June 13, 1984 St. Anthony’s Feast at Raviravi
St. Anthony is a favorite saint of South Indian Catholics. Today I celebrated his feast with the mainly Indo-Fijian congregation at Raviravi, a rural settlement on Fiji’s main island. A South Indian Catholic, known as Tambi, had built a small thatched church in his honor. Later in the 1960s Fr. John Mahoney, a Columban from the U.S., had the present church constructed. St. Anthony’s feast is the high point of the Church year in Raviravi.
A few hundred people attended the Mass this year. Afterwards the officials tied the statue of St. Anthony holding the child Jesus on a palanquin with ropes. People vied for the honor of carrying the palanquin as it was taken in procession three times around the church.
I was walking behind a Hindu woman on the second round when a rope came loose and the statue fell to the ground. I noticed the Hindu lady raise her eyes to the sky rather than see this inauspicious accident. There was general unease as the statue was retied and the three rounds completed. People then made a donation to the Church and waved burning camphor in a brass plate in front of the statue three times.
Later, I happened to be standing behind two Catholic men as they chatted. “Wasn’t it terrible that the statue fell today,” said one to the other. “Ah, yes,” the other replied, “but it could have been worse. Only the child Jesus lost his head. St. Anthony wasn’t damaged at all!”