Catholic Church future in Tonga depends on faith

The future of the Catholic church in Tonga depends on faith shining through simplicity, according to Cardinal Sōane Patita Mafi.

“For me, ours is a journey along the path to growth in finding real joy in ‘being who we are’, and even in the beauty of just being alive,” Cardinal Mafi told Catholic Outlook in New south Wales.

“In other words, we ‘shine out’ in being ‘simple’.”

Richness in faith, love and joy gave beauty to many of the poorer Tongan families.

“These people still show joy in their ordinary way of living even when they still give to others out of their own poverty. There is also a ‘glow’ of certain grace in people in homes who on a daily basis take good care of their sick and elderly members,” he said.

Cardinal Mafi, who is also Bishop of Tonga and Niue, was appointed to the cardinalate by Pope Francis in 2015.

He sees the spread of Mormonism in Tonga as a challenge to the Catholic church.

The Latter Day Saints have claimed that 60% of Tongans are Mormon, although this figure is disputed.

Cardinal Mafi sees this growth “Whatever the real story behind the counting process normally used by the Mormon Church, what is perhaps more important here is something for all other churches including the Catholics to learn from,” the Cardinal said.

He described the growth of the LDS, whose members include Prince Ata as  “a wake-up call for all churches and especially for our local Catholic churches.”

He said the Mormon’s “untiring door-to-door home visitations and their charitable offerings to struggling families and individuals,” was an inspiring example for Catholic pastoral work.

“Understandably there are many of our people who do struggle with financial needs to their families,” he said.

He said Caritas and the Society of St Vincent de Paul helped the marginalised with necessities and environmental initiatives.

Caritas had been involved with community projects in villages and parishes to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Projects included planting trees along shorelines as soil protection and to screen buildings from the wind.

“Long before Caritas was established in Tonga, the St Vincent de Paul Society was already functioning on the parish level in helping out those poorer families and those who were lacking in the basic needs in life, such as shelter, water and food,” Cardinal Mafi said.

Cardinal Mafi said when he was growing up cyclones and storms sometimes prevented his family from attending mass.

“On days of bad weather where devotional prayers or Masses were cancelled, we as a family would have our own time for family prayer at home,” Cardinal Mafi said.

“There were always times at the end of evening family prayers for our Dad as head of the family to give his advice and words of correction and encouragement to all.

“Consistency and endurance are perhaps key words to describe the way my parents went about doing the daily devotional prayers, such as morning and evening rosaries, and praise and thanksgiving prayers,” he said.

“The only major concerns that we often heard from our Father for us children were to complete our education and to go to church.”