The pilot bishop of the South Pacific

Gizo, Solomon Islands, Jan 7, 2019 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- Known as the “flying bishop” of Solomon Islands, Bishop Luciano Capelli visits Catholics across dozens of islands by piloting a small airplane he also uses to deliver food and medicine.

Capelli, an Italian, was a Salesian missionary in the Philippines for 35 years before coming to the Diocese of Gizo in October 2007. He arrived six months after an earthquake destroyed homes, schools, and churches across the Solomon Islands, a nation of nearly 1,000 islands in Oceania.

“My first task was to encourage the people to rebuild the cathedral, the seven parishes and the 12 schools,” he explained in an interview with the Missioni Don Bosco portal.

The Diocese of Gizo is comprised of some 40 islands with a total population of 136,347  inhabitants, 11 percent of which are Catholics, i.e. about 15,000.

With financial support from the Italian Bishops’ Conference, Capelli was able to take flying lessons and the diocese received an ultralight small airplane.

In the plane, which he himself has piloted since 2011, he visits hospitals, schools and communities, bringing medicine and basic necessities.

Capelli said that isolation is a major challenge for people in his diocese, adding that this is resolved “with a presence.”

“Presence is possible only if there is a means to take you.” Thanks to the airplane, he can visit each mission location between three to five times a year, whereas without it he would have to use a dangerous and more costly boat, he told Askanews.

Capelli has been particularly busy since October 2018, when he decided to send one of his dioceses’ two priests to Italy for advanced studies.

Speaking to Missio Italia, the prelate said that “it’s a sacrifice, and to no little account, depriving us of 50 percent of the clergy! But I trust that the Lord will make new vocations flourish and there will be new ones to come for a an effective and courageous evangelization.”

“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!”

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

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