Catholic Church

Pope Francis picks Boholano to lead Catholics in Pacific island of Tuvalu

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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Pope Francis picks Boholano to lead Catholics in Pacific island of Tuvalu

MISSIONARY. Father Eliseo Napiere of Maribojoc, Bohol, is the new de facto head of the Catholic Church in Tuvalu.

Screenshot from St James the Less Roman Catholic Church Perris/YouTube

Father Eliseo Napiere of Maribojoc, Bohol, is the new de facto head of the Catholic Church in Tuvalu, a nod to Filipino missionaries around the world

MANILA, Philippines – Pope Francis appointed a missionary priest from Bohol, Father Eliseo Napiere, to head the Catholic Church in the small Pacific island of Tuvalu.

Napiere, who is turning 59 on June 14, is the new ecclesiastical superior of the Missio sui Iuris of Funafati, Tuvalu, according to a Vatican announcement at 6 pm (Manila time) on Monday, June 3.

A Missio sui Iuris is an independent mission established by the Catholic Church in areas where a full-fledged diocese or other forms of Catholic jurisdiction cannot yet be built. The ecclesiastical superior, who heads the Missio sui Iuris, serves as the de facto head of the Catholic Church in the independent mission.

Before the Pope named him to Tuvalu, Napiere was parish priest and presbyteral council member of Saint James the Less Parish in Perris, under the Diocese of San Bernardino in the United States.

Napiere was born in Maribojoc, Bohol, on June 14, 1965, and was ordained to the priesthood on January 19, 1991. He first served as a parochial vicar in Cebu City and as an official at the Fil-Mission Seminary in Tagaytay City. He was a missionary to Taiwan for 14 years, from 2002 to 2016, before he was assigned to the United States. 

Napiere’s new mission, Tuvalu, is a country of around 11,000 people where most people are subsistence farmers. Like Filipinos, they depend on remittances by family members who work in other countries. 

Catholics form a very small minority in Tuvalu – roughly 110, or 1% of the population. Most Tuvaluans, or around 86%, belong to the local congregational Christian church called Ekalesia Kelisiano Tuvalu.

The significance of Napiere’s appointment, however, lies not in the number of Catholics in Tuvalu, but on the impact – and influence – of Filipino missionaries, 500 years after Spanish colonizers brought the faith to Philippine shores.

Napiere belongs to the Mission Society of the Philippines, the official missionary arm of the Catholic Church in the Southeast Asian country. Formed in 1965, the MSP sends missionaries to countries like Thailand, South Korea, Papua New Guinea, and Guyana. 

Catholic missions are overseen by another Filipino at the Vatican: Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, former archbishop of Manila and former bishop of Imus in Cavite who is pro-prefect at the powerful Dicastery for Evangelization.

Francis, the first Latin American pope, has repeatedly shown admiration for Filipinos who spread the Catholic faith around the globe. In December 2019, when the traditional Filipino Simbang Gabi was celebrated at Saint Peter‘s Basilica for the first time, the Pope told Filipinos, “Continue to be smugglers of the faith.” –

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email