This article is tenth in a series of articles about the religious life and customs of Pacific Islander/Southeast Asian Catholics in the United States, and how the Church might better serve their pastoral needs. The article was submitted by Rev. Tovia Lui, of the Samoan Apostolate in Long Beach, California.
Who are we? We are Samoans who come from a group of islands in the south central Pacific Ocean known as Samoa. It is one of many nations in the South Pacific that belong to one of the three main races--the Polynesian race. Where did we come from? As Polynesians, we are said to have come from Indonesia in the Malay group. But as Samoans, we are said to have originated from an intermix with the second group of Polynesians (Tongans and Fijians) who came later from Indonesia.
Actually, there are two Samoas in the Pacific: Western Samoa and Eastern Samoa. Western Samoa, a group of nine islands and a former colony of the British Empire, was granted self government in 1962. Since then, it has become the first independent state in the South Pacific. Eastern Samoa, or American Samoa, a group of seven islands, became a territory of the United States during World War I; its status is still the same today. There are 37,237 Catholics in Western Samoa today, and 8,000 Catholics in Eastern Samoa. The rest of the population in the two nations is Protestant; there are no non-Christians in either Samoa. The two nations, in spite of their political differences, are one people with one culture and one language. Samoans speak either Samoan or English.
The immigration story of the Samoans to the United States can be traced back to post World War I through World War II. The United States recruited many Eastern Samoans into the U.S. military services, who later immigrated to America. Western Samoans immigrated to the United States seeking good jobs and better education for their children. Presently, Samoan communities may be found mostly in California in the Archdioceses of San Francisco and Los Angeles, and the Dioceses of San Diego and Orange (County).
The Samoans are used to living in organized communities (villages) in the islands. Seven to nine or more villages would form one parish where everyone knows every one else. In these organized communities, small groups are formed, such as choir groups, youth groups, etc. This sense of community among the Samoans acts as the backbone of the groups. Ordinarily, the Samoans reside in their own parishes where they are active members. Here, they draw together to establish choirs that sing at parish Masses, and youth groups that participate in parish functions. Since a chaplaincy to Samoans in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles was established, four different parishes have united to form a larger community with its own council to guide and control its Samoan affairs.
Every fourth Sunday of the month, the four parish communities and other Samoans residing in other parts of Los Angeles, come together to celebrate the Eucharist in the Samoan language. On special days like Christmas, Easter, and patron feastdays, Mass is celebrated in Samoan, and items of Samoan culture are brought to the celebration. For instance, during the Penitential rite, a Samoan cultural form of pleading for forgiveness is used. During the Liturgy of the Word, all those in the procession wear native costume, and a lei is draped around the Bible when it is placed on the pulpit. The presentation of the Gifts at the offertory is ritualized in the same way.
Three of the four Samoan parish communities have dedicated themselves to various feasts. The Samoan community of St. Catherine Laboure chose the feast of the Immaculate Conception as its parish feast. The Samoan choir of St. Philomena Parish decided on Sts. Peter and Paul as its patron feast. The Samoan community of Holy Innocents Parish dedicates itself to the feast of Pentecost.
Samoans are noted for their devotion to Mary through the recitation of the Rosary, and to the Blessed Sacrament; these devotions take place in their parishes. Distinctive Samoan cultural forms of worship and praise are mediated through Samoan translations of the Sunday missal, the Lectionary, prayer books, and catechisms.
Samoan pastoral resources are available in this country from Rev. Tovia Liu at the Samoan Chaplaincy, Catholic Community of Southern California in Holy Innocents Parish, 425 E. 29th Street, Long Beach, California 90806.