A Parish Confirmed in Faith on its Feast Day

Fr Pat Colgan, parish priest of Christ the King in Ba, writes about the 20th anniversary celebration of the opening of this church in Fiji, which was marked by a Confirmation ceremony presided over by Archbishop Peter Loy Chong.

French Catholic missionaries first arrived in Fiji in 1844 at Lakeba, Lau. Missions were established in 1851 at Ba and Rewa on the island of Viti Levu, and at Solevu on Vanua Levu. But those first missionaries had to be withdrawn due to ill health, and in 1855, those missionary efforts were abandoned except for the mission at Levuka.

At this point, the legendary Père Bréhéret built a boat and began sailing from island to island to preach the gospel. Very slowly, the mission began to make progress. In 1860, the first Catholic school was built. In 1863, Fiji was made a Prefecture, with 6,000 converts.

Columban missionary Fr Pat Colgan and Archbishop Loy Chong at the entrance to Christ the King Church.

In the early 20th century, across 250 islands, there were 30 Marist Fathers tending 18 central stations and 273 villages; 11 Marist Brothers in charge of a school at Suva, a seminary and college at Cawaci and an English school for native Fijians at Rewa; 24 European and 31 native SMSM Sisters conducting the majority of schools for girls; 8 sisters of St Joseph of Cluny, 10 Marist Sisters in charge of a school and orphanage at Levuka and a school at Ba. A mission for lepers was conducted on Makogai Island by a Marist father and two SMSM sisters.

Fr Oreve and boarders in 1950.

Challenges abounded in the province of Ba, ranging from the persecution and imprisonment of Catholics en masse on the river-locked island of Delailagi, the Spanish measles outbreak in 1916, the great flood of 1931, difficulties in the outreach to the large Hindu and Muslim populations, the pervasive tension between the British colonialists and often outspoken French priests, and finally to the fire that gutted the small parish church of St Peter Chanel in 1995.

The gutted small parish church of St Peter Chanel in 1995,

Apart from small interludes, Columbans have administered the parish since their arrival in Fiji in 1952 (along with the nearby Xavier College). Parish priest, Fr Tom Daly, undertook a fundraising campaign to build a new church for the rapidly expanding Catholic population. This came to fruition on the Feast of Christ the King, 17th Nov 2001, when a new Church of that name was consecrated by Archbishop Petero Mataca.

The church altar.

Twenty years later, parishioners gathered to celebrate this anniversary, along with the Sacrament of Confirmation of 34 candidates from five villages and four town areas. Twice delayed due to Covid restrictions, the young people with their facilitators bravely carried on their two-year preparation course online and offline, and it was truly a joy to welcome Archbishop Peter Loy Chong who was last here in 2019.

The parish Feast Day of Christ the King.

Fine weather welcomed all who came on this Feast of Christ the King, 21st Nov 2021. Covid compliance teams, ushers, readers, ministers, choir members, and of course the candidates were all here one hour early.

In his homily, Archbishop Peter Loy Chong praised the young people who remained faithful to the two-year Confirmation preparations, despite two lockdowns and an economic slump. He compared Confirmation to the cultural initiation rituals well known to indigenous people, in which particularly boys are expected to endure pain and isolation. Covid has been such an experience.

We hope that as restrictions ease, these “new soldiers of Christ” will find creative ways to spread His love and light at home, in their villages and wherever and to whom God sends them as adult believers.

May Christ the King reign and may His kingdom, all people and all creation know its saving power.

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