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Bishop Silva faces logistical and demographic challenges in Hawaii

An interview with Bishop Larry Silva, who has been bishop of Honolulu, which encompasses all of the Hawaiian Islands, since 2005.

Bishop Larry Silva (Diocese of Honolulu); Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace (Wikipedia); Our Lady of Peace, the diocesan patroness (Wikipedia)

Bishop Larry Silva has been Bishop of Honolulu, which encompasses all of the Hawaiian Islands, since 2005.  He was born in Honolulu, grew up in California, and was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Oakland in 1975.  He served in Oakland area parishes for the next 30 years, mostly in the inner city.  He also served as vocations director, vicar general, and moderator of the curia before coming to Honolulu.

Bishop Silva has had a long family history in Hawaii. All eight of his great grandparents were born on the island of Sao Miguel in the Portuguese Azores, and came to Hawaii as young adults in the 1870s to work in the sugar cane industry.  While a Californian, he noted, he was a regular visitor to Hawaii, and hence when he returned in 2005, “It was easy to reconnect to the culture of Hawaii, since Hawaii was always a part of our family culture.”

The Diocese of Honolulu today serves nearly 300,000 Catholics in 66 parishes and 23 mission churches on six islands.  Bishop Silva is the first native-born Hawaiian to be diocesan bishop; the majority of the priests serving the diocese were born outside the diocese.

CWR: You live in a unique U.S. diocese, in that it is located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and spread over multiple islands.  What are some of the challenges this poses to you as bishop?

Bishop Silva: The challenges include scheduling and transportation.  Since the cost and time involved in traveling from one island to another is significant, we try, as much as possible, to schedule several events on the same island together.  Although the longest inter-island flight would be 45 minutes, the “airport time” must also be factored in, plus the time it takes to travel from where I am on the originating island to where I need to be on the destination.  Of course, when there are national or provincial bishops’ meetings, long hours of travel are always involved, since it takes at least 5 hours to fly from Honolulu to the West Coast.

CWR: How have you had to adapt to meet the challenges of ministering to your diocese?

Bishop Silva: I have had to spend many nights away from home because I need to be on a Neighbor Island for several days.  On the other hand, I am happy to go to the Neighbor Islands because it allows me to see and connect with portions of the flock that are not within driving distance.  I think people appreciate this.

CWR: What means of travel do you use?

Bishop Silva: Inter-island travel is almost always by commercial flight.  We are fortunate that there are frequent flights between the islands.  However, if I need to go from one Neighbor Island (that is, an island other than Oahu, where Honolulu is located) to another Neighbor Island, most often I need to fly through the hub of Honolulu, which means more flight time and more airport time.  Between Maui and Lanai there is a ferry service, which is especially fascinating during the seasons the humpback whales are in Hawaii.

CWR: What memorable experiences have you had in your travels?

Bishop Silva: I often take pilgrimage groups to a tiny peninsula on the island of Molokai known as Kalaupapa.  This is where St. Damien and St. Marianne Cope ministered to people with leprosy (Hansen’s disease).  It can only be accessed by a small (9-passenger) airplane, by foot via a switch-back trail on a 2,000 foot cliff, or by mule on the same trail.  A couple of times I intended to go there on a day trip, but the weather turned bad during the day so the small planes were not allowed to fly in.  Without being prepared to spend the night, I had to do so, along with members of our group.  The people there are always accommodating and help us make due.

CWR: Are there any times of the year when traveling is difficult?

Bishop Silva: Ground travel can be challenging in certain places during the rainy season (January/February), especially where there are narrow, windy roads and frequent landslides.  The most daunting travel challenge is in Honolulu, where the traffic can be horrendous at certain times of day.  To check in for Neighbor Island flights I usually arrive at the airport an hour before the flight time.  However, if the flight leaves Honolulu in the early afternoon, I always check in two hours ahead of time, because Hawaiian Airlines sends out about a dozen flights to Mainland cities within the first two hours of the afternoon, thus making the security line extremely long.

CWR: How is your diocese doing for vocations to the priesthood and religious life?  And, what do you do to promote vocations?

Bishop Silva: We are blessed to have 10 seminarians this year, two of whom are in college.  We try to create a culture of vocations by talking about the need for vocations to the consecrated life and priesthood wherever we can.  I have told the director of vocations that his primary responsibility is to motivate and resource the priests and religious so that they can be the “on the ground” vocation promoters.

CWR: Are there any particular difficulties your diocese and its people face?

Bishop Silva: Of course, like most dioceses, we are faced with the horror of the sexual abuse of minors by clergy, religious and other Church workers.  Although almost all of the cases reported are from 30 or more years ago, we are doing what we can to offer healing to the victim survivors and to do all that is humanly possible to assure that this never happens again.

We also face the problem of declining numbers of those who attend Mass.  I have often told our clergy and parishioners that we have wonderful programs in our parishes – for those who go to our parishes; but we need to reach out to those who no longer attend or who never have heard of Jesus except as a history book character.  We are putting together a task force to come up with concrete ways we can train Catholics to be effective evangelizers.

CWR: And many who do attend Mass are tourists.

Bishop Silva: Yes, many tourists attend our Masses, and there are about a dozen parishes in tourist-dense areas that welcome many visitors each Sunday, including passengers from the inter-island cruise ship.

CWR: What other issues do you have in your diocese?

Bishop Silva: We also are facing the challenge of declining numbers in our Catholic schools and the rising cost of Catholic education.  One of our school administrators recently told me that 10 years ago there were 35,000 5-year-olds on the island of Oahu entering Kindergarten; today there are 5,000!  This obviously makes it more challenging to support our Catholic schools with a declining student population.

CWR: What major projects do you have going on in the diocese?

Bishop Silva: We are trying to raise about $20 million for the complete renovation of our 176-year-old Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace in downtown Honolulu.  It is quite historic, and is the site of the priestly ordination of St. Damien and of a visit from St. Marianne Cope when she and her Franciscan Sisters first arrived in Hawaii to minister to those affected by leprosy.  It is the home of the mortal remains of St. Marianne and of a relic of St. Damien.

In addition, we are trying to respond to the challenge of the tremendous population growth on the West side of the island of Oahu.  Forty years ago, it was covered with sugar plantations and small parish churches to serve the plantation villages.  Now it is covered with tens of thousands or homes in a suburban environment, with much larger congregations than our current infrastructures can accommodate.

CWR: What other thoughts would you like to share?

Bishop Silva: Eighty percent of the people in the State of Hawaii live on the island of Oahu, where Honolulu is located.  Yet the people on the Neighbor Islands (Hawaii, Maui, Molokai, Lanai, Kauai) also want to feel they are a part of the diocese.  Sometimes it is more practical to bring Neighbor Island people to Oahu for conferences and meetings, though there is always a significant expense in doing so.  Whenever we can, however, we take these programs to the Neighbor Islands themselves to assure the people there that we do consider them as much a part of our diocesan family as the people on Oahu.  We do utilize phone conferences and electronic meeting formats whenever we can to minimize travel.  Our Presbyteral Council is one example of the challenge.  We want the priests from the various islands to be represented, so it could cost us $1,200 in transportation costs per meeting, because the Neighbor Island priests must fly into Oahu.  We make every reasonable effort to assure that all the people of the diocese, no matter what their island, feel included in the life of the Diocese of Honolulu.

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About Jim Graves 217 Articles
Jim Graves is a Catholic writer living in Newport Beach, California.

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