Much to Celebrate!
It was a personal joy for me to attend the ordination of Pat Roland Visanti in Suva on St. Columban's Day 2017. It coincided with the opening of the Society's Centennial Year. The ordaining Fijian Archbishop Peter Loy Chong, during his homily, was fulsome in his praise of the Society's cutting edge work – in the Pacific and globally – in the areas of justice, ecology and interreligious dialogue. Fiji had just relinquished the chairmanship of the United Nations COP23 Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany, and Archbishop Loy said it was the Columbans who most helped him develop the Catholic contribution to it.
I happened to be the Rector of Formation and also Vocations' Director when, in 2007, Pat decided to join the formation program. I remember being impressed at this young bank officer bouncing up to do the Mass reading at a Cathedral lunch time Mass when no one else could be found. When he then started intoning the Alleluia in a confident voice, I thought "we need people like this in the Columbans" – and the rest is history!
Pat is our first Columban from the island of Rotuma which, though linguistically and culturally distinct, has been politically joined to Fiji since colonial times. During and after the ordination, we were treated to an extraordinary display of the customary feasting, dancing and singing of the large Rotuman community of Suva. We were joined by all seven major Rotuma chiefs (the majority of whom are not Catholic) and the President of the Republic of Fiji, Major General (Retired) Joji Konrote, himself a Rotuman. He, individually and on behalf of the nation and government of Fiji, spoke highly of the contribution of the Columban Fathers in Fiji since their arrival in 1952.
The choir for both Pat's ordination and first Masses was the Archdiocesan Liturgical Music Ministry. This is a valiant group of volunteers who made their way every night for two months to a hall to learn and practice hymns in English, Fijian, Rotuman, Hindi and Spanish to a perfection that made all ceremonies both joyful and often tearfully solemn.
Pat spent 18 months in Pakistan, and it is to there he will return in mid-2018. Archbishop Loy expressed his joy at small Rotuma's sending a missionary to Pakistan in the person Pat, just as the island of Rabi is "on mission" in Taiwan in the person of Columban Fr. Taaremon Matauea. Now that we have seminarians from the Kiribati and Solomons, there is every reason to hope that they too will soon be representing their island nations in Columban locations throughout Asia, South America and elsewhere. Along with the ordination of Peruvian Salustino Villalobos (already appointed to Taiwan) on the same day as Pat, the Society has indeed much to celebrate in our 100th year!
Columban Fr. Donal McIlraith lives and works in Fiji.