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2291: Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, Naiserelagi, Ra Province, Vitu Levu, Fiji
Our Lady of Lourdes, Fiji (Grotto)
Mystery Worshipper: Amb3182.
The church: Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, Naiserelagi, Ra Province, Vitu Levu, Fiji.
Denomination: Roman Catholic, Archdiocese of Suva.
The building: The grotto of Our Lady is located in a field near the parish mission church at the base of a rock. To reach the grotto you need to drive through cane fields and up a small hill. The final section of the journey must be made of foot as there is no road entry.
The church: The Roman Catholic community of the Ra province gather once a year at the grotto to celebrate the Feast of the Assumption on 15 August or the nearest Sunday. If you are lucky (as I was) to be in the region at that time, you will witness a very special church service. As we arrived, there were worshippers walking through the cane field dressed in bright Pacific print bula shirts or white sula and jumba (female formal wear for church attendance in Fiji). There were hordes of children dressed in their Sunday best. A gaggle of nuns arrived in the back of a truck. One of the younger nuns carried a seat for an older nun to use during the mass – this was the only seat available at the service.
The neighbourhood: The location is very interesting. Naiserelagi is approximately a three hour drive north of Nadi, Fiji's third largest conurbation, traveling along the Queens Road, or three hours north of Suva, the capital, traveling along the Kings Road. Nearby is the mission church of St Francis Xavier (another location for the Mystery Worshipper when time permits). The local community travel long distances, often on foot, to attend mass. The grotto is fringed with jungle and cane fields, making for a quite a contrast.
The cast: The Revd Petero Mataca (not to be confused with the recently retired Archbishop of Suva, the Most Revd Petero Mataca).
The date & time: Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 14 August 2011, 10.00am [Editor's note: This report was filed on 27 November 2011].

What was the name of the service?
Mass.

How full was the building?
There were around 200 people in attendance. The side of the hill looking up to the altar and statue was full of worshippers seated on large mats and tarpaulins.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was greeted constantly as I walked from the car to the grotto. The people of Fiji are very friendly and are happy to welcome visitors to their churches.

Was your pew comfortable?
No pews, and the only seat was occupied by an elderly nun. I sat on the ground for the whole of the mass. A family very kindly let me sit on a corner of their blue plastic tarpaulin.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quite dignified, with families sitting in different groups all around the hillside. There was a bit of movement over to one side where the men were preparing for the entrance procession.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" – in Fijian.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
No books were used. Everyone sang by heart, same with the responses throughout the mass.

What musical instruments were played?
The congregation provided all the singing – and, as usual in Fiji, the singing was sublime. The natural harmony and rich sound always make it a true pleasure to listen.

Did anything distract you?
The sun was beating down. I did not think to wear sunscreen, nor was I wearing a hat. I kept thinking during the mass, "I am going to look like a lobster after this!"

Our Lady of Lourdes, Fiji (Hillside)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship was joyful and deeply felt. As I mentioned, the singing was beautiful and this really lifted the other parts of the mass. The distribution of communion could have presented a number of challenges given the location but it was done with reverence and genuine devotion.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
11 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Father Mataca has a deep, booming voice and he used his hands a bit throughout the sermon.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He preached in Fijian and my command of that language is not good, but I think his theme was the Glorious Mysteries of the Holy Rosary: the resurrection of Jesus, the ascension of Jesus to heaven, the descent of the Holy Spirit, the assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven, the coronation of Mary as queen of heaven and earth.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The singing, definitely the singing. But I think a close second would the combination of worship and location. There aren't very many places like this in this part of the world.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The sun and no shade.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I chatted with a couple of villagers as I walked back to the car. As I was the only European in attendance, they were curious about how I knew of the mass and the grotto. I asked where the lovo (traditional Fijian meal after church on Sunday) was taking place and they just laughed.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I was hoping that there would be some kava (Fiji's beverage of choice, relaxing and mildly psychoactive) on offer, but no luck. So I got into the car and drove home.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 – The mass was a unique worship experience and it was so unusual to see a formal religious service in such a beautiful location. The community was very welcoming. Even though I was the only foreigner among the worshippers, I felt very much part of the service.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, because the mass and service showed how European traditions and spirituality have been adapted and adopted by new cultures. Although the parts are recognisably Fijian or European, the whole is something different and meaningful.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The location.
 
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