Fr. Teakare Betero was ordained a Columban priest on Saturday November 30, 2019, the Feast of St. Andrew. He was ordained on his island home of Rabi by Fiji’s Archbishop, the most Rev. Peter Loy Chong. A week prior to the ordination Fiji merged with Australia and New Zealand to create the new Region of Oceania on the feast of St. Columban!
A group of 125 people, including about 30 Columbans, traveled the 14- hour journey from Suva to attend the ordination. The trip included two boat rides which got us to Rabi at about 5 p.m. on Friday, November 29.
Fr. Teakare was born and educated on Rabi island where the Banabans were the deprived people of the once phosphate rich “ocean island” in the Kiribati group. They were relocated in 1945 when they were promised a new island home in the Fiji group, but the island they got was very remote and under-developed.
After secondary school, Fr. Teakare worked in construction and fishing for some years before joining the Columbans. The Chinese fishing boat he worked on never got back in time for the seminary, and his vocation was nearly “lost at sea!”
Most of his theological education was done at the Pacific Regional Seminary in Suva. His spiritual year took him to the Philippines, and he did two years of overseas training in Peru where he also learnt Spanish. He has been appointed back to the Philippines after ordination and will go there after six months in a Fijian parish.
A crowd of more than 1,000 people thronged the Church grounds of Fatima to witness the ordination. This included most of the 1,000 plus Catholics on the island. The leaders of many of the other churches were also there in a place of honor, and they were all given an official greeting by Fr. Teakare during the ceremonies.
Seventeen priests assisted Archbishop Chong with the ordination rite, and though the Mass was in English, the choir sang in Gilbertese, the official language of the Banaban people.
After the ordination ceremony, all joined in a delicious island banquet prepared by Fr. Teakare’s family. Being one of ten siblings certainly helps at times like this! Before blessing his mother, Fr. Teakare asked her to also bless him, shades of Pope Francis!
The afternoon was filled with marvelous Banaban singing and traditional dancing. As a thanksgiving to all, Fr. Teakare himself did a Banaban dance in traditional costume.
The first Mass was held on Sunday and was followed by feasting and dancing. The Suva group left at 6 p.m. on Sunday evening and arrived in Suva 21 hours later with a profound appreciation of the hardships of travel undergone by the Banabans.
This was a first for most of those traveling to Rabi. The experience of the ordination in the context of the Banaban culture and of the joyous welcome we received will be a lasting memory for us all.
Mariana Waqa works with in the Columban office in Fiji.