POPE JOHN PAUL II has sent cordial good wishes to the Catholic community in the South Pacific on the occasion of the I50th anniversary of the arrival of the first Christian missionaries in the area.
At the morning Angelus ceremony at Castel Gondolfo, the Pontiff's summer home, Pope John Paul recalled the "small and distant" community in Polynesia and the "joyful celebrations" of August tO.
The first missionaries of the Congregation on the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary arrived off the Gambier Islands on August 10, 1834, and immediately went ashore where they celebrated the first Mass in the region of Mangarova. They then went on to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ throughout the 100 or so inhabited islands of the region.
As the Pope's special delegate at the celebrations, Cardinal Bernardin Gantin, the Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for Bishops, took part in the colourful celebrations on Tahiti.
Cardinal Gantin was chosen to attend the celebrations, the Pope said, because of his special knowledge of evangelisation in developing countries. He is a native of Benin (formerly Dahomey) in West Africa.
The Pope told his audience at the morning Angelus that "today the universal Church unites with the Church in the Pacific Islands . . . Let us pray that, through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, the Church in that part of the world will continue to grow as she proclaims the saving message of Our Lord Jesus Christ".
The Pope had earlier sent a special message to Archbishop Michel Coppenrath of Papeete on Tahiti conveying his good wishes on the special anniversary.