I had been studying the Fijian language for almost three months. It was great to have a chance to learn the Fijian language and culture after spending three years working with the Hindi language and Indian culture. It had been decided that I should spend Holy Week helping a Marist priest, Fr. Seamus McMahon, at Naililili Parish.
Just before I started my Fijian course, I did a 15 minute Hindi interview with Thomas Ambika Nand for Radio Fiji. He also recorded me playing the baja (harmonium) while singing a Hindi hymn. I never found out when the program would be broadcast, and I actually forgot about it.
Fr. McMahon had lined up a full program for Holy Week. Monday evening was for married couples to renew their vows. The anointing of the sick and elderly took place on Tuesday. Tonight, Wednesday evening, we both heard confessions for hours. These were my first confessions in Fijian and I didn’t understand all that was said to me. One lady told a very sad story, shedding copious tears. I was embarrassed at not understanding the problem and I had very little in the way of comfort or advice to offer.
After that “baptism by fire,” I joined Fr. Seamus in the presbytery for a cup of tea. I absent mindedly switched on the radio – just in time to hear myself singing the Hindi hymn I had recorded three months previously! I turned to Fr. Seamus and asked him if he knew who was singing. He said that he had no idea. “But, you actually know this singer,” I said to him. He listened again for a few moments and said, “All those Indian singers sound the same to me!” I laughed.
Columban Fr. Frank Hoare lives and works in Fiji.