May 21, 1987: I was a 4th Year Seminarian doing some errands in Suva when mobs of several thousand indigenous Fijians attacked ethnic Indo-Fijians throughout the capital today, wounding many people in the worst outbreak of ethnic violence Fiji has ever seen. Around 150 to 200 people, including three-dozen Indo-Fijians and two foreign journalists were hospitalized. The riot appeared to reflect Indigenous Fijians support for the army coup that took place a week earlier May 14, 1987.
The 1987 political crises was a faith crisis for me. I expected my Catholic Church to respond to the political crisis but it was slow coming. As a seminarian I thought about leaving the diocese to join the Columbans or Jesuits?
On the first anniversary of the May 14th 1987 Coup a group of Columban priests and some peace advocates organized a small peace protest. The Columban priests were Frs. Thomas Rouse, David Arms, Ed Quinn, Paul Tiernney, and John McEvoy. Eighteen protestors including the three priests were arrested for unlawful assembly.
During the post 1987 coup the Columban Fathers committed themselves to peace building and reconciliation. They conducted cross-cultural courses for Indo-Fijians and Indigenous Fijians. They also empowered younger priests to reflect on Fiji's social and political problems.
After my ordination to the priesthood I lived with Fr. Richard Keelan, who according to Fr. Frank Hoare was one of the finest Columbans. Fr. Keelan was a deeply reflective priest who passionately and courageously brought the Gospel of Jesus to peoples' lives.
Fr. Keelan's reflection in Fr. Frank Hoare's book ‘Turning the Wheel' shows the depth of his theological reflection.
“What is the Church to do in this land of many peoples and on many religions during this critical decade? It is obvious that if she thinks only of her numerical growth and internal concerns, she will be failing Fiji. The Church … must try to place Fiji's problems in the light of the Gospel. But she must look, beyond on her own membership and must do her part. As a missionary priest sent to the Church in Fiji, I have to play my part in assisting the Church here to fulfill that task. Tonight I am trying to look ahead and glimpse what that part might be… To me as a missionary it is clear that a great part of my task must be assisting the Church to interpret these Signs of the times. In sum, it is my prayer tonight that the Church here in Fiji may be adequate for the task of reading and interpreting the Signs of the Times in order to fulfill her mission in this critical and exciting decade ahead.
And so I feel that I have sense of direction for the coming decade. It is good to feel this and I am satisfied with this piece of work. I can now go feeling a new strength and eagerness of anticipation down to the town and join the revels. It is just 11.00pm.”
As a young diocesan priest I was inspired, energized, and challenged by the work of the Columban Fathers. They helped me bring my faith, the Gospel and ministry to speak to social realities of our people.
I share these stories to give you a glimpse of the great contribution of the Columban Fathers in God's mission in Fiji.
Today we celebrate the 100years of Columban Mission to the World. The Columban missionary society was officially founded in 1917. The Columban mission began in China and then to Asia, Oceania and South and North America.
In 1952, 13 young Columban priests responded to the Bishop Foley's call to assist the Marist Fathers in Fiji. Over the years the Columbans have served in parishes, schools, formation of lay leaders, teachers and priests, translation and social justice.
Today we look back with admiration of the courage, sacrifice, and zeal of the Columban missionaries.
The Columban Fathers 100th Anniversary and the Gospel today reminds us of Jesus' mission, that is to work with God in establishing his reign.
Jesus preached about the coming of God's reign. His teachings, parables, and miracles proclaimed what the reign of God is like.
Today's gospel (Mark 4:26-24) tells us that the “Kingdom of God; it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day and through it all the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how.
It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth. But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.”
The Second Vatican Council document, ‘The Church in the modern world states: ‘The church has one sole purpose – that the Kingdom of God may come and salvation of the human race may be accomplished.
The Decree on the Missionary Activity of the Church (Ad Gentes) teaches that the Church is “missionary by its very nature” (AG. 2). Twenty-five years later, (1990) Pope John Paul, (Redemptoris Missio; On Missionary Mandate); reminds the Church “to renew her missionary commitment” (RM. 2). Pope Francis: “I dream of a missionary Church.”
Ad Gentes called all young Churches such as Fiji to send out their own missionaries.
Today Fiji has developed from a mission land to Missionary Church. With deep gratitude to the Columban Fathers, today the Catholic Church in Fiji has sent about 70 missionaries to various parts of the world.
I was invited by the Columban Fathers a few times to be an associate missionary overseas, but God had other plans.
Missiologists remind us that for sometime we have become too Church-centered in our mission. We have forgotten Jesus' mission and the Reign of God.
Mission is primarily an attribute of God. The Church has a mission because God has a mission. Our mission is to work with God establish his reign – to “Read the Signs of the Times. The Church lives out its true nature when it is kingdom-centered.
Kingdom people seek first the Kingdom of God and its justice;
Church people often put the church work above concern of justice, mercy, and truth.
Church people think about how to get people into Church;
Kingdom people think about how to get the Church into the world.
Church people worry that the world might change the church;
Kingdom people work to see the church change the world.
The Columban Fathers are a model for us in working with God to establish his reign.
On behalf of the Universal Church, I congratulate the Columban Fathers on the 100th anniversary of their mission to the world.