Living and Learning in Fiji

By Fr. Nilton Iman

My name is Nilton Iman, and I am a priest of the Diocese of Chimbote, a land blessed with the blood of the first martyrs of my country, Peru.

These past months, I was meditating during my personal prayer on John 12:24. “I assure you that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it can only be a single seed. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.” The reason was the ceremony of beatification of the first Peruvian martyrs P. Michael, P. Zbigniew (Polish Franciscans) and P. Sandro (Italian missionary), killed by the terrorist group “Sendero Luminoso,” (the Shining Path) in August 1991. They gave their lives in our Diocese of Chimbote, Peru. I thought about their determination to leave their countries, their cultures, and their families, and to go to a mission. I imagine there were many difficulties. I thanked God for their lives, their generosity and service, even to death.

Appointed to Mission

My vocation to the priesthood has been inspired by the testimony and the missionary life of priests from the Missionary Society of Santiago Apostle. They worked for many years in my parish. Their examples of life and service encouraged me to leave all and follow the Lord in the priesthood. I was ordained priest on March 23, 2008, and after five years of service in the mountains of my diocese, I began a missionary journey with the Columban Fathers. I was appointed to their mission in the Fiji Islands. On September 2014, I arrived in Fiji after a long journey. Now it is time to learn, live, and share. I feel like I’m learning to be a missionary.

For me, the first step is to know the mission—learning the language, culture, customs, etc. In Fiji, I am experiencing a new culture and customs very different from mine. The first months were difficult, because I had to adapt to a new climate, time zone, language, etc. After studying the Fijian language, and visiting some communities of Columban mission, I am learning how life is in this part of the world. I’m learning to be a missionary.

Grandeur and Dignity

The Fijian culture is deeply symbolic. The ceremonies are conducted with grandeur and dignity. For example, veiqaravi vakavanua is the traditional ceremony to welcome visitors. Yaqona, a traditional beverage, is drunk in all ceremonies. People present their condolences offering gifts, food, and mats on the occasion of a death, and this is known as reguregu. Cobo is the applause done with cupped hands to give thanks when a gift is received, or when you want to say something important in a meeting.

People in the Fiji Islands have tremendous respect for the priest. Usually he sits in a place of honor when visiting the villages, the first glass of yaqona is served to him. He is offered sevusevu (a yaqona plant) and a tabua, (a whale’s tooth) which are the symbol of gratitude for his visit.

Family Is Important

The people in Fiji live their faith with joy, closeness, and generosity. For the Fijian culture, the family and the people who inhabit the same territory are very important. Tasks such as cleaning, preparing a welcome ceremony, fishing, gardening, and more, are not only individual efforts, but also are done with a sense of brotherhood, that is, people live helping each other. The essence of life in Fiji is respect, joy, generosity, family, neighbors, countrymen, and brotherhood expressed through a symbolic view of the world.

In conversations with families, meetings with young people, visiting the sick, interreligious meetings, and the celebration of Mass, I am getting to know a God close and present in the history, the customs, and in the culture of Fijians. He gives me the strength and courage to continue discovering His presence among the people, to serve Him with joy, passion, and enthusiasm in mission.

Serve the Lord

In conclusion, mission is an invitation to know, to live, and to share our faith with others, wherever we are. Throughout this time in Fiji, with a contemplative sight, I have tried to understand what it means to serve the Lord in mission. I am beginning to understand “something” and that fills me with wonder and joy. I am learning and living with enthusiasm, because I am sharing with an open heart my priestly ministry building the Kingdom. I am walking every day with joy and gratitude, because it’s worth spending our lives for the Kingdom.

I want to thank God for His goodness and love in this time of missionary experience in Fiji. Also, I want to thank the Columban Fathers for giving me the opportunity to mission with them. St. Columban, and the first martyrs P. Miguel, P. Zbigniew and P. Sandro, beatified in our Chimbotana Church of Peru, continue to inspire me in this missionary journey.

Originally from Peru, Fr. Nilton Iman is living and working in Fiji as an associate priest with the Columban missionaries.