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Fomenting the Faith in Fiji

Gerard Gough

WITH Pope Francis due to attend the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, it’s perhaps fitting that Missio Scotland’s focus this year falls on Oceania, as many of the countries that make up the continent are directly affected by climate change.

The Holy Father is also cognisant of the direct link between the Faith and care for the environment, which was most evident in his encyclical Laudato Si, where he even brought in a missionary dimension to his writings by making reference to the Patroness of Missionaries, when he wrote: “Saint Thérèse of Lisieux invites us to practise the little way of love, not to miss out on a kind word, a smile or any small gesture which sows peace and friendship. An integral ecology is also made up of simple daily gestures which break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness.” (Paragraph 230)

Faithful youth focus

Fiji, the focus country for the first of our supported projects, has suffered greatly as a result of climate change, with regular cyclones having caused death and destruction—both to buildings such as homes and schools and livelihoods due to the decimation of crops, for example. Facing such grave situations like this, it would, perhaps, be understandable for Fijians to encounter a crisis of faith, but Stephen Hall—the New Zealander leading the Missio Scotland supported project in the country—explained how they are working hard to grow the Faith in the country.

“The Archdiocesan Synod held in Suva in 2018-19 identified the need for a diversified youth ministry, which catered for the different needs of young people of different ages,” Stephen said. “The Archbishop, Peter Loy Chong, saw that a post-Confirmation programme was needed, as a large number of teenagers who had been Confirmed had fallen through the cracks afterwards and stopped their involvement with the Church. So Missio Scotland is funding the programme developers to create a programme which engages young people and helps them commit their life to the Church.”

The programme has been designed by consecrated members of the Focolare Movement—which Stephen is part of—and has been developed in collaboration with the Youth Commission of the Archdiocese of Suva. It aims to:

  • Respond to the call and prayer of the Suva Archdiocesan Synod: “Connecting in Jesus, and with our neighbour, to be His heart, mind, eyes and ears, hands and feet to All Creation.”

  • Help the youth to be formed and accompanied so they encounter Jesus; feel they belong to their parish as active members; and use their gifts to be Jesus’ disciples to serve him in their neighbours and in creation.

  • Engage young people through a methodology of ‘Head, Hands, Heart,’ reflecting Pope Francis’ vision, where young people are enabled to explore and live out their faith in their local context, and where they can find relevance for their faith in the challenges that young people meet today.

  • Build their confidence to bear witness to their faith by providing opportunities to contribute fully to the life of the Church and the growth of a just society.

The programme draws on Gospel based spirituality and experience of the Focolare Movement in engaging with teenagers as well as the teachings of Magisterium with the aim of training the young people to be youth leaders and Catechists.

Inspiring unity

Stephen—who works as a teacher—credits his involvement with the Focolare Movement for helping to revitalise his own faith. He also explained exactly what it is they do and pointed to some of the transferable skills he has developed as a result of being a Focolarino.

“When I left secondary school and went to teacher training college it was the first time I had not been in a Catholic environment,” he said. “I wanted to continue believing in the faith, but found it very difficult, as I saw many people challenging my faith and I didn’t know how to respond. Around this time, I met the Focolare through one of my schoolteachers. I was struck by the joyful and sincere faith of the people in the Focolare community and felt drawn to them.

“A Focolarino is a consecrated layperson in the Focolare Movement. We live in community and usually have a daytime job, and often animate activities in the evenings and weekends. I have always loved sharing stories of faith with the children.

“The charism of the Focolare Movement is to promote unity inspired by Jesus’ prayer to the Father: ‘May they all be one.’ Our foundress, Chiara Lubich, said that we are to be children who believe in the love of the Father, and who trust Him in all their needs. Our life should be one spent building bonds of unity with the people around us.”

To that end, Stephen has always been keen to support the work of the universal Church—such as this most recent youth project in Fiji—and his time as a Focolarino has allowed him to have his faith enriched through time spent living and working overseas.

“The times I have been able to go overseas and dedicate myself to periods of time working with our Focolare communities in different countries have always been special,” he said. “In Wallis Island I saw first-hand how through environmental projects, the Focolare people there are able to build relationships between the rival factions on the island. In Futuna I saw the love the people still have for St Peter Chanel, the missionary who brought them the Faith. His example inspired me to use my gifts for God and for the Church. In Fiji I was so thrilled to see young Catholics alive with love for Jesus and in the Philippines, I felt very privileged to be able to support the Church by helping seminarians from different Asian countries learn English as part of a formation school.”

Living out our mission

Having previously experienced the young people’s love for Jesus in Fiji, Stephen spoke of the gifts that they possess and also the importance of this project in helping them, as lay people, to live out their mission.

“Fijian young people are capable of great generosity and youth group members visit orphanages and participate in regular visits to prisons,” he said. “They are very aware of ecological problems and participate in caring for their environment. Faith is a very precious component in Fijian culture and when the youth feel engaged, they are proud to take part in the life of the Church. Their qualities have been readily evident in visits we have made to Fiji in the past.

“For me, these qualities will help them to live out their mission, because they will be helping people experience God in their lives. There is a passage from Gaudium et spes (21) which I love. It speaks of almost making God ‘visible,’ which reads: ‘What does the most reveal God's presence, however, is the brotherly charity of the faithful who are united in spirit as they work together for the faith of the Gospel and who prove themselves a sign of unity.’ When people experience the presence of God in their lives, development can happen in the most surprising ways.

“It’s important that lay people are missionaries too. I believe they have to be and there are so many ways to do this. A Catholic family which lives its faith joyfully and shares it through its friendship and practical love is a wonderful witness. I admire families who discern the possibility to leave their homes and be sent to mission in other lands, too. Lay people who reach out to the homeless and needy are a great witness of God’s love.”

“It’s wonderful that Missio Scotland have chosen to support this particular project,” Stephen added. “The Pontifical Mission Societies create so many positive ripples throughout the world. People who discover God with them can change situations of oppression and discover their dignity as God’s children. They can help many other people develop their capacities for good and be a blessing to their communities.”

Please help us to continue to support the Faith in Fiji and wherever our missionaries, both lay and religious are working throughout the world.

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