Jerry Robert, a member of St. Joseph Parish in Salem, poses this summer with Fr. Romple Emwalu, a Chuukese priest from the Diocese of Honolulu. Fr. Emwalu celebrated Mass for the Chuukese Catholic community at St. Anthony Parish. (Courtesy Judy Dungawin)
Jerry Robert, a member of St. Joseph Parish in Salem, poses this summer with Fr. Romple Emwalu, a Chuukese priest from the Diocese of Honolulu. Fr. Emwalu celebrated Mass for the Chuukese Catholic community at St. Anthony Parish. (Courtesy Judy Dungawin)
A priest from the Diocese of Honolulu celebrated Mass for a group of Chuukese Catholics at St. Anthony Parish in Southeast Portland earlier this summer.

For the past three years members of the immigrant community have hoped for a regular Mass in their language, but several hurdles, including the pandemic, stalled that dream.

“Many of our faithful here in the Pacific Northwest don’t speak or understand English well and prefer to have Mass in Chuukese so we can better meditate on the prayers,” said Adarino Petrus, a Salem Catholic who immigrated to the United States four years ago from Chuuk, clusters of islands in the western part of the Pacific Ocean. The state is one of four in the Federated States of Micronesia.

Father Romple Emwalu — a Chuuk native who lives on Oahu and received some formation at Mount Angel Seminary — celebrated the July 2 Mass. A contingent of Chuukese Catholics came from Salem, with others traveling from Seattle, Las Vegas and Utah.

In the past decade there have been only a handful of such Masses in the Portland Archdiocese. A bishop from Micronesia visited Portland in 2018 and celebrated a liturgy for more than 800 people. Families packed into St. Anthony for the occasion. During his visit, Bishop Julio Angkel met Archbishop Alexander Sample, who gave permission for St. Anthony to host a monthly Mass in Chuukese.

But it’s been difficult to bring Chuukese priests to the region, and the pandemic further delayed attempts. The most recent goal is to have Father Pat Donoghue, pastor of St. Anthony, celebrate a special monthly or quarterly Mass in English with prayers and music in Chuukese. When possible, a Chuukese priest will preside.

“I really love to attend Mass in my own language,” said Judy Dungawin, a longtime member of St. Anthony who now lives in Vancouver. “I hope we can have these Masses more often.”