Missionaries in Fiji
In Fiji there are 21 Columbans assigned to Mission – 10 Priests, 5 Lay Missionaries and 6 students in formation. These missionaries are from a variety of cultural backgrounds and are led by the Regional Director Fr. Donal McIlraith.
Fiji compromises of 322 islands and 522 smaller islets. Only 106 of Fiji’s islands are inhabited. The island of Viti Levu is home to Suava the capital city, where nearly 75% of the population resides. The Columban Fathers run three parishes in Ba, Labasa and Raiwaqa in Suava. In addition the Columbans are assigned by the archbishop to serve with Fijian priests as and when it is required of them. This arrangement acknowledges and nurtures the leadership abilities of their fellow diocesan priests.
The Columbans are actively involved in many education and housing projects within the diocese:
- Fr Jim Gavigan established a Catechists school on the outskirts of Suva. The centre was built to train Lay people to be ‘fathers and mothers’ of faith when returning to their villages. The Columbans have a long association with Corpus Christi College, where students study to become Catholic teachers, and are often invited to share in their graduation ceremonies and celebrations.
- The late Fr Dermot Hurley SSC founded the housing project HART (Housing Assistance Relief Trust), with the aim of housing the poorest people in society. The initial set up of this project was extremely successful and is now run by local nuns from the Fiji Council of Churches and continues to flourish.
- Columbans organise courses and seminars aimed at promoting racial and religious harmony and breaking down the racial prejudice between native Fijians and Indians that surfaced after the military coups of 1987 and 2000.
- The Columbans promote the importance of intercultural dialogue producing low-cost religious books and pamphlets and translating liturgical books into Fijian and publishing an archdiocesan newspaper. Fr Dermot Hurley started the Catholic Newspaper ‘Contact’ in the 1970’s with Fr John McEvoy assisting with photography. It is now called ‘The Fiji Catholic Times’ and the Fijian version is called ‘Domo Ni Ekelesia’ meaning Voice of the Church.
Columban History in Fiji
The Marist Fathers had been working in the Fiji Islands in the South Pacific Ocean for more than a century when 13 Columban priests joined them on 22nd February 1952. At the invitation of Bishop Victor Foley, S.M. they came to provide for the needs of the Church in Fiji and to reach out to the non-Christian Indian population.
Two parishes where English was generally spoken were immediately staffed by Columban priests. Other Columbans were assigned to a Marist school to gain some experience in Fijian education and learnt the languages of Fijian and Hindi. Several Columbans spent time in India to gain expertise in the language and an understanding of Indian culture. Within a year Xavier College was opened, a secondary school in the predominantly Indian western province. The first year alone saw Columbans assigned to five parishes with much potential for future growth.
Columbans devoted their energies to the training of Fijian catechists and teachers for schools in villages spread all over the islands. Columbans ran the Catechetical Centre and the Teacher Training College until the local Catholic Church developed the expertise and personnel to oversee the running of these establishments themselves.
As the numbers of diocesan priests increased, Columbans were able to hand over the many parishes that they had developed in the towns and remote villages on the main islands of Viti Levu, Vanua Levu and in the Yasawa Group.
The Columbans offer Parish Ministry Formation Programmes for priesthood and for Lay Mission. The Lay Mission programme was established in 1993 and since then Fiji/Tonga has sent Lay Missionaries to a variety of locations in groups usually of four or more people. The Lay Missionaries were initially sent to Ireland in 1993, and since then three groups have been sent to Chile, four groups have been sent to the Philippines, one group to Peru and this year the group was split between Korea and Pakistan (two boys were sent to Pakistan and two girls to Korea).
The current Lay Missionaries for 2015 from Fiji/Tonga are now working in a variety of regions: two are working near the USA/Mexico border, one is working in Hong Kong assisting the Central Leadership Team, two are based in Korea and one is working in the Philippines.
The Lay Missionaries work with the local people to promote and build a more just society which values human dignity and all forms of creation and life. Vitalina Lubi is the Lay Mission Coordinator based in Nasese and is fortunate to be joined by many new candidates this year. They will shortly begin a journey of preparation and discernment, promoting the work of the Columbans centred around justice, peace and integrity of creation and vocations awareness. Being a Lay Missionary involves building relationships- with one’s self, with others and with God.
If you would like to find out more about our work in Fiji, please contact the UK Mission Office:
Tel: 01564 772 096
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