SOLOMON ISLANDS: Bishop Luciano Capelli flies across dozens of islands bringing food and medicine to those in need
(MissionNewswire) Italian Bishop Luciano Capelli visits Catholics across dozens of islands in the small airplane he pilots to deliver food and medicine, according to a Crux article. Locally, he is known as the “flying bishop” of the Solomon Islands, a nation of nearly 1,000 islands in Oceania.
According to the article, Bishop Capelli was a Salesian missionary in the Philippines for 35 years before coming to the Diocese of Gizo in the Solomon Islands in October 2007. The Diocese of Gizo is comprised of 40 islands with a total population of 136,347 inhabitants, 11 percent of whom are Catholics.
Bishop Capelli arrived in the Solomon Islands six months after an earthquake destroyed homes, schools and churches there. In an interview with the Missioni Don Bosco portal, Bishop Capelli said, “My first task was to encourage the people to rebuild the cathedral, the seven parishes and the 12 schools.”
With financial support from the Italian Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Capelli was able to take flying lessons and the diocese received an ultralight small airplane. Using the plane, which Bishop Capelli has piloted himself since 2011, he visits hospitals, schools and communities, bringing medicine and basic necessities, according to Crux.
Bishop Capelli indicated that isolation is a major challenge for people in his diocese, adding that this is resolved only with presence. He said, “Presence is possible only if there is a means to take you.” Thanks to the airplane, Bishop Capelli can visit each mission location three to five times a year. Without the option of a plane, he would have to travel by boat which is more costly and dangerous, he told Askanews, according to the Crux article.
Bishop Capelli has been particularly busy since October 2018 when he decided to send one of the two priests in his diocese to Italy for advanced studies. He noted to Crux, “We have been working a lot these years with young people and the new generations to train catechists and leaders in the communities. I’m not afraid!”
Salesian missionaries offer social development and educational programs in the Solomon Islands, giving youth a chance to gain an education and prepare for the workforce. This is particularly important as nearly 12.7 percent of the population of the Solomon Islands lives below the poverty line. Roughly 20 to 25 percent of youth in the country never attend primary school with 30 percent of those attending, never completing. Limited access to education and an adult literacy rate of less than 35 percent perpetuate the cycle of poverty from generation to generation.
Eighty-four percent of Solomon Islanders reside in rural areas and rely on subsistence farming for their livelihoods. Access to health and other social services is very limited and the poor to non-existent access to reliable transport, electricity and telecommunications infrastructure compounds already challenging economic conditions. With the majority of youth living in remote areas with limited educational and employment prospects, overcoming poverty is an uphill battle.
UNICEF – Solomon Islands