On Monday 16th January, the President of Kiribati, the Hon Taniti Mamau, hosted a banquet in honour of Columban missionary Fr Donal McIlraith.
Fr McIlraith is from Macroom, Co Cork and has taught scripture at the Suva Seminary for the past 34 years. Over those years he has taught nearly all of Kiribati’s current cohort of priests.
The presidential honour arrived unexpectedly as Fr Donal completed the annual retreat for priests in Tarawa, the capital of Kiribati in January.
Kiribati is an island country in Oceania in the central Pacific Ocean. It comprises a series of about 40 atolls strung along the equator just north of Fiji. The present population is about 130,000. No part of the country is more than 50 feet above sea level and so the entire existence of Kiribati is threatened by the rising sea and the current climate crisis.
The banquet opened with traditional Kiribati dancing and music. The president then welcomed Fr McIlraith and thanked him for coming from Fiji to assist the priests of Kiribati. He also thanked the priests and the Catholic Church for all they do for Kiribati and for their help during the recent Covid crisis.
The priests were led by their Apostolic Administrator, Fr Iona Tatau. The diocese has recently lost MSC bishop Paul Mea and his successor, Bishop-elect Dr Koru Tito who had died before being consecrated.
Government ministers and permanent secretaries and their wives attended the banquet. One of the ministers, Martin Morris, had once been a student of Fr Donal’s, and they had a happy reunion.
In his words of thanksgiving, Fr Donal thanked the President and the First Lady, Madame Teiraeng Mamau, for this honour. He then paid tribute to the Irish Sisters who worked in Kiribati on mission. These included Sr Mella McCaughey of Monaghan, who died there after 60 years of work and is buried in Tarawa.
Fr Donal noted that Kiribati and Ireland are united in that both come from a Christian tradition and both were colonies of Britain. He expressed his delight at the invitation to revisit Kiribati and to pray with his students and friends and hoped they were as happy with his visit as he was.
At the end of the banquet, he was asked to give a blessing which he did in the Kiribati language.
Fr Donal McIlraith celebrated the golden jubilee of his ordination in April 2021. He lectures in Biblical Studies, Latin, Hebrew and Greek at the Pacific Regional Seminary in Suva, Fiji.
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