A couple approached me in the parish hall after Mass.
“Are you Fr. Frank Hoare?” the lady asked. Something about the timber of her voice stirred a memory.
“You used to visit our house 40 years ago,” she said. “We have been searching for you in recent months because we heard you were here in Suva. You named our eldest son, Stephen.”
“Did you live in Vunikavikaloa, near Navunibitu Catholic Mission?” I asked. “Yes,” they smiled. The curtain of years was drawn back. Astounded, I kissed the lady and embraced her husband.
In 1980, I supplied for six months for a priest on holidays in his rural parish of Navunibitu. I met Shiri, a young Indo-Fijian mother, at the nearby Catholic maternity hospital. Her first born had died and she begged me to pray for her newborn son. Afterwards, I used to visit her poor but welcoming family.
Shiri and her husband Shalesh lived with his widowed mother and his six younger siblings. Shalesh cut sugarcane and did odd jobs to support the family. They were Hindus but open to all religions. We would chat, pray, and sing hymns during my visits.
I was then appointed to Lautoka, Fiji’s second city, about three hours’ drive away. In later years, I could no longer see their house when I passed that way. They had moved. So it was with astonished delight that we met again 40 years later.
I visited their home a couple of weeks later. Shiri showed me old photos from Vunikavikaloa of the family. I was holding her recently born son, Stephen in one of them. Many memories surfaced from the recesses of my mind. Shiri called Stephen in California, and I was able to chat with him. Shalesh, now a taxi driver, and I exchanged Hindi verses. I was introduced to their second son, also a taxi driver, and his young wife and child. Their married daughter came around with her husband and two young daughters. We took photos, talked and joked and had a fine meal together.
For me, it was an incredible reunion. I was surprised by joy.
Columban Fr. Frank Hoare lives and works in Fiji.