My name is Mariana Waqa and in the last several weeks I have been spending my Wednesdays at St Pius Parish with Fr. McEvoy and his team. I was born and raised in Fiji until the age of six when my family and I migrated over to Australia. I grew up, schooled, and worked between Melbourne and Sydney for most of my life before opting to study Theology in 2013. Theology in its most simple of terms is, “the study of God.” One online dictionary describes it as “the science of religion, study of God, and his relationship to humanity.” Studying theology has not been an easy journey, but what it has done is deepened my understanding of the vastness of God as well as the ability to understand aspects of the human spirit.
Last year as I finished my final units for the degree, I began to reflect on what the future held for me. I had for the last three years considered pursuing my academic studies towards a PhD, but as I completed my degree there was a sense of restlessness inside of me. I wondered whether I could spend another 4-5 years reading books and writing for endless amounts of hours to gain a doctorate, publish my writings, and essentially teach at tertiary level? Despite of my love for learning, I knew that I was itching for something beyond classroom walls and towers of research books – I wanted to bring my studies and experiences home.
I graduated in December and by the end of that month I had moved from Sydney to my family home in Melbourne, before catching a flight to the tropical summer heat of Fiji. Eight months later and there are still some days when I catch my breath and think, “Oh my gosh, I really did do it. I moved here alone and have to some degree survived – thank God for that!”
Much of my time has been spent working with the Methodist Church of Fiji because I was interested in their “New Exodus,” otherwise known as “Na Lako Yani Vou.” However, several months after my move back home I was approached by Fr. Frank of the Columban Fathers who asked me to work with them especially in regards to their women’s programs.
St Pius Raiwaqa:
What can I say about St Pius Parish? There is so much. In recent weeks I have met parts of the community here, especially that of the women. There were a couple of group meetings where I had the chance to sit with a number of women and hear them share their stories and ideas. Two weeks ago, the topic of the Parish Youth was brought up after Mass one night and I was really touched to hear the love and concern that the women and mothers had for their young people. They called for us to remember that we were once young as well and that rather than judge our youth, we are to love, protect, and guide them through their formative years. These women were very proud of their young people, sharing with me that at a recent event the Raiwaqa Youth were praised and applauded by other Parish communities for their contribution. I think that this shows the great potential that young people have to impact their churches and communities, but it is the love and support of their elders which is vital to their spiritual and emotional growth.
Another group of women which I have been spending many of my mornings with is Sector 7B. Aunty Maria who is their community leader has been so diligent in her work of taking me around to meet with the women and to hear their stories of faith, family, and friendship. I have sat with the women and listened to them share parts of their spiritual lives, and often I am left in awe of their ability to survive hardships through the faith they have in Jesus Christ.
Raiwaqa is a vibrant community! I have said this often to Fr. McEvoy as a new person who has walked into this community with fresh eyes. There are gifted women, men, and young people whose faith is a driving factor behind their work for the Parish. Yet still, there is much to be done in terms of motivating and encouraging Parishioners to build up their spiritual lives as well as their relationship with one another, and this responsibility I believe lays in the hands of Parish leaders. This is one of the reasons why I have been sent to the Parish, to assist Father McEvoy and church leaders to address some of the issues which are affecting the community of St Pius. I feel blessed and privileged to have been given this opportunity to connect with the women of this Parish and to learn of their faith stories and tales of survival.