La Verna Friary, Hautambu

Society of St Francis – December 2020 Update

Brother Christopher John, SSF Minister General
Brother Christopher John, SSF Minister General

Reflecting on the past year for the Brothers in Melanesia

Although I haven’t been able to visit the Solomons since my return to Stroud NSW in March 2020, I’ve been in regular touch by Messenger, WhatsApp, phone and email. We currently have about 16 postulants, 21 novices, 27 first professed and 13 life professed brothers. Those in initial formation are at Hautambu in West Guadalcanal, Year 3 novices are posted to the other friaries for practical experience. We have nine friaries currently occupied with brothers. Although most friaries are thinly staffed, the brothers are always hoping to expand. Vanuatu is still on the cards.

The public events for the SSF 50th anniversary celebrations were postponed from September this year to September next in the hope that some SSF / CSF from overseas can be in the Solomons then. We’ll see! Although the celebrations have been postponed the brothers have been busy with some practical projects including building a retreat house at Hautambu.

Over the last few months a small group of 2-3 brothers, as well as a young lawyer boarding at Patteson House, have met regularly (electronically) with the Asia/Pacific representative for Franciscans International and myself. Our task has been research into the legislation concerning logging in the Solomons and the effects logging has on village life—not just environmental, but also social and religious. Brother Lent and Geoffrey (the lawyer) produced reports which went to Franciscans International. FI have now taken this information and converted it into the format and style for the United Nations. It will form a submission to the UN Human Rights Commission when Solomons is reviewed in next year’s periodic review of human rights.

Society of St Francis Brothers
Society of St Francis Brothers greeting newly admitted postulants
September 2020, La Verna Friary, Hautambu

The submission to the UN, to which the Solomons is required to respond, puts the matter into the public arena. The next stage will be to work with a variety of other organisations such as environmental and human rights NGOs and also faith-based organisations, each able to put pressure at different levels: internationally, nationally in the SI and provincially. And also there will be village level programmes for education about logging and its effects. I can see that the religious communities (and their associates, tertiaries, companions, etc) , along with groups such as Mothers’ Union and clergy can have a very useful role here since they can operate very effectively at village level and are well trusted. This relies on good communications and I’ve been working with ACoM and SSF at Patteson House to try to get SSF’s internet access improved to the point where we can have video conferencing. This is a work in progress.

  • Solomon Islands, Logging
  • Solomon Islands, Logging
  • Solomon Islands, Logging

I’m frustrated with this virus and not being able to travel and help things at a local level in the Solomons. The planned conference for formators (novice guardians, etc) in the four religious orders in ACoM, and also Visitation Sisters in PNG, is on hold. I’d made the suggestion in my visit in March of Patteson Theological College hosting a conference commemorating Bishop Patteson and looking at issues of mission, etc. today. I don’t know where this has got to, but the virus has disrupted many plans I suspect. And this virus stalks around—still hopefully only among those in isolation. I’m thankful that a number of church leaders have been promoting good practice about physical distancing. I know we’re all concerned about the potential for a major spread and the result of that.

On behalf of SSF in Solomons I wish you well. May MMUK and its supporters continue to flourish and lead to ever deepening partnership and sharing between our parts of the Anglican Communion.

Br Christopher John, SSF Minister General