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of Archbishop Peter Loy Chong, Vodafone Arena, Suva, Fiji
Ordination of Archbishop Peter Loy Chong, Vodafone Arena, Suva,
The Vodafone Arena is a large indoor sports stadium, built originally
for the South Pacific Games in 2003, and now used not only for
sports but for all sorts of large gatherings, including musical
concerts, university examinations, and even the occasional church
service. Since the Sacred Heart Cathedral holds not many more
than 1000 people, and about 10,000 were expected to attend the
episcopal ordination, this venue was chosen and specially adapted
to purpose: a large stage was erected at one end of the arena,
with an altar and a 20 meter high painted backdrop, specially
painted for the occasion, showing a representation of Jesus
and the emblem of the new archbishop. Unfortunately for the
university students who sat an examination in the arena two
days later, the backdrop was not left in place as an inspiration
The Archdiocese of Suva covers the whole of Fiji. There are
about 80,000 Catholics in Fiji, i.e. about 10 per cent of the
population, most of them active churchgoers.
Suva is the national capital of Fiji; about one-third of the
population now live in the greater Suva area. The Vodafone Arena
is part of the national sports complex at Laucala Bay, a suburb
of Suva. Across the road is the national outdoor stadium, and
behind is the national aquatic centre. Nearby is the main campus
of the University of the South Pacific.
The Most Revd Petero Mataca, retiring Archbishop of Suva, was
the principal consecrating bishop. He was assisted by the Most
Revd John Dew, Archbishop of Wellington, and the Most Revd Soane
Mafi, Bishop of Tonga. In the procession there were six other
mitred bishops from the Pacific region; the Rt Revd Winston
Halapua, Anglican Bishop of Polynesia (unmitred on this occasion);
and the 150 priests of the diocese plus a few priests from other
countries. All of these (except Bishop Halapua) assisted in
the distribution of the eucharist. Invited guests included leaders
of other churches, the president, prime minister and all the
government ministers of Fiji (most of whom are not Catholics,
but who rightly saw this an important milestone for the nation),
the diplomatic corps, the extended family of Archbishop Chong,
and members of his former congregation in California.
The date & time:
Saturday, 8 June 2013, 9.00am. [Editor's note: This report was
filed on 16 July 2013.]
What was the name of the service?
The Episcopal Ordination of Archbishop Peter Loy Chong as Archbishop
How full was the building?
With seats in what is normally the playing area plus the tiered
seating on the sides, the Vodafone Arena can hold about 7000
people. The service had been billed as a "once in lifetime
event" – justifiably, since the previous installation was
in 1974 – and all 35 parishes were urged to send representatives.
One parish sent 13 busloads! Faced with such enthusiasm, the
new archbishop himself had decided that the bulk of the seating
would be unticketed, with overflow provided with a big screen
outside, and the whole service broadcast live on radio, television
and the internet.
Did anyone welcome you
Like everyone else who reached the entrance gates, I was given
a copy of the souvenir service booklet by one of the numerous
volunteer attendants. I chatted briefly with others in the queue
at the gate, one of whom asked if I was a Columban father –
an understandable mistake, as like most of those fathers, I
am an older white male, of which there are not many in Fiji.
Was your pew comfortable?
But alas, the gates had just been closed to all except invited
ticketholders; it was already full inside. There were tents
(marquees) outside – also already mostly full – and plenty of
(muddy) standing room from which to view the service on a specially
erected big screen. However, I opted to go back home and watch
it on television!
How would you describe
the pre-service atmosphere?
The 300-strong choir were in full voice with "gathering
hymns" beginning more than an hour before the posted start
time. Large amplifiers carried their harmonious strains to the
people immediately outside, and indeed to the wider neighbourhood.
What were the exact opening words of the
I cannot say for sure, as the archbishop's microphone was not
properly connected to the television hook-up at the start of
the service (although it was fixed soon afterward).
What books did the congregation use during the
A souvenir booklet printed in full glossy colour, with a photo
of Archbishop Chong on the cover. It contained not only the
order of service (with full words of the ordination rite but
not of the mass), but also several articles of relevance to
the occasion, including a potted history of the diocese, short
biographies of both the new and the retiring archbishop, and
an outline of the procedure and criteria for selecting a bishop.
What musical instruments were played?
A Chinese drummer led the procession into the arena. (This had
been requested by the new archbishop to honour the Chinese part
of his ancestry.) The choir sang on their own before the service
but were well backed by the congregation and occasional trumpet
blasts during the mass itself. In the Pacific, even Catholic
congregations sing well and with gusto, though usually in unison
(as on this occasion) rather than in the four-part harmony common
in other denominations.
Did anything distract you?
The sound track of the telecast was a major distraction. Sound
levels fluctuated badly, with no sound at all for some parts
of the service. During the procession, but fortunately not so
much during the mass itself, there was a trilingual commentary
(in English, Fijian and Hindi – the main languages of Fiji)
explaining the significance of what was happening and was about
to happen. While useful, especially to the majority of viewers,
who would not have a copy of the service booklet, for me it
added to the volume control issues, and sometimes drowned out
what was being said or sung at the service. And of course it
was fun to identify not only the notable guests but also some
of my friends and acquaintances as the camera occasionally panned
around the congregation.
Photo: © Fiji Times
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
The main part of the service was of course suitably formal,
befitting the occasion. Most of the it was in English (the shared
formal language of Fiji) but some hymns and one of the Bible
readings were in Fijian (the first language of most Catholics
in Fiji). The service comprised the liturgy of the Word (Bible
readings) followed by the ordination rite and then the liturgy
of the eucharist. The apostolic letter appointing the new archbishop
was read in both English and Fijian. During the prayers just
before the laying on of hands by the three consecrating bishops,
the candidate prostrated himself before the altar and the assembled
bishops and priests, which emphasised the solemnity of the occasion.
Exactly how long was the
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 Archbishop Mataca spoke in English. He moved and spoke
slowly and deliberately as befits a man of 80 years. Even so,
it is clear that he is still in command of his thoughts and
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
God has sent people into the world to serve him (Gen 1, Eph
3, John 17). Through the unbroken succession of bishops, this
mission and the power given by the Holy Spirit continue to be
handed down. The new archbishop's task will be to see that the
love of our Saviour grows and spreads. When wealth is served,
violence comes, because God is not at the centre of those people’s
world. But others of our people live in squatter settlements
and cry for our assistance; we must act as their brothers and
sisters, for we are all sons and daughters of God. Yet others
of our people live in villages as subsistence farmers and fishermen,
surrounded by God’s creation. All of us, especially women and
children, are thirsting for God.
Which part of the service
was like being in heaven?
The vision of Christ in the beautiful backdrop was certainly
heavenly, as was the sharing of the eucharist by so many people,
including those literally on the outside. And one could, with
a little imagination, think of all those in white behind the
altar as representing the heavenly host. Also, a few less formal
touches said a lot about the new archbishop and his vision for
the church in Fiji. He highlighted its inclusivity by having
not only the Chinese drummers at the start, but also a male
Fijian dancer in full traditional bark-cloth (masi)
leading the offertory procession, and a doxology (aarti)
with diya lamps (small round oil lamps made of clay)
held by a small group of Indo-Fijian ladies during the eucharist.
And which part was like
being in... er... the other place?
If it was like heaven inside, then my being shut out at the
door would have to rate as hellish. Though perhaps it was only
limbo, as I could still catch glimpses of heaven through the
miracle of television.
What happened when you
hung around after the service looking lost?
Archbishop Chong’s short speech near the end of the service
was basically one of thanks to all who had supported him, including
the Pope, his parents, and all those present today, before he
personally greeted many of the congregation on his procession
out. But as I was at home, Mrs Tukai put the kettle on for a
nice cup of tea ...
How would you describe
the after-service coffee?
... made the way I like it.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 The message of God’s love for us all and the desire
to put that message into action came through clearly, which
is what one wants in a church. But I would not want a three-hour
service every week, and this venue would seem cavernously empty
with a more normal-sized congregation.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Certainly. The feeling of inclusion in a diverse group of Christians
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The backdrop and the crowd so large that even this venue could not accommodate all who wanted to be part of the event.
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