Catholic Women’s League Celebrate their 50th Golden Jubilee


                                                                                                                                                                                       By Adi Mariana Waqa

A Freezing Night upon the Lomaiviti Princess:

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend my first Catholic Women’s League Annual General Meeting (AGM). I was excited to go for two reasons: one - because it was to be their 50th anniversary, and two - the AGM would be held in Taveuni. Father Donal had briefed me on some of the details about the meeting, but it wasn’t until the day of departure when I realized the momentousness of such an occasion.

Women of all ages gathered up in their parish groups waiting to board the privately chartered Lomaiviti Princess. Through some divinely appointed connections, I found myself in the company of some wonderful St Pius X parishioners from Raiwaqa. There was plenty of drama while boarding the ship with many of us impatient to get on and settle in for the 11-hour sail. Once on board, the different parishes grouped themselves in different parts of the ship and quietly anticipated the days ahead. 

Women of all ages gathered up in their parish groups waiting to board the privately chartered Lomaiviti Princess. Through some divinely appointed connections, I found myself in the company of some wonderful St Pius X parishioners from Raiwaqa. There was plenty of drama while boarding the ship with many of us impatient to get on and settle in for the 11-hour sail. Once on board, the different parishes grouped themselves in different parts of the ship and quietly anticipated the days ahead. 

The ship was so full that some groups ended up sleeping outside on the decks. Raiwaqa Parish was lucky enough to stay in a glass house which allowed us to see the view, but also allowed the wind to freeze us half to death that night when we slept under the night sky. Our group settled in with one another through food, conversations, and an impromptu performance by our very own Beyonce (Youth Member: Bale) who entertained us before sleeping.

Arrival on the Garden Island:

We arrived the following morning to a very hot and humid Taveuni. Wairiki was beautiful but you could tell by the colour of the grass and dusty soil that the area was badly in need of rain. We were later told by some residents that it hadn’t rained properly in Wairiki for numerous weeks, if not months. Holy Cross Parish were well organized from the beginning and this continued throughout the entire duration of the AGM. The youth, women, and men of Taveuni banded together with such a spirit of unity which allowed the logistics, programs, meals, and accommodation to be coordinated properly, with only a few minor hiccups along the way. 

Over the following few days our St Pius X group shared plenty of experiences together at the AGM. There were early morning wake-ups for 5am Adoration and Mass, communal showers and toilets to share with other groups, long lines for our food, singing, dancing, and loads of laughter. I personally felt like we became a family because we looked out for one another, shared whatever we had, and always managed to stay united. 

Our Pioneers:

There were women in our group who were 60 years and above, including two pioneers by the names of Sera Moku and Adi Sili Vakatalai. Despite of their older age, these women were strong, energetic, and committed to their faith journey. DiSili in particular was one lady who I quickly grew fond of, it was one of those connections where you meet someone and it’s as if you had known them your entire life. Sera on the other hand was never without a smile and was always so full of life and energy. I was in awe of these two older women in our group, that even in their later years they should remain so steadfast and passionate about their faith. For younger women such as myself, they are sources of inspiration who will leave behind legacies which we can follow. 

Friday Workshops on “Abuse”:

His Grace, the Archbishop Peter Loy Chong, did a wonderful job of facilitating the programs and meetings. One particular day was reserved for addressing the victims of domestic and sexual abuse with the motto – “Silent No More!” Three women bravely shared their stories and this made a huge impact throughout the AGM. Many of the women were so touched by the women’s experiences and testimonies of survival. Later in the evening His Grace facilitated a pastoral session of restorative meditation. I believe that His Grace, by holding sessions on such a sensitive issue as “abuse,” gave permission for the women to honestly discuss a reality that many of them face in their own private lives. 

The Solidarity March:

On Saturday we had the Catholic Women’s League Soli, which is raised annually to support local seminarians attend PRS as well as to fund women’s projects for the church. His Grace had switched up the program to include a solidarity march on the grounds of Wairiki

. For a first time attendee like myself, the scene was spectacularly colorful and vibrant! Women were gathered in their parish groups and dressed in an array of brightly colored jabas. 

There was singing, dancing, and shouting, along with the loud shrills of whistles filling the humid tropical air. Part of my task at the AGM was to take photos, so I sat under one Bua tree and watched as His Grace, the priests, and women prepared themselves for the procession. 

There were rumors of some division amongst leaders at the AGM and so it seemed that His Grace’s decision to hold a solidarity march was reminiscent of Israel’s own march in the Old Testament. However, instead of bringing down the walls of Jericho, the march that Saturday morning was to bring down the walls of “division.” And from the ensuing scene of magnificently dressed women marching in unison to beating drums, melodies, and laughter, all signs of internal factions seemed to disappear, even if only for that moment. 

The Lord Delights in a Cheerful Giver:

Afterwards in the va’atuniloa, the soli began. Father Donal had briefed me on the soli, but it wasn’t until I began to take photos that I realized the spirit in which the soli was done – Festivity and Celebration! As each parish was called up to give, they would line from the back of the va’atuniloa and dance their way forward to different songs before putting their money into waiting buckets. The Catholic Women’s League were putting to action 2 Corinthians 9:7,

“Each one must give as he (she) has decided in his (her) heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, FOR GOD LOVES A CHEERFUL GIVER.”

If God loves a cheerful giver, then the AGM soli was definitely driven by Divine Love. 

One particular moment which caught me off guard was when the women of Napuka Parish made their way up the aisle singing a hymn about Mary. As they made their way slowly to the front I saw many with tears in their eyes singing with so much passion and fervor. Then I noticed these two elderly women walk up to the buckets and drop a few silver coins in as tears fell down their faces. I felt like time stood still at that very moment as I was reminded of the “Widow’s Offering” in Mark 12:41-44. It is a scene in the Gospel where the poor widow gives two copper coins as her offering and Jesus turns to his disciples and says, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They gave out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty, put in all she had to live on.” 

After giving their soli the two ladies went over to a group of young women from Namosi and continued singing the hymn which told of how in their times of hardship, Mother Mary helped them. It was such a poignant moment of joy as the older ladies testified to their faith. The Holy Spirit moved powerfully throughout the Soli with many women finding a platform to celebrate their faith, hard-work, and dedication to the Catholic Church of Fiji. 

Eventually it all came to an end as Holy Cross Parish of Wairiki won the soli with an offering of over $26,000; bringing the AGM Soli to a total of over $190,000 FJD. That evening after dinner, the dancing and music continued with a lively siba as young and old gathered around the va’atuniloa with merry-making and laughter. 

The Daily Masses:

The following morning, we celebrated the AGM’s final Mass. These morning Masses took precedence before any other activity each day of the AGM and were really a great way to begin because they allowed time for worship, the Word of God, and Eucharist to take place before moving onto the rest of the program. Divisional groups of women (Central, Western, and Northern) were responsible for leading the hymns each day while the local Holy Cross parishioners served in every capacity that was needed for every Mass.  

The Archbishop and other leading Priests gave homilies which touched upon the work of the Catholic Women’s League in the last 50 years while local catechists, and altar boys and girls served diligently throughout the Masses. Holy Cross Parish were as organized in their liturgies as they were in every other aspect of the four-day event, and this was most obvious with the smooth operative manner in which the Mass and Eucharistic Celebrations were observed each morning. 

The final Mass for the AGM acknowledged and gave honor to the pioneering members of the Catholic Women’s League who had dedicated so much of their time, efforts, and resources over the last half a century. His Grace called upon the surviving pioneers to stand and be prayerfully thanked for their years of service. It was a glorious morning full of hymns and worship as the beautiful singing of the Holy Cross Parish Choir brought the final Mass to a close.


The AGM Meeting:

Later that morning, the Catholic Women’s League’s Annual General Meeting was facilitated by His Grace the Archbishop. It was full of debates and deliberation, with a new group of leaders being elected as internal issues were addressed in a very public forum. One lady later commented, “today’s AGM was very good because all the talks and debates showed that the Catholic Women’s League is still very much alive and kicking!”

Farewells and Friendships:

Our time in Taveuni came to end that afternoon as most of the contingent boarded the Lomaiviti Princess to head back to Viti Levu. The warm hospitality provided by Holy Cross Parish and the people of Taveuni set a very high standard for future hosts of the annual AGM. The meals were served generously, clean showers and toilets were provided, and it was evident that only a spirit of unity could make possible an event of such magnitude. Holy Cross Wairiki and the people of Taveuni should be congratulated on such a wonderful job done to host the 50th Anniversary of the Catholic Women’s League!

As a group, the members of Raiwaqa Parish grew closely to one another during the event. We were no longer strangers on our sail back to Viti Levu, but more like family. This seemed to be the general emotion throughout the ship as women from different parishes interacted with each other in a spirit of friendship and sisterhood. It was amazing to see how in a matter of days the shared journey of spirituality and adventure could bring everyone together in such magnificent fashion!

The Catholic Women’s League’s 50th Anniversary Celebration displayed the faith and fortitude of Catholic women in Fiji’s Parishes. Consisting of the mothers of the Church who give of themselves wholeheartedly and with fervor, the league has a bright future ahead of themselves. Despite any challenges or daunting events that the future may bring, it seems that their foundation in God’s Love and their call to serve the needs of the Church will be a beacon of hope for generations of women to come.

I would highly recommend that all Catholic women in Fiji and from our communities abroad attend at least one AGM conference in their life. It is not only a fun and festive occasion but it is a time of uniting for a greater cause to support our clergy, support one another, and build up the future of the Catholic Church in Fiji.

  Adi Mariana Waqa 2018