Pope Francis appoints California priest to remote island post in Polynesia

Pope Francis appoints California priest to remote island post in Polynesia

An aerial view of Tuvalu, an island nation in Polynesia, South Pacific Ocean, Oceania. / Credit: maloff/Shutterstock

Rome Newsroom, Jun 3, 2024 / 12:33 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis on Monday appointed a California priest to a missionary post on a remote island in Polynesia.

Father Eliseo Napiere, the pastor of St. James the Less Parish in the Diocese of San Bernardino, California, will be taking up a new post as the head of the Mission Sui Iuris of Funafuti on the island nation of Tuvalu.

Tuvalu is a small country made up of nine islands in the Pacific Ocean located about midway between Hawaii and Australia. It is the second least-populous country in the world after Vatican City, but unlike Vatican City, it has only about 100 Catholics and one parish, according to the Association of Religion Data Archives.

Once he relocates to Tuvalu, Napiere should not expect many visitors. Last year, the United Nations World Tourism Organization named Tuvalu as the least-visited country in the world, despite its vibrant coral reefs and white sand beaches.

The islands are considered mission territory and the local Church is therefore under the aegis of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Evangelization and overseen by the Mission Sui Iuris of Funafuti, which was established in 1982.

A “mission ‘sui iuris’” is an independent mission established by the Church in an area where there are very few Catholics often undergoing persecution or living in a very remote area. The mission, which ranks below an apostolic prefecture or apostolic vicariate, is headed by an ecclesiastical superior.

There are only a handful of remaining such missions in the world, primarily in island nations, such as the Cayman Islands and Turks and Caicos, as well as the Asian countries of Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.

With the pope’s appointment, Napiere will take on the role of ecclesiastical superior based in Tuvalu’s capital city of Funafuti.

Napiere is a 58-year-old priest who is part of the Missionary Society of the Philippines (MSP). He was born in the Philippines and has been based in California since 2016. 

Prior to coming to the U.S., Napiere spent 14 years as a missionary priest in Taiwan, where he held a leadership position in the Chinese Regional Bishops’ Conference of Taiwan.

He succeeds Bishop Reynaldo Bunyi Getalado, who is also a MSP priest and was appointed as the coadjutor bishop of Rarotonga by the pope in December 2023. The Diocese of Rarotonga covers the entire archipelago of the Cook Islands in the Pacific Ocean with 15 parishes.