By Fr. Donald Maldari, SJ
Three Jesuits from the USA Northeast Province—Fr. Arthur Leger, SJ, Fr. Don Maldari, SJ, and Br. Juan Ngiraibuuch, SJ—are now serving in Fiji, assigned as part of the first new international ministry of the Jesuits on the East Coast. Broadening the tradition of helping to educate and form Church leaders, Fr. Donald Maldari, SJ, is professor of theology at the Pacific Regional Seminary in Suva, Fiji. He writes about a recent visit from Fr. John Cecero, SJ, USA Northeast Province provincial, and an important journey they took part in to visit the remote village of Komave to remember a Jesuit who devoted decades of his life to creating sustainable economic opportunities for the people of that region.
Since arriving in Fiji, I have been fascinated by the way people in Oceania—the collection of Pacific islands stretching from New Zealand to Hawaii—conceive of personhood. Persons in Oceania are individuals who are essentially connected to everything: to other people, ancestors, the land, all creatures, and to God. Oceanic culture has always seen, and continues to see, God in all things. It recognizes that God charges creation with life and that God brings all creation together, ultimately in a communion of love. The Fijian word vanua expresses this communion. It means “land,” but land as a symbol that connects all life, including ancestors, people, all creation, and God.
On September 1, the three Jesuits working in Fiji, Fr. Arthur Leger, SJ, Br. Juan Ngiraibuuch, SJ, and I, together with the USA Northeast Province Provincial Fr. John Cecero, SJ, and the regional Jesuit superior in Micronesia, Fr. Thomas Benz, SJ, experienced Oceanic personhood first hand. We made a pilgrimage to the village of Komave on the southern coast of Fiji’s largest island, Viti Levu, where we visited the tomb of American Jesuit Father Marion Ganey, who arrived in Fiji in 1953. He worked for 30 years, until his death in 1984, to establish credit unions, first in Fiji and then in neighboring Samoa and Tonga, separated from Fiji by 700 and 460 miles of ocean respectively. Even today, the mere mention of Fr. Ganey’s name brightens people’s faces here and elicits stories of how his credit unions opened the doors to improving the quality of life. Fr. Ganey’s credit unions were inspired by his faith that God calls all people together to live and work in holy communion. His faith in Christ, whose death and resurrection eliminates all barriers to communion, had lasting connections with Oceanic culture.
Our visit to Komave was a kind of sacrament of personhood. It brought us closer together with all members of the vanua, and I am privileged to participate in God’s work of promoting God’s kingdom through my work with seminarians from all over Oceania.
Jesuit Father Donald Maldari’s first book, The Creed: The Faith That Moves Evolution, was published in 2015 by Lectio Publishing. His second work, Christian Ministry in the Divine Milieu, will be published in December 2018 by Orbis Press in the Catholicity in an Evolving Universe series.