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48 views • June 25, 2021

David Lomas_Investigates_"Filipo"_The Runaway Priest!

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VIBRANT HUB
David Lomas searches for a runaway priest in Rome This is a modal window. Close Modal Dialog THREE David Lomas explores local mysteries in his new series. We all need some entertainment in our lives. Support our coverage of popular culture by making a contribution. David Lomas’ latest investigation unfolds like a movie mystery. It is a story that has it all – familial duty, a forbidden love, a family desperate to reconnect with their son and brother, and a runaway priest. Even the Mafia has a look in. “It’s an amazing story,” says Lomas, who features it this week in David Lomas Investigates. Malia Sakalia and her family have never stopped searching and praying for her brother, Filipo Filipo. Filipo left his home on Tokelau’s largest atoll, Nukunonu, almost 30 years ago to train at a seminary in Rome. “This was an extremely devout Catholic family and like many Island families they like to have one of their family become a member of a religious order,” says Lomas. “And in this case there was pressure on one of the sons to become a priest or one of the daughters to become a nun. David Lomas helps the Filipo family search for their son and brother in Rome. “Filipo volunteered to go and actually one of his brothers was going to go with him. “The brother got as far as Apia on the boat trip – a full-day boat trip from Tokelau to Apia – and the brother backed out and Filipo went on his own, a lonely journey. “But I don’t know whether he wanted to be a priest in his heart, but he almost felt a duty to become one.” It certainly wasn’t easy for Filipo, who was just 19. He was far from home and he didn’t speak Italian. He was accompanied by another teenager from Tokelau, but the two boys struggled with the language barrier and the culture shock of moving from a tiny island in the Pacific, population 800, to the bustling capital of Italy, home to more than two million people. “When they got to Rome it was a very lonely life as the story tells. You’re a couple of boys from one of the most remote places on Earth, then all of a sudden you’re thrust into Rome, with a language you don’t understand. And it sounds like quite a brutal place too, the seminary,” says Lomas. “They were forced to do a lot of manual labour. They were certainly seen as people who had to work as well as study to be priests.” Lomas says Filipo’s family would have been unaware of the challenges he faced as there was extremely limited telephone access on Tokelau. “The only thing they had was to write and then even mail took a long time to get there. So I don’t think the family would have ever known how unhappy and hard it was for them. They would have been staunch young men.” Malia Sakalia has been trying to find her brother for almost 30 years. But Filipo did write to his family in 1993 to let them know he had left the church and had met a woman with whom he had a child. But following a tragic event, he ceased contact and the efforts to find him by the Filipo family, who have since moved to Rotorua, have been thwarted ever since. Lomas came up against the same barriers as he tried to trace the former deacon through the seminary in Rome. “It was just quite mind boggling,” he says. “We sent them emails. They never responded.” But thanks to a stroke of good fortune and his  journalism contacts, Lomas met a Samoan-Italian family with strong ties to the Pacific Island community in Rome. They had some information which led Lomas to a suburb on the coast, which is said to be the home of several of Italy’s Mafia bosses.  “When we were searching in Ostia there was certainly a very strong feeling that anyone doing something out of the normal was noticed and people were very shy talking to us,” he says. Filipo’s sister Malia joined Lomas in Rome in the search for her brother. Their mother has since died but Malia wanted to find answers for herself and her siblings, and especially for her elderly father.  Whether her prayers are answered will be revealed once the episode airs but what we can tell you is that like so many of Lomas’ investigatio
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