Fr Tovia bears “the sign that Jesus died for Samoa”

By Jordan Grantham, 5 July 2018
Fr Tovia Lui proudly holding a photograph of his classmates during studies. Photo: Diocese of Parramatta

Behind the serene and jolly countenance of Fr Tovia Lui is the backstory of his worldwide odyssey from Samoa, to Rome, and Australia via the USA.

Fr Tovia is actually a priest of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. He requested a transfer to help his frail father in Australia.

“I was ready to come to be with him and walk with him. Sadly, I was granted the visa to come and he passed away,” he said.

Despite this heavy loss, Fr Tovia persevered with his loan to the Diocese of Parramatta, which has lasted two years, bringing a pastoral understanding of Fa’asamoa; the Samoan culture of faith, family and song. Fr Tovia is Chaplain to the Samoan Community int he Diocese of Parramatta.

The deeply Christian nation of Samoa even mentions Our Lord in the Samoan national anthem: “Look at those stars that are appealing; This is the sign that Jesus died for Samoa. Samoa, hold your authority forever. Fear not, God is our foundation…”


Video of Fr Tovia Lui doing a Samoan dance

Farewell Father Tovia Lui! #StCatherineLaboure #Samoan #Dancing

A post shared by patron_on_rocks (@patron_on_rocks) on

Growing up in Samoa, the Lui family made their spiritual home at St Anne’s Basilica, Leulumoega, where Pope Paul VI visited on his 1970 Apostolic Visit to Samoa.

The family would walk to St Anne’s from a neighbouring village where they were the only Catholic family. The rest of his immediate family left Samoa and he has five siblings living Australia and New Zealand.

Catholic Basilica Minor of St Anne. Photo: John Elliott Townsville

Pope Paul VI also connects to Fr Tovia’s current home, St Paul the Apostle Parish, Winston Hills, where His Holiness blessed the school hall foundation stone.

In 1995, Cardinal Pio Taofinu’u, Archbishop of Samoa-Apia, and first Cardinal from the Pacific, commissioned Fr Tovia to provide pastoral care for Samoans living in Southern California.

In Los Angeles, Fr Tovia ministered at several parishes while Chaplain to the Samoan Community, of which the city of Long Beach has the largest community. Over 60,000 people of Samoan origin live in California.

The sanctuary of Sacred Heart Church, Altadena, LA. Photo: Sacred Heart Altadena

Samoans are the second largest Pacific Islander group in the United States, partly due to the United States governing American Samoa since the 1899 Tripartite Convention with Germany that divided western and eastern Samoa. Citizens of American Samoa are US Nationals.

While Samoans are a small percentage of the US population, there are dozens of Samoans shining on the NFL field, such as Troy Polamalu, a strong Christian, and Roman Reigns, a Catholic NFL player turned wrestler.

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Fr Tovia gained a growing desire to promote and preserve Samoan culture during his studies in moral theology at the Alphonsianum in Rome.

“When I was in Italy, the culture shock was real,” Fr Tovia emphasised.

“I realised I have to stand up now not just as a priest but as a Samoan among these many many people from different parts of the world,” he said.

His proudest achievement after 20 years of ministry in Los Angeles was the welcome response of regional Bishops to celebrate three First Holy Communions and twice confer the Sacrament of Confirmation to Samoan youths. This saw the community grow and strengthen.

“It’s the story of beginning from nothing and having something,” he said.

Part of Fa’asamoa, Samoan culture, is honouring the Lord through specific cultural practices in Mass.

This includes blowing the conch shell to announce ceremonial events. Young women wear traditional clothes and offer a flower string lei at the entrance or offertory to the Bishop or Priest. These honorary dances mimic those offered to august dignatories, such as the Chief of State.

Samoans are also renowned for their choirs and can be heard singing at the following Masses in the Diocese of Parramatta and nearby:

First Sunday of the Month
St Peter Chanel, Berala

Second Sunday of the Month
11am Sacred Heart Parish, Mount Druitt (Samoan Mass)

Third Sunday of the Month
1pm Holy Family Parish, Emerton (Samoan Mass)

Fourth Sunday of the Month
11am Sacred Heart Parish, Mount Druitt (Samoan Mass)


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