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Mountain Mission

Full of Mystery

By Fr. Donal McIlraith

It started, really, with an invitation from catechist Tobia to come and talk about the Marian Movement of Priests. I checked with the pastor, Fr. Rogasiano Raikivi, a former student of mine, and he said he would like me to take the Sunday Mass also as this would free him to celebrate Mass in another village. And so my mountain mission to Saliadrau was set in motion. Saliadrau is a village in the parish of Namosi in the interior of Viti Levu the hub of Fiji’s 330 islands.

Fr. Donal McIlraith relaxing after Mass
Fr. Donal McIlraith relaxing after Mass

I set out on Saturday morning with three companions. Peter Kyaw Zaw is a senior Shan seminarian from Katchin State in Myanmar. He has completed six years of theology in Manila and recently arrived in Fiji for his two years of mission experience. He was studying Fijian and this was a good chance for him to put his studies into practice. He was our photographer for the trip. Ietawa Naiti was a first year seminarian newly arrived from Kiribati. The Gilbert Islands, as Kiribati was formerly known, is a string of atolls that stretches along the equator. Nowhere is more than 32 feet high so Ietawa had never before experienced mountains or rivers. This was a mystical journey for him, plunging him into the highest mountains in Fiji. Our third companion was Fijian Viliame Rogoiwaqa who acted as our spokesman or herald.

After a brief stop in Namosi, we pushed on to our destination, Saliadrau, still higher in the mountains. We got there about 3:30 p.m. and parked our vehicle. Then came the interesting part. There still was a river between us and the village. Dressed in shorts, with my sulu around my neck, I managed to cross the river with the help of my companions. Safely across, I put on the sulu, a Fijian wrap around garment that is worn by everyone in a village context. It would be against village etiquette to arrive in shorts. So, wrapped in sulus, we arrived in Saliadrau where they quickly welcomed us with a cup of tea. The official welcome would come that night.

The Saturday Mass was preceded by a rosary, after which I spoke on the Marian Movement and our need to be consecrated to Mary. The Gospel that evening reminded us of Jesus’ words from the cross, “Behold your mother,” a scriptural base for that entrustment. Supper followed Mass and then came the official welcome. This was the Fijian ceremony of sevusevu, the gift of yogona or kava to welcome guests. When that was done, Viliame offered the normal gift of kava to the village. A great evening of discussion followed around the kava bowl with topics like the Season of Creation, the Extraordinary Month of Mission and much more. Everyone slept on the mats in the house provided for us, but chief catechist Veremo insisted that I sleep in his bed. The neighbouring village, Navunikabi, joined us for the Sunday Mass at 7:00 a.m. As usual, the singing raised the roof. After Mass I anointed some twenty sick and elderly. Then I led a rosary cenacle with the children. After this, I was taken around the village to bring the sacrament of the sick to those who were house-bound. Breakfast followed and then came the farewell ceremony with more kava.

Half the village accompanied us to the river this time and ensured I got across safely. Catechist Semisi and his wife from Namosi had joined us the previous evening, and so we had a very full car back to Semisi’s house in Namosi. After a cup of tea there, we journeyed back to Suva, Kyaw Zaw now full of Fijian and Ietawa still full of the mystery of Mountains and Rivers, God’s creation. Mission accomplished.

Columban Fr. Donal McIlraith lives and works in Fiji.