Interview: Msgr. George Hamilton Pearce, Retired Archbishop of the Fiji Islands, on a Visit to Medjugorje
Date: July 27, 2005 , Originally published October 4, 2002
Category: Interviews , Medjugorje in the Catholic Church
Msgr. George Hamilton Pearce, retired archbishop of the Fiji Islands, came with a group of American pilgrims on a private visit to Medjugorje at the end of September / beginning of October 2002. He has already been in Medjugorje in the eighties and in the nineties: he believes in the apparitions and in the authenticity of Our Lady’s messages. Msgr. Pearce is a religious, member of the Congregation of Marist Fathers. Since retiring from active Episcopal service, he lives and serves in the Archdiocese of Providence, Rhode Island, USA, where - in the cathedral - he leads a Marian prayer group. Fr. Mario Knezovic spoke with him.
Fr. Mario Knezovic: Father Archbishop, would you be so kind as to present yourself and tell us something about yourself?
Msgr. George Hamilton Pearce: I am Archbishop George Hamilton Pearce, a Marist priest of the Society of Mary. I was born in Boston in 1921. My mother was an organist at the Marist church in Boston, so I spent my first nine months of life sliding back and forth on an organ bench in the church! There, I met many missionaries from the South Pacific, and there, I got my vocation.
I joined the Marist Society and entered the Minor seminary in 1934. I was ordained in 1947 and was asked to teach at least one year before going to the Pacific, and so I thought Latin, Greek, English and music in the Seminary. The year after I thought auto mechanics, electricity and mathematics… In 1949, I went to the South Pacific, in the Islands of Samoa. There was hardly any travel in the Pacific, because everything had been destroyed, so I landed in Samoa in a tail gunner seat of a bomber! There was a magnificent view, and they had removed the machinegun, so I was well!
My parents were always teachers, but I went out to the bush. After having learned a little bit of the language, my bishop called me back and put me in charge of the Central Mission School in Samoa.
In 1956, I was asked to be a bishop and after my ordination, I was in charge of these islands. There were three different groups of islands and I needed a passport to visit my own diocese! There was American Samoa, Western Samoa, which was German, and the islands, which were under New Zealand. These islands were Christian. The majority were Protestants, but we had about 20% of population that was Catholic. It takes, however, many years for pagan customs to be assimilated. The first missionaries came there in 1836. Among the first group of missionaries was St. Peter Channel, the protomarty of the Pacific. His motto was, “May the Saviour of mankind through you, O Mary, be universally known and adored”.
How do you experience your bishop’s service and what kind of a bishop does the Church need today?
I can tell you a little story. When I was ordained a bishop, I came back to Boston. The Archbishop of Boston told me: “George, there is only two things you need to know and to do to be a bishop: you need to have a fairly good knowledge of the Little Catechism, and the second is, you have to love people.” But after I was a bishop for a while, I found out that a bishop can get by with just that second one. This was a real lesson to me for the missionary work in the Pacific. If a missionary goes with the idea that he has to bring light to these ignorant people, he puts himself above them. What he really has to do is to love them.
Our Lady in Medjugorje invites us in a very special way to humility and littleness. How to you see these virtues? Is it important today in the life of the Church?
It is essential. Our Society, the Society of Mary, the Marist Fathers, was founded, to witness to the humility and the simplicity of the life of the Holy Family, of the life of Nazareth. One of the key-words in our Constitution is that we should do all we can to appear “hidden and unknown” in this world, to disappear so that Jesus and Mary can appear among the people.
Father Archbishop, when someone mentions the word “Medjugorje”, what do you think about and what do you say about this place?
I have no doubt about its authenticity. I have been here three times already and I say to any priest who asks about it: just go and sit in the confessional, and you will see miracle after miracle after miracle… through Mary’s intercession and the power of God. We were told: “By their fruits you will know them”. Certainly, the heart and soul of the Medjugorje message is the Eucharist and the sacrament of the reconciliation.
Father Archbishop, the Church still examines the events of Medjugorje. What is your personal position? Do you believe in the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary in this place and in the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary generally?
I have no doubts whatsoever. This is the work of God. As I said: you cannot but believe when you stand a little time in the confessional. Signs and wonders are merciful gifts of God too, but this is the greatest of all miracles for a priest to see the people around the altar of the Lord. I have been in several shrines, I have spent quite a bit of time in Guadalupe, I have been about eight times at Fatima, and also in Lourdes, it’s the same Mary, the same message, but here at Medjugorje this is the “now” word of Our Lady for the world. There is so much anguish and suffering. Our Lady has been with us all the way through, and in a special way in Medjugorje.
Do you know that, in the world, there are several thousands of prayer groups inspired by Our Lady’s messages from Medjugorje? There are more than a thousand groups in your country, the USA… How much is this a sign that the Church recognises God’s words in the words of Our Lady?
We had many humorous remarks from the Pope John Paul II. Somebody asked him why he had not been to Medjugorje yet, and he answered: “It has not been approved yet!” Mirjana told us this morning that he told her that, if he were not Pope, he had been to Medjugorje long ago! We have a little group in the Cathedral in Providence, where I am. They call it “Little St. James”. They meet every evening; they have exposition and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, benediction and Holy Mass.
We see that there is much tension in the world. America has felt the violence of the terrorism. How much America today can listen to the message of Peace and work on a just peace in the whole world?
I think that we have not got the message yet. There was a great turn to the Lord right after September 11th, but we need more then that, I think, before that country really turns to the Lord. So we just pray for that day, we hope we will turn to the Lord before we have to learn too many lessons, but this is also an act of the mercy of God. Everything is an act of the mercy of God. We know very well that God in his merciful love, in his permissive Providence, will take all the means possible that none of the least of his children will be totally lost. That’s all that really matters.
Father Archbishop, what would you say to those who want to come to Medjugorje? What would you say to those who doubt?
I would say: come in the spirit of an open mind, in prayer, entrust your journey to Our Lady. Just come and the Lord will do the rest.