Getting involved in Dialogue in Fiji
Kurt Pala, Columban Deacon, Philippines
The 833,631 population of Fiji is multiracial with the presence of the native Fijians (57.1%), Indo – Fijians (37.6%), Chinese (0.6%), Europeans (0.4%) and Rotumans (1.2%). Religion in Fiji is also as diverse as its population.
Coming from a largely Catholic country, I found the presence of different cultures, traditions and religions interesting, challenging and sometimes strange. I had a lot of questions both pastoral and theological.
For me the pertinent issues and questions were: How do we respond to the plurality of religions? What is mission? Is our mission then to promote the Gospel, convert people or engage in dialogue with these religions? How should I engage with peoples of other religions? What is authentic dialogue?
One important aspect I wanted to examine was the aspect of reconciliation in mission; since our world is a broken world. It is not enough just to talk about our differences, which could sometimes lead to violence or indifference. It is also important to discuss the loss of our relationship with the Creator and, in turn, with the entire Creation.
I once attended a “pooja” prayer service that was conducted by a Hindu priest, to give thanksgiving for the first year death anniversary of a mother. At the end of the service, a girl was going around distributing to everyone, what seemed to me to be, a liquid of some sort (later I learned that it was milk). When she came to me I asked what it was and she said “pooja” but I just said ‘Thanks’ and refused her. On another occasion I attended an Anglican liturgical service. During communion, the priest came up to me and offered me the communion bread. At that time out of respect, I received the bread. Later that day I was so worried and bothered that I spoke with my parish priest and told him about it. When interacting with other religions we have to learn what is allowed and not allowed when it comes to participating in their different services or rituals?
I lived for about 6 months in the village where native Fijians and Indo-Fijians co-exist. My neighbours were Christians, Hindus and Muslims. I was invited to every celebration they had and I attended most of them. I visited their homes and answered their curiosity. I especially enjoyed the food and the kava. At Christian, Hindu and Muslim funerals, I had been asked to say prayers and give short speeches in Hindi which was challenging. Dialogue with different faiths in Fiji is more like a dialogue of life. Dialogue is about meeting people where they are. Every day was an encounter of dialogue for me – from buying vegetables at the market, having my hair cut at the local barber, eating at a Chinese restaurant, borrowing books from the city library, to just walking in the streets.
In Suva City, there is a formal interfaith group called Interfaith Search Fiji, which meets every 10th day of the month. Different groups alternately host the said meeting and groups bring appropriate food to share with everyone. At each meeting, they agree upon a theme to be discussed in the next meeting. Using their respective sacred scriptures, they try to briefly explain their understanding of the theme. This is then shared in the next meeting. A summary is sent out after the meeting to every participant.
Interfaith dialogue is an important task and aspect of mission in Fiji. At the surface one can find a high level of tolerance and coexistence among the different groups and religions but the situation in Fiji is also very volatile because of the hidden biases and prejudices groups of people or individuals have towards each other.
Kurt Pala SSC (2015)