My friend Prabhu Dass arrived at the Naleba church just as I finished my meager breakfast. "Father, Let's go to my uncle's house to persuade the old man to come to a funeral in Lagalaga today."
"Why do you want me to persuade him to go to the funeral? It's up to him, isn't it?" I replied.
"My uncle's daughter was being treated badly by her Hindu husband a couple of years ago. My uncle had a big falling out with Subramani, her father-in-law, over that. They haven't spoken since. Now my uncle's daughter's husband has been killed in a car accident. The funeral is today. If we can persuade my uncle to attend the funeral it will bring reconciliation between the two old men, because Subramani will have to greet him if he arrives for the funeral."
We went to his uncle's place. Prabhu Dass gave him the news of his son-in-law's death. I chipped in and said that this occasion would never come again. We should all show our respect by attending the funeral. The old man eventually agreed to come with us.
A large number of men were standing around the house of mourning. I didn't know anyone and they all seemed to be staring at me wondering who I was. I decided to take courage and approach them. I spoke to many of them one by one and introduced myself as the priest from Naleba, a friend of the dead man's in-laws. That broke the ice, and I no longer felt like a fish out of water.
After the funeral Subramani spoke to me. "Father," he said, "My father and son have both died. I have no one now ahead of me or behind me. Will you come back here in a few weeks' time and explain life and death to me." I was amazed at the trust and hope that a Hindu man whom I didn't know was putting me. I agreed. As we returned to Naleba I mused on how the reconciliation had come about together with an invitation to speak about the meaning of life to a Hindu family. I must prepare myself well.
Columban Fr. Frank Hoare lives and works in Fiji.