New Filipino bishop of the Pacific’s Cook Islands hopes to ‘spiritually nourish’ his people

Bishop Reynaldo Getalado during his ordination to the episcopate at St. Joseph’s Cathedral in the Cook Islands’ capital city, Avarua, on April 27, 2024. (Photo from Diocese of Rarotonga/Facebook)

One month after his ordination as coadjutor bishop of the Diocese of Rarotonga in the Cook Islands, Bishop Reynaldo Bunyi Getalado expressed his aspiration to “spiritually nourish” the people of God in the Pacific Ocean nation and develop a “harmonious relationship” with the priests of the diocese.

Getalado was ordained bishop at St. Joseph’s Cathedral in the Cook Islands’ capital city, Avarua, on April 27 in the presence of Father Giosuè Busti, the first deputy-head of mission at the apostolic nunciature of the Holy See in Wellington and representative of Pope Francis, as well as hundreds of Catholic faithful.

Together with the passionate singing of hymns in Cook Islands’ Māori, English, Fijian (iTaukei), and Filipino at Getalado’s ordination Mass, several men, women, and clergy also wore traditional neck garlands, called Ei Kaki, as a symbol of welcoming, love, and belonging in a community.

“Catholic communities in general are friendly, generous, and active in participating in the life of the parish,” Getalado told CNA. “My hope is to look after the sheep of God in Cook Islands, spiritually nourish them, organize the diocese, and develop a good harmonious relationship with my priests in the diocese.”

Also present at his ordination was Father Reginaldo Lavilla, who is the head of the Mission Society of the Philippines (MSP), to which Getalado belongs.

”I have the impression that people from the Pacific are uniquely vibrant. I have seen in my visit for the ordination of Bishop Rey that they have a strong community spirit, working together to make the celebrations fully alive and festive,” Lavilla shared with CNA. “Now with Bishop Rey taking over, we hope to continue the work of evangelization that began in 1894.”

In a predominantly Protestant country, 17% of the population (approximately 2,900 people) is Catholic. The Catholic Church is also one of seven Christian churches that are part of an advisory body that mediates with government and traditional leaders on issues affecting the social, economic, and cultural development of the country.

“We have an association of seven different churches called the Religious Advisory Council where we try to maintain harmony and advise the government,” Getalado explained on the relationship between the church and civic leaders in promoting the well-being and development of local communities.

In the history of Catholicism in the Cook Islands, Getalado is the first bishop in the country of Asian origin. His predecessors were from France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and New Zealand.

As part of the Mission Society of the Philippines, and prior to his current appointment as bishop in the Cook Islands, Getalado served as a missionary responding to the needs of local churches in Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, the Philippines, and Tuvalu since joining the society in 1987.

“The MSP priests and our own bishop [Getalado] will hopefully be instruments of renewal in the Church and carry the light of Jesus Christ to continue to give hope to the people by their witness of life and their words of preaching,” said Lavilla, expressing his joy and gratitude for the evangelizing charism he sees spread throughout the world because of his apostolic society.

The Cook Islands are comprised of 15 small islands that share the same time zone as Hawaii. The islands are known for their white sandy beaches, lush green mountains, and picturesque lagoons. According to one of its tourism websites, there are no branded resorts on the Cook Islands, no stop lights, and no buildings taller than a coconut tree.