Saturday, January 04, 2014

Mina'sais na Lisayu: A Religious Legacy

Mina'sais na Lisayu

You could say that religion was a central part of grandma’s life and a key part of her family’s legacy to this island. Her families, both from her mother and her father, helped build the foundation for two different churches during the 20th century.

The seeds of Protestantism had already been planted in the island during the Spanish period. Whalers from the United States brought it in small doses towards the end of the Spanish period. In fact the first concerted effort to build a non-Catholic community came from two Chamorros who had left as whalers and returned as evangelists, the Custino Brothers.

On both her mother’s and her father’s side, grandma’s relatives were among the first Chamorros to convert to Protestantism.

Both grandma’s mother’s and father’s family were of the first generation of Chamorros to convert. In fact grandma’s grandfather, my great great grandfather Jose Aguon Flores (Tatan Engko) was the first Chamorro to be ordained a lay Protestant minister. Grandma’s mother’s younger brother Manuel Pangelinan De Leon (Rudy) was chosen by the new congregation to travel to the states and become an educated and fully ordained minister. He did not return and become a Seventh Day Adventist instead.

The life of the Protestants was difficult at times. One of grandma’s cousins was regularly victimized by his teachers in school, a Catholic, who was determined to beat the (Protestant) devil out of him. There were a few stores that wouldn’t anything to them. Sometimes grandma and her siblings had rocks thrown at them by children yelling that they were “devil worshippers.” One of the names they would call her, that always made her laugh was “gecko worshipper.” Sometimes the Protestant church would be vandalized, with windows broken or stuff stolen. It was interesting the way most adults would rarely get into the fray, but rather the children of Chamorro Catholics would be quietly encouraged to act.

Although the Chamorro community was divided, there were many ways that relatives saw past these divisions. My great great grandmother was Antonia Duenas Pangelinan De Leon. She died when my grandmother was just a baby, and grandma would say she had memories of her, but never felt that they could be real. When she passed away one of the Catholic priests at the time (who shall remain nameless) told those in church that they were not allowed to go to her funeral, and not allowed to even shed a tear for a devil worshipper such as her. That only hell awaited those who had compassion for they who had turned their backs to God.

Many were offended to hear the priest talking like this, but none more so than Antonia’s brother who was known as “Tatan Doi.” Doi became so enraged he told his wife that if he did not go and teach the priest the meaning of respect he would instead convert the entire family to Protestantism. His wife, a staunch Catholic weighed which option would be worse and get them a ticket to hell faster. She told her husband to go and express himself to the priest, but to please try not to hurt him. Doi told her that he couldn’t make any promises. The story of whatever Doi said to the priest is lost as far as I know. When I interviewed his grandchildren, they knew he went to tell the priest off, but also knew that he did not carry out his threat to convert his family.

During this period my great grandmother’s brother Manuel was sending materials about the SDA religion to his siblings in Guam. My great grandparents took these pamphlets and books very seriously and prior to World War II had already converted to the SDA religion in their hearts and minds, but not in practice since there was no church on the island. After World War II was over a church was formed on Guam, and my great grandfather Guillermo Sablan Flores was the first Chamorro to become an SDA pastor.  

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