OCEANIA/SOLOMON ISLANDS - Catholics mourn Marist missionary Bishop Gerard Francis Loft who died a month ago in his native New Zealand

Monday, 12 March 2007

Honiara (Fides Service) - “Jesus said to Simon Peter: do not be afraid from now on you will be fishers of men” (Lk 5, 11). This promise made by Jesus after the “miraculous catch of fish”, was fulfilled in the life Bishop Gerard Francis Loft (1933-2007), a missionary member of the Society of Mary from New Zealand who served on mission in the Solomon islands for 45 years, first as a priest and then as first Bishop of Auki for twenty years. Bishop Loft died on 4 February and will be remembered by the people of Solomons for his zeal, spirituality, humility, sense of humour and fervent charity.
He made his profession as Marist in 1954, he was ordained a priest in 1958, and arrived in the Solomon Islands in 1959. After years of pastoral activity he was elected first Bishop of Auki and Malaita in1984. On reaching the age of retirement in 2004 he was warmly welcomed home to his native New Zealand where he continued to minister.
Bishop Loft spent much of his time in a boat sailing from island to island. He was renowned for getting sick people to hospital, pregnant mothers to the clinic, at his own expense, and often in terrible weather - bringing the terminally ill home to their village to die, bringing the dead home to be buried. He identified with people. He told the story of sitting all night with a grieving widow beside the grave of her husband so her husband’s enemies would not come and dig him up. He challenged the cultural taboos against women and childbirth; he supported many a programme for the development of women, and helped to establish Marriage Encounter on Malaita.
According to Catholic Communications Service, Honiara, something in Bishop Loft started to die during the civil unrest and violence between radical extremists from Malaita and Guadalcanal in the late 1990’s.
The Catholic community in Solomons will always remember himfor his “down to earth spirituality and commitment. Bishop Gerard was a man of prayer and fidelity. He did what had to be done and he did it for God and his people. He was by turn a teacher, linguist, builder, farmer, mechanic, and above all, a fisherman of people”. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 12/3/2007 righe 27 parole 279)