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The Columban Centennial Altar Cloth

Carrying the altar cloth after the trip across the river

Adventures in Fiji

By Columban Missionaries in Fiji

The next day was more adventurous. Fr. Nilton drove us to Navala, a traditional Catholic village in the mountains over Ba. We got to the bridge just outside the village at 9:30 a.m. A raging torrent kept us from driving over it. The villagers really wanted Mass and to celebrate the Columban centenary with us, so they sent their water taxi to bring us over. Within an hour of our arrival, a delegation of young men arrived from the village—on tubes—and invited us to jump aboard. I had been parish priest here during the great floods of 2012, and I knew that these young men knew their river well and that we would be quite safe. I offered to go first. The first few minutes were a bit scary as we made our way through turbulent waters, but they knew their stuff. In no time at all I was at the village side encouraging the others to follow. All crossed, wet but safe. They then brought the altar cloth over without a single drop on it. It was quite a shock fo

Columban Fr. Donal McIlraith at Mass
Columban Fr. Donal McIlraith at Mass

r poor Marjorie. She had no idea that caring for the cloth would involve tubing across rivers. Nor did I.

Almost the whole village turned out for the Eucharist and once more mobbed the altar cloth after Mass. The cloth presents all the countries where Fiji Columbans worked or studied. Indeed, Ioane Naio is a seminarian from just down the road, whom they know very well and who studies in Manila. Today, I focused on the call of the cloth to faith as well as prayer. We Columbans and our people need to thank God for our Catholic faith and to hand it on carefully. As we left, Silivia, a villager, walked with me and reminisced on the Columbans who had served them over the years, Fr. Charlie O'Mahony at the start, then Frs. Doyle, Keelan, Batchelor, Rouse (who played rugby with them), McEvoy, Rathbun, Tierney and many others. The Columbans have served Navala for two thirds of our existence, 66 years.

Tubing back was child's play, and so we returned to Ba town with a few other minor flood adventures sorted out by Ila, a Fijian who helped on the journey. The altar cloth was out again for the parish Mass at seven that night and similar scenes of enthusiasm were evident. Ba has so far provided five lay missionaries and hosted many others. So I stressed the call of the cloth to mission. After Mass, we showed "The Foolishness of God," Columban Fr. Neil Colin's film on the Columban centennial.

The cloth will continue to visit villages in all three Columban parishes and invite them to celebrate our centenary. We will also celebrate in Corpus Christi Teacher's Training College where many of us taught, in the Pacific Regional Seminary and in the Suva Cathedral. The call to prayer, to mission and to faith are parts of the call of this centenary cloth. We hope to have a prayerful month while it is with us.