The church and nation of Fiji literally came to a standstill on Saturday, June 8, 2013, for the ordination of the new Archbishop of Suva, Peter Loy Chong, son of a Chinese immigrant and a part-Chinese, part-Fijian mother. Bishop Loy was consecrated by the retiring Archbishop Petero Mataca, after his 36 years of episcopal leadership, which encompassed many changes in Fijian society, unfortunately including four military coups!
It was an occasion long awaited and all ethnic communities joined enthusiastically in the preparations for the liturgy, feeding and accommodation of the estimated 15,000 who flocked from every province and parish in the land to the Vodafone Sports Arena on that day. I decided to fly over from Hong Kong to show my support, and, on arrival, promptly got asked to join the musicians’ group for the liturgy, which I was more than happy to do. Long hours of practice with the 300 strong choir, guitarists and players of Indian traditional instruments, along with 13 members of the Fiji Police Brass Brand (only two of whom were Catholic) ensued during the week. It had already been a two month labor of love for all the above people, not to mention the organizers of the cultural protocols surrounding such an ordination which are every bit as complex as the liturgy itself.
Columbans were prominently present: Fr. Donal McIlraith, Director in Fiji, as English commentator for the television and live streaming of the event; Fr. Ioane Gukibau as director of liturgy for the weekend, and Lanieta Tamatawale (lay mission coordinator) as one of the signers for the deaf. I was proud to see how committed and integrated our Columbans are in the diocese, especially in these moments when all talents and energy is needed ! In the presence of the President and Prime minister of the Republic, the outgoing Petero Mataca stressed to his successor the need to be a shepherd to all racial and socio-economic groups in the nation, something for which Columbans have been well known.
We wish Archbishop Peter Loy Chong, who in his own person unites the tiny island archipelago of Fiji with the great nation of China, many of whose emigrants have made great contributions to both the states and churches in which they have found themselves, every blessing in his ministry of pastor and teacher. Our recent General Assembly refocused the Chinese as a priority group for us Columbans; in Fiji, at least, God is providing one of their sons as a true partner with us in building bridges of racial and political reconciliation; perhaps Fiji can indeed return to imaging ‘the way the world should be’, in the words of the late Pope John Paul II in 1986, and continue to provide missionaries both to and from the Chinese people. That would indeed make our founders smile!
3 photos are:
1. The bishop of Tonga, retiring and incoming Archbishops of Suva and Bishop John Dew of Wellington
2. The author, joining the Police Band for the liturgical music
3. A young Fijian man, part of the cultural ceremonies that followed the ordination.