HIS name was Francis Castro. A robust and sturdy man with strong hands. A boat builder of Cuban descent from the island of Panay in Antique Province of the Philippines.
During the 1880s, Francis Castro along with 13 highly trained Filipino catechists accompanied European priests headed by Fr Alain de Boismenu to Yule Island in Papua.
The other Filipinos were Marcello Fabila, Nicholas Albaniel, Juan Dela Cruz, Gregorio Toricheba, Telesforo Babao, Gregorio Ramos, Emmanuel Natera, Diego Rendall, Bernadino Taligatus, Juan Malabag, Cirilio Espinosa, Anastacio Buen Suseso and Basilio Artango.
Francis was sent to Samarai in Milne Bay Province and stationed on Sidea Island, where he educated the local people in Catholic teachings and also shared his boat making skills with them.
Life on the island was tough at first because some of the local inhabitants were hostile and unwelcoming to this light skinned person. Not only that but he had to battle malaria. And being away from home and family was lonely, but he made the best of it.
There was one night when some men who were against his teachings gathered around a boat he and some village men were building. Francis found out the next day that they had destroyed the boat.
It is said that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, well in this case hell had no fury like Francis Castro seeing one of his boats destroyed.
The local men were frightened when they saw the wild look in his eyes and the priests and other catechists tried to calm him down to no avail. He punched a metal sheet used to build the boat so hard that his fist imprinted it.
The fist imprint was later cut out and hung in the mission house by the locals as a sign of respect. From then on Francis Castro was treated well and his work as a catechist was made easier.
When his time on that beautiful island was up, he travelled back to Yule Island and from there to his home at Panay in the Philippines.
He felt great to be back among his family and his people, however his heart was in Sidea in Papua and his love of that little island and of a particular woman found him back there some time later.
Francis Castro married a local Normanby woman, Lillian Saula, and they settled on Basilaki Island where he farmed rice and citrus fruit. They had six children, three boys and three girls. Francis lived the rest of his life on Basilaki and it was there he was laid to rest.
I am of the fifth generation of Francis Castro’s family. Mmy father’s mother is the grand-daughter of Francis Castro and othe nly child of his third son Alexis Castro, who died during World War II when the Japanese bombed a merchant ship, MV Mamutu, which was transporting them to Cairns.
At the Holy Rosary Parish Church at Six Mile in Port Moresby there is a monument bearing an embedded marble plate with the inscription:
"In remembrance of the first group of Filipino lay missionaries in Papua New Guinea who arrived on Yule Island during the 1880s and others whose names are known only to God: Emmanuel Natera, Diego Rendall, Bernadino Taligatus, Basilio Artango, Telesforo Babao, Francis Castro, Juan Malabag, Gregorio Ramos, Cirilo Espinosa, Gregorio Toricheba, Nicolas Albaniel, Anastacio Buen Suseso, Marcello Fabila, Juan de la Cruz"
Photo of the monument courtesy of Alfredo P Hernandez