History was made on November 23, 2022, when leadership of the Columbans in Fiji passed from Caucasian Columbans to Columbans from the Pacific and Asia. Fr. John McEvoy completed his 3-year term of office as Vice-Director of the Columban Region of Oceania and in his place Fr. Felisiano Fatu from Tonga became the new Vice-Director. Fr. Frank Hoare finished his term as regional council member and was replaced by Fr. Carlo Jung from Korea.
At the beginning of Mass that evening in the Columban Center House in Suva, catechist and former Columban co-worker Leone Ratadamu offered a tabua (whale’s tooth) on behalf of all the past Caucasian Columban leaders asking pardon for their mistakes and failings. Responding to this traditional Fijian apology, Fr. Willie Lee graciously accepted the tabua and thanked them for the service and missionary leadership they had given for many years. The phrase in his speech that struck me most was his calling the occasion “veisau na mata ni cagi” (a change in the direction of the wind).
A New Vision for the Columban Companions
At the beginning and again at the end of Mass Fr. John welcomed everyone including the Columban Companions in Mission who were present. The participation of the Companions in past Columban assemblies in Fiji and in the recent Columban Synod of Oceania has made a big impact. The Companions, previously seen as supporters, are now recognized as an integral part of the Columban missionary family in Fiji.
They will be helped in the future by special missionary formation and will work actively side by side with Columban priests and lay missionaries in the missionary work of the Society. Some examples of the work to be done in Fiji are: interreligious dialogue, missionary vocation promotion, spreading and strengthening small Christian communities.
Fiji, for many years a separate region, is now part of the Region of Oceania. Columbans in Australia and New Zealand are also part of the new region. Fr. Peter O’Neill of Australia also began his term as Regional Director of Oceania on the feast of St. Columban in 2022.
Columban Synod of Oceania
St. Columban’s Day 2022 was also special as it occurred just after a very successful Columban Synod of Oceania. Over 40 Columban priests, lay missionaries, co-workers and lay companions participated in four days of two hour ZOOM sessions of the synod process.
We began with a meditative prayer at the beginning of each session. Then, after moving into breakout groups of five or six people, there was a short silent prayer on a topic selected by the group from a list garnered previously from questionnaires. Then each group member was given two minutes to share insights from the prayer. This was followed by each person stating what she or he heard in the sharing. Free discussion followed. A recorder from each group then summarized the group sharing in a plenary session. The whole process was an experience of synodality — of listening to the Holy Spirit in prayer and in the sharing of others.
Outreach to the People of Oceania
Some exciting ideas and directions emerged from these discussions. These will be further refined, integrated and presented for voting to another synodal ZOOM gathering. The Regional Director and council, taking the voting into consideration, will then decide on the emerging mission priorities and set the direction for the Columbans in Oceania for the future.
But something more happened than working towards both an inspiring and realistic direction for Columban mission. The synod is giving a new identity to Columbans in Oceania. Where previously Columban priests felt called to participate in God’s mission, now a diverse group of ordained and laity are becoming aware of being involved together in God’s outreach to the people of Oceania. We experience this inclusion as an enrichment of a community dedicated to working for God’s Kingdom.
The change in leadership here in Fiji and Oceania then coincides with an enriched vision of Columban identity and mission. The changes being brought about by our Columban Synod of Oceania will undoubtedly result in a new vigor in sharing the gospel and working for God’s Kingdom in Fiji and Oceania.
Columban Fr. Frank Hoare lives and works in Fiji.