Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross
Archbishop Christopher Cardone, O.P.
September 10, 2016
Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ and all people of good will throughout the Solomon Islands, today the Church celebrates and we anticipate liturgically, the Feast of the Exultation of the Cross, September 14th on the liturgical calendar. It is an ancient feast that goes back to the year 326 when the mother of Emperor Constantine: St. Helen- my late mother’s name was Helen, discovered the Holy Cross of Jesus. Nine years later a large church was built in Jerusalem: The Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
For the past 1,690 years, the Church Western or Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Catholics have celebrated this important feast. For our Solomon Islands, the cross is an important God-centered and historical sign, too. In the year 1568, the Spanish explorer Alvaro de Mendana arrived in our islands. The official log or diary of the ship says that the Catholic Franciscan fathers who were chaplains on Mendana’s expedition, planted a cross on this very spot. At almost every new place the Spanish discovered, they would plant a large wooden cross and claim that place for Christ!
In Solomon Islands we have more than 70 local languages. Spanish, the first European language that arrived on our shores, is remembered in places like Point Cruz- Place of the Cross, Santa Cruz Province which means Holy Cross and even Makira- San Christobal which is my actual name, St. Christopher.
The very name of Guadalcanal is the name of a Spanish town which was the home place of Mendana’s navigator. Holy Cross isn't just a Catholic name. But it reminds us of the very roots of all Christian churches in Solomon Islands that go back to the planting of the cross here 448 years ago!
Today’s feast is called the Exaltation of the Cross. The gospel writer Luke tells us clearly in the words of Jesus the conditions of discipleship: “If anyone would come after me, they must deny themselves and take up the cross every day & follow me…” (LK 9:23) St. Paul, one of the greatest disciples who was both preacher & missionary, tells us more about the cross and our salvation through Jesus Christ.
In pagan Roman times the cross was the means of execution for criminals. But St. Paul tells the Corinthians and Romans and all of us too: “We proclaim Christ on the cross, a message that is offensive to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles but for those for whom God has called, CHRIST IS THE POWER OF GOD AND WISDOM OF GOD!… We are afflicted in every way, but in all these things we are more than conquerers through Him who loved us.”
The gospel for today from St. John Chapter says the Son of Man- Jesus Christ, must be lifted up so that everyone who believes in Him will have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave us His only Son so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but have eternal life!
The preface of today’s Mass, that’s the prayer before the Holy, Holy preaches so clearly: “For you planted the salvation of the human race on the wood of the cross so that where death arose, life might again spring forth and the evil one, who conquered on a tree, might likewise on a tree be conquered, … through Christ, Our Lord.” For the Catholic Church, we understand that belief and faith come from the power of the Holy Spirit working through people since the time of Pentecost, the birthday of the Church which occurs on Sunday the 1st day of the week. Since that time, God works through people who become His hands and heart, His feet and His mouth. Who were the hands and feet and mouth of the Holy Spirit?
The first Catholic missionaries were the Marist fathers, brothers and sisters. Bishop John Baptist Epalle led the first Marists to Solomon Islands in 1845. They brought the Good News of the Gospel to places which we now call Makira, Guadalcanal & Santa Isabel. But in Santa Isabel, our first bishop was martyred. The early Marists sacrificed greatly, struggled valiantly, but eventually departed from Solomon Islands after less than ten years. Fortythree years later, French Marist Prefect Apostolic Julian Vidal, young Marists and catechists from Fiji returned with renewed apostolic enthusiasm to plant again the cross, the tree of life in Solomon Islands.
Pope John Paul II- now canonized St. John Paul the Great- visited this cathedral on May 9, 1984. During his apostolic pastoral visitations, he visited 4 more than 100 countries around the world. He kissed the ground of Solomon Islands at the airport, visited Central Hospital, Rove Prison and celebrated Mass outdoors on Town Ground. Sixteen years later, at the end of the great Jubilee of the Year 2000, he told us to reflect on Luke, Chapter 5 verse 6. “Go out into the deep.” He told us to listen to Christ, to go out with courage and to remember that God is always with us. He gave us a roadmap or a guide for this, the 21st century. St. John Paul told us to remember the past with gratitude, live in the present with enthusiasm and look forward to the future with HOPE! In remembering the past with gratitude, which means having a thankful heart, we prayerfully thank God for our fist missionaries, Marists fathers, brothers, sisters, catechists and lay missionaries.
We must always than God for our ancestors who through the power of the Holy Spirit RECEIVED THE FAITH AND PASSED THE FAITH TO THEIR CHILDREN AND FAMILIES. We thank the benefactors of the Church who helped to bring and establish the Gospel in Solomon Islands. Small donations, even the widow’s mite were collected and so many sacrificed that we might have the Good News preached in our islands.
We thank God for the Marist missionary sisters- the SMSM’s who helped begin our first local congregation of sisters, the Daughters of Mary Immaculate, in 1946. Ten years later, in 1956 the Dominicans came to the western Solomon Islands. OP friars, sisters, brothers and lay missionaries with the late beloved, Bishop Eusebius Crawford established the Catholic community in what we now call Gizo Diocese.
Dominicans were followed by the Vincentians, the Salesian fathers and the sisters, the FMA who we call the Daughters of Our Lady Help of Christians. Next came the MA- Missionaries of Assumption, Pieta Sisters, and Sisters of Charity from Croatia. We thank God for our local diocesan priests. In 1966, our first local priest was ordained: Fr. Michael Aike here on this spot in the old Holy Cross Cathedral.
We are richly blessed for vocations to the priesthood & to consecrated life. We remember with gratitude the difficult period during the Second World War. When many of the Church missionaries left the Solomon Islands, our Marist Bishop Jean-Marie Aubin remained with the people. Two Marist priests Fr. Oenbrink and Fr. Duhamel and two sisters, Sr. Odilia & Sr. Sylvia were killed by the Japanese in Ruavatu right here in Guadalcanal. Their graves to this day on the Ruavatu Mission Station give a profound witness to the faith and the cross being carried by so many people- faith filled people who have gone before us!
In our local Solomon Island languages, we have no words for “thank you” and many times our culture does not say the actual word “thank you.” But the actions and attitudes of thanks are clearly present. In remembering the past with gratitude our Dominican brother, St. Thomas Aquinas says that when we are thankful for all God gives us, more blessings will be bestowed upon us! Next, St. John Paul II tells us to live in the present with enthusiasm.
Pope Francis, too, reminds us in this special Jubilee of Mercy Year, we are to be joyful in all areas of Christian life. Solomon Islands is blessed with physical 6 natural beauty: the bush, the sea, the mountains and lagoons make for Godgiven beauty which gives an environment for joyfulness and enthusiasm to flourish. The Melanesian culture exudes generosity, joyfulness and the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit! Our prayer and our liturgies and especially all big days & feast days are dominated by cooperation, collaboration, commitment and active participation. Our Masses and services can be long but the Spirit is definitely leading and guiding us as a community of faith to be joyful. This joy radiates to our attitude of being welcoming. Our churches are open, our feast days feed hundreds and thousands at the table of the Word and Sacraments. Then multitudes are fed physically with all the gifts of the land and sea. Our feasting and celebrations are always joyful events. In the spirit of being open and welcoming, our predecessor Archbishop Daniel Stuvenberg made this cathedral building welcoming and open. When many churches and institutions lock and fence their buildings, know that Holy Cross is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week- open for prayer and adoration. Our cathedral is open for being with the Lord before the Blessed Sacrament and open for all our ministries to serve & share the Gospel. We welcome all people of good will to be with the Lord and His community at all of our Church mission stations throughout the Archdiocese of Honiara! Pope Francis in his recent encyclical Laudato Si reminded us to remember that all creatures and all things come from God’s all-powerful hand. God’s creation is full of His presence and His love and we are to treat all things and 7 all people with love and respect. In reflecting on those teachings, I am mindful of the marriage encounter movement founded by our late and beloved bishop of Auki Diocese, Gerald Francis Loft, SM. It taught me and many others that the word “beloved” is a special and holy word. Spouses call each other beloved and beloved becomes a prefix or a title to address all God’s people. Marriage encounter taught us to call our priests beloved: Beloved Fr. Moses Ou’ou, beloved Fr. Jacob Qeto and beloved Fr. Peter Hou-hou. St. John was called the beloved apostle by Jesus. St. Paul calls his companion and former slave Onenisimus beloved brother. Wouldn’t it be wonderful that with enthusiasm and joy we call our spouses, friends & family beloved… love, respect and joy come from the Lord. Let us share it. Let us truly live it!
Fifteen years ago when I was appointed Auxiliary Bishop in Gizo Diocese, under Bishop Bernard O’Grady here present, I chose a motto from the scriptures to guide my new ministry. I chose from Psalm 100, “Serve the Lord with Gladness .” I hoped that with serving the Lord with joy and gladness, it would help me to serve All Others with gladness too. May we in the Church echo Pope Francis’ plea that live in the world joyfully as the merciful face of Christ to all people of the world. And finally we are called to look forward to the future with hope! Christians are called to be hopeful people, not fearful or confused people.
The same loving God who has guided the Church since the early days of Pentecost to the colonial days of Mendana and Bishop Epalle, will continue to guide and bless us. In the spirit of hope I will try to be an archbishop in the model of Pope Francis, our servant leader. Our beloved Marist bishops who have preceded me have shown loving and long and deeply faithful commitment to the Church. Archbishop Adrian Smith- our very beloved archbishop for the past 31 years, has led the way in being a prayerful and prominent preacher. He has led the way in the ecumenical movement as bridge building and Christ-like peacemaker. He has led the way to open our Holy Name of Mary Seminary, to welcome six new religious orders to the archdiocese: Dominican friars & sisters, Salesian fathers and sisters, Missionary of the Assumption, Vincentian fathers and Pieta sisters.
We have opened Bishop Epalle School, three Salesian schools, San Isidor for the Handicapped in Arilegio and Good Samaritan Hospital in Teterere. The growth and the development of the Church depends on us responding hopefully to the power and to the presence of the Holy Spirit. I will prioritize the collaboration of our beloved diocesan and religious priests in the mission of pastoral care and evangelization. I will continue to empower our beloved lay faithful to assist me in assisting the Church.
We will continue to be the merciful face of Christ in the fields of formal and non-formal education, healthcare, ministry to youth, Sunday school and men and women groups. We hope to encourage modern methods of communication and we will begin the ministry of child protection. I pray that we have a pastoral plan that reflects the continuing love and service of all by the Lord.
I am richly blessed. I am a spiritual millionaire because my family is here with me today. My beloved Dad- age 87 and beloved step-mother Ann have 9 travelled 9,000 miles from New York to be with us today. My brother Marianist priest Fr. Thomas, my two sisters Nancy & Donna, Marianist Provincial Bro. Tim, and family friends Fr. Benedict, Sue Ellen and Jim McTiernan are here with us today too. My beloved natural family has joined my religious family- priests, bishops, bothers and sisters and my Solomon family which includes the Anglican Church of Melanesia, United Church, South Seas Evangelical Church, Seventh Day Adventists, Bahai Faith and all faith-based communities in Solomon Islands to be part of God’s family.
The Catholic Church will continue to promote all stages of human life- from conception to natural death- we will be a beloved family of grace and peace. What will bring us together, what will bind us as one, it is the Holy Cross of Our Lord & Savior Jesus Christ. May God through the intercession of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, the Mother of the Church and our beloved Blessed Mother, bless our Solomon Islands today & always, forever and ever. Amen.