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of Our Lady of Lourdes, Naiserelagi, Ra Province, Vitu Levu,
The church: Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, Naiserelagi, Ra Province, Vitu
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 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
What was the
name of the service?
How full was
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.
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
Was your pew
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
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
What were the
exact opening words of the
"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
No books were used. Everyone sang by heart, same with the
responses throughout the mass.
What musical instruments
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
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!"
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.
long was the sermon?
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.
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
How would you
describe the after-service
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 =
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?
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