bernabé de Cáseda, a Capuchin friar from Spain. He was stationed in Inalåhan for a long time and built the church there that exists to this day. He was in Inalåhan so long that several baby boys in Inalåhan were named Bernabé after him. Bernabé is the Spanish way of saying Barnabas. Saint Barnabas was a companion of Saint Paul the Apostle.


In those days, no Spanish priest could be assigned to a village until he first learned enough Chamorro to be able to communicate with his people, and he had to pass a test given by Påle' Román, the Spanish priest considered the expert in the Chamorro language. In the 1920s and 30s, huge numbers of Chamorros on Guam could not speak English and spoke only Chamorro.

Let's look at the Chamorro used in the receipt :

Guåho Fr. Bernabé de Cáseda hu resibe ginen as Ignacio LG San Nicolas pot i entierron Dolores Castro Concepcion ini na limosna :
(I Friar Bernabé de Cáseda received from Ignacio LG San Nicolas for the funeral of Dolores Castro Concepcion this donation :)

Entierro Solemne yan Misa Cantada.....$14.00
(Solemn Funeral and Sung Mass.....$14.00)

Gi Noviembre na pulan pot responso....$0.75
(In the month of November for responso....$0.75)

Hu na' magåhet ini
(I certify this)

Fr. Bernabé de Cáseda

Inalåhan 22.II.1925

OK let's break it down :

1. The Fr in the receipt does not stand for "Father" but for the Spanish title "Fray" which means "Friar." Father Bernabé was a Capuchin Franciscan friar and, even though he was also a priest, his identity as a friar wasn't forgotten. Friars who were priests often titled themselves "Fray Padre," or "Friar Father."

2. You can tell the typewriter he used was probably manufactured in Spain since it had keys to type Spanish accent marks, like the dash over the E in Bernabé and over the A in Cáseda.

3. Father Bernabé uses the old word for "this" which is ini. More people used the Spanish word este.

4. Church services could be simple or solemn; recited or sung. If Mass was sung, this meant a choir had to sing at Mass and choir members had to take time out of their day to do that. So more fees were paid the more services were requested.

5. A responso is a prayer said for the dead. November is the month the Poor Souls in Purgatory are remembered in a special way, and one could request a priest to say a responso in November at the grave(s) of one's loved one(s).

6. The literal meaning of "I certify this" in the receipt is "I make this true."

7. The dating format is European, not American. First comes the day of the month (the 22nd), then the month in Roman numerals (II, or 2, which means February), then the year.

(traducida por Manuel Rodríguez)


El recibo que vemos abajo, por los servicios funerarios eclesiásticos, se emitió para probar que un miembro de la familia del difunto se hizo cargo de ese costo. Fue necesario en un caso judicial en 1925 para resolver una disputa familiar sobre la herencia del difunto.

Durante gran parte de la época española, los misioneros publicaron un cronograma de tarifas para muchos servicios de la iglesia, y no solo para servicios espirituales. Este cuadro de tarifas se denominó ARANCEL.

Los sacramentos no se pueden comprar; va contra la ley de la Iglesia hacerlo y cualquier sacerdote que intente vender sacramentos, bendiciones u objetos sagrados será castigado por la propia Iglesia.

Pero las iglesias y los sacerdotes también tenían que pagar facturas, y una tarifa por un certificado de bautismo, por ejemplo, se debía a que la parroquia tenía que comprar papel. Un sacerdote tenía que comprar alimentos y suministros y, en ocasiones, dar apoyo monetario a alguien que realizaba un trabajo o un servicio para la iglesia. Estos honorarios cubrían esos gastos.

En aquel tiempo, la mayoría de las personas cultivaban o pescaban sus propios alimentos, fabricaban sus propias herramientas o artículos domésticos, o intercambiaban bienes por otros bienes, por lo que tenían menos razones que hoy para usar el dinero en efectivo que tenían. Ese efectivo no utilizado a menudo iba a su iglesia local para misas. Los oficiales de la Armada estadounidense a veces se "quejaban" al respecto.

Los pobres nunca eran privados de los servicios de la iglesia debido a su incapacidad para pagar las cuotas. Hacer eso estaba en contra de las reglas de la Iglesia. A veces, las tarifas se pagaban con una docena de huevos o un saco de harina de maíz. Muchas personas sin efectivo pagaban a otros en general de esta manera.

El sacerdote que hizo el recibo fue el Padre Bernabé de Cáseda, un fraile capuchino de España. Estuvo destinado en Inaraján durante mucho tiempo y construyó allí la iglesia de San José que existe hasta el día de hoy. Estuvo en Inaraján tanto tiempo que varios bebés varones de Inaraján recibieron el nombre de Bernabé en su honor. San Bernabé fue compañero de San Pablo Apóstol.

En aquellos días, ningún sacerdote español podía ser asignado a un pueblo hasta que primero aprendiera suficiente chamorro para poder comunicarse con su gente, y tenía que pasar una prueba dada por Påle' Román, el sacerdote español considerado el experto en el idioma chamorro. En las décadas de 1920 y 1930, una gran cantidad de chamorros en Guam no hablaban inglés y solo hablaban chamorro.

Veamos el chamorro utilizado en el recibo:

<<Guaho Fr. Bernabé de Cáseda hu resibe ginen as Ignacio LG San Nicolas pot i entierron Dolores Castro Concepcion ini na limosna :

(Yo Fray Bernabé de Cáseda recibí de parte de Ignacio LG San Nicolás por el entierro de Dolores Castro Concepción esta limosna:)

Entierro Solemne yan Misa Cantada.....$14.00

(Entierro Solemne y Misa Cantada.....$14.00)

Gi Noviembre na pulan pot responso....$0.75

(En el mes de noviembre por responso....$0.75)

Hu na' magåhet ini

(Yo certifico esto)

Fray Bernabé de Cáseda

Inalahan 22.II.1925>>

Bueno, vamos a desglosarlo:

1. El “Fr” en el recibo no significa "Padre" sino el título español "Fray" que significa "Fraile". El Padre Bernabé era un fraile franciscano capuchino y, aunque también era sacerdote, su identidad como fraile no fue olvidada. Los frailes que eran sacerdotes a menudo se titulaban "Fray Padre" o "Fraile Padre".

2. Se puede decir que la máquina de escribir que usó probablemente fue fabricada en España ya que tenía claves para escribir acentos españoles, como la tilde sobre la E en Bernabé y sobre la A en Cáseda.

3. El Padre Bernabé usa la antigua palabra para "esto" que es “ini”. Otra gente usaba la palabra de origen español “este”.

4. Los servicios de la iglesia pueden ser simples o solemnes; recitado o cantado. Si se cantaba Misa, esto significaba que un coro tenía que cantar en Misa y los miembros del coro tenían que tomarse un tiempo de su día para hacerlo. Así que se pagaban más honorarios cuantos más servicios se solicitaban.

5. Un responso es una oración que se dice por los difuntos. Noviembre es el mes en que se recuerda de manera especial a las Pobres Almas del Purgatorio, y uno podría pedirle a un sacerdote que dijera un responso en noviembre en la(s) tumba(s) de un(os) ser (es) querido(s).

6. El significado literal de "Certifico esto" en el recibo es "Hago esto verdadero".

7. El formato de fechas es europeo, no americano. Primero viene el día del mes (el 22), luego el mes en números romanos (II o 2, que significa febrero), luego el año.