Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, 27 Aprril 2023 -- The first Salesians had arrived in Papua New Guinea on June 14, 1980. The presence of Fr. Valeriano Barbero, Fr. Rolando Fernandez and Br. Joseph Kramar in Araimiri, Gulf Province, was the start of the Salesian Mission in this part of the world 43 years ago. In 1994, this presence became the Provincial Delegation of PNG under the SDB Philippines North Province (FIN).
For Solomon Islands, the Province of Japan was given the responsibility to make this happen. On October 27, 1995, Fr. Pedro Balcazar and Br. Francis Tanaka set foot in the country. They were the first Salesians to be sent there. Fr. Pedro Nishizawa, Fr. Ambrose Pereira, and Fr. Luciano Capelli, now Bishop of Gizo, joined later. Their first assignment was the Parish of Christ the King in Tetere.
On April 1, 2005, the Provincial Delegation of PNG-SI was established and after 10 years on December 23, 2015, the Rector Major of the Salesians of Don Bosco, Fr. Ángel Fernández Artime, established the Salesian presences in the two nations to be a Vice-Province (PGS). Fr. Pedro Baquero, now Bishop of Kerema, was appointed the first Provincial Superior.
Over the years, the PGS Vice Province has grown in strength, in terms of institutions and number of Salesian priests, brothers coming from PNG, SI and other 14 countries, Salesian Cooperators, volunteers, members of the Salesian Family and countless young people who found help in the mission of Don Bosco. Today countless men and women ‘Bosconians,’ many are active members of the Don Bosco Past Pupils Association, contribute to nation-building and to the economy of the two countries with the skills, knowledge, and guidance they have received from Don Bosco’s educational system.
We know that our founder, St. John Bosco, was a dreamer. In 1885 he narrated his missionary dream about Oceania. He said he saw “a group of many islands, whose inhabitants were of varied character and appearance” and “a multitude of young people” who held out their hands shouting, “Come help us!” “A little distance away,” he said “I could see groups of many islands but could not distinguish any details. I felt that all this indicated that Divine Providence was offering part of this evangelical field to the Salesians, but for some future period.” Today, the work of the Salesians in Melanesia has continued to thrive forward fulfilling slowly but gradually that dream.
Thus, talks about a new Salesian presence in a neighbouring country began in 2015 when Bishop John Bosco Baremes SM of Port Vila visited PNG and invited Fr. Pedro for a visit. When Bp. Baremes returned in 2017 for the meeting of the Bishops of Oceania, he had formally asked the new Provincial, Fr. Alfred Maravilla, to consider bringing Don Bosco’s charism to his country.
In 2018 Fr. Alfred and Fr. Srimal Silva were the first Salesians to set foot on Vanuatu! It was during this first exploratory visit on August 7th-10th that they met again with Bp. Baremes as well as Hon. Jean-Pierre Nirua, Minister for Education and Mr. Jean Marie Virelala, Director for Tertiary and Higher Education. Both ministers had pledged their full support towards the work of Don Bosco.
In December that same year Fr. Alfred shared details of their exploratory visit with the Rector Major in Rome. Fr. Ángel too, was filled with joy and urged Fr. Alfred to examine further the possibilities and keep him updated on future prospects. “Who knows,” the Rector Major told him, “we might be instruments to realise the dream of Don Bosco in Oceania!”
On May 12th-15th 2019 Fr. Václav Klement, the General Councillor for the Region of East Asia and Oceania returned with Fr. Alfred for a second exploratory visit. Their visit coincided with the ongoing diocesan synod. The members of the Diocesan Synod had explicitly expressed to Fr. Klement and Fr. Alfred that the young of Vanuatu desperately needed a new flame to burn and show them the way. Fr. Alfred gifted Bp. Baremes in front of the synod members with a small statue of Mary Help of Christians while stating: “now we cannot come immediately, but Mary Help of Christians will precede us!”
In March 2022 Fr. Alfred was elected as General Councillor for Missions during the SDB General Chapter in Turin, Italy. It seemed the Lord was also working behind the scenes to allow his work to begin, starting with the new appointment!
Bp. Baremes will then write an official letter on November 27th, 2019, inviting the Rector Major “to bring Don Bosco’s charism to Vanuatu”. The invite was accepted by the Rector Major and the SDB General Council on Jan 24, 2022, the Feast of St. Francis de Sales. He tasked Fr. Alfred as General Councillor for the Missions, to work with Fr. Gregorio Bicomong Jr, the Provincial of PGS and see to it that the initial preparations for this new mission began.
During the third visit by Fr. Greg and Fr. Alfred on February 22nd-27th 2023, a Memorandum of Agreement was signed on February 25th stating that the first Salesians will arrive in the later part of 2025.
As planning and preparations begin for such a milestone in the Salesian Missions, we are grateful to God for the gift of St. John Bosco whose life has given us the opportunity to experience love and grace to be all that we can be as young people.
We are also grateful to the Salesians of PGS who have made lifelong commitments to serve the young of PNG, SI and now, Vanuatu. Thus, they are making Don Bosco’s dream for Oceania come true.
When the first Salesian presence will be opened in Vanuatu in 2025, we can be rest assured that many young people like us, who are loved and created in the image of God, will also have the chance to experience the love of Jesus and Mary in the style of Don Bosco.
We now not only have brothers and sisters in Solomon Islands, but we can now say, we will have a family in Vanuatu!
Viva Don Bosco!