Embracing Multicultural Fiji
Sometimes when we go through an intense period in our lives, it is only afterwards that we can look back and reflect on the meaning of it. I had such a week in Fiji right before I left for my vacation last year. I was running from one function to another without the opportunity to notice the wonderful tapestry being unfolded in front of me.
The week began with the graduation of Catholic teachers from Corpus Christi College, a school with which Columbans have a long association. The principal mentioned the Columban involvement with the school at the graduation ceremony. The Archbishop sent out the new teachers during Mass in the cathedral. Traditional ceremonies, feasting and dancing continued long into the evening as people celebrated after the graduation.
The next day was the graduation ceremony for the new Fijianspeaking catechists who were returning from their three year training period at a center built by Columban Fr. Jim Gavigan. Fr. Gavigan built the center to train lay people to be “fathers and mothers” of faith in their villages. The Archbishop reminisced in his homily about his dream of Fiji being a self-providing, selfpropagating and self-evangelizing Church. The newly installed catechists are surely a tangible sign of that dream becoming a reality.
The following evening, a number of Columban priests were invited to a fundraising dinner at a Chinese restaurant for the Fiji Muslim Youth Sports’ Association.
The invitation prompted me to think about what a tolerant country Fiji is that we – two Catholic priests and youth leaders – would be welcome at and happy to contribute to such a cause.
The sentiment was strengthened when the main entertainment for the evening – Indian Bollywood dancing – was performed by a group of Fijian youth! Although the dinner was to raise funds for the Fiji Muslim Youth Sports’ Association, there was not a Muslim dancer in sight.
The next day a colleague and I took a trip to the jail to pick up a picture painted in the prison gallery. We then went to a Gujarati wedding ceremony, in which the bride and her companions
get elaborate designs, called mehndi, drawn on their hands and arms with henna.
As I sat on the plane ready to depart Nadi and begin my vacation, I started reflecting on the events of the preceding days. I couldn’t help but think the words of Pope John Paul II on his pastoral visit in 1986, that Fiji has become “the way the world should be,” a place of tolerance and acceptance.
Fr. Patrick Colgan is the Rector of Initial Formation in Fiji.