The good oil at the Tongan Catholic Community

By Jordan Grantham, 4 June 2018
Fr Emenisilito Tupou, Ofa Tupola and Fr Alatini Kolofo'ou SM, organisers of the Tongan Chaplaincy. Photo: Diocese of Parramatta

The Tongan Catholic Community is growing and active, enriched by its beautiful musical and islander traditions.

Fr Alatini Kolofo’ou SM is the main Chaplain of the Tongan Catholic Community in greater Sydney, based at St Joseph’s Parish, Belmore, where he works with Ofa Tupola and Fr Emenisilito Tupou.

“Now, more and more people are coming to the Tongan chaplaincy,” Fr Alatini said.

The office is large and vibrant, decorated with Tongan cultural artefacts and images.

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“Some Tongans are coming back to the faith and some are coming for the first time,” Fr Alatini continued.

Catholic Tongans are interested in building up their formation in the Catholic faith, especially with the formation of families. Having formation in the Tongan language increases the quality of formation.

“Before they joined different parishes, now they come to the stage of forming families and the language is very different for the people, to listen to a homily in English.”

“People are more interested to know more about the faith.”

“Language carries values and emotions,” he said.

A solemn procession of the Gospel during a Tongan Mass. Image by Giovanni Portelli Photography

According to Fr Alatini, the population of Tonga and the Tongan diaspora is growing. “There are more Tongans outside Tonga than inside Tonga,” Fr Alatini said. He believes the Catholic Tongan community in Australia comprises approximately 5,000 people.

“The Diocese of Parramatta has the largest Tongan community,” he said.

The Mt Druitt community is the largest of the 31 communities in 11 dioceses around Australia.

The TCC, ‘Tongan Catholic Community’, gathers nationally each year and has multiple cultural events with their chaplains.

The Seminar Weekend is an annual event at the start of the year, focused on formation.

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Last year’s keynote topic at the Seminar was on the Eucharist and the family.

“Trying to help people have a greater understanding of this greatest gift with them – the Eucharist – to nourish appreciation of the Eucharist,” Fr Alatini said.

“It has to be nourished by that and built up in the family; going to Mass on Sunday together, to make it a family day and the Eucharist will be the highlight of the day,” he said.

Other distinctive features of Tongan culture are the blessing of small children who have not received Holy Communion on the first Sunday of January, known as tapuaki fanau iiki.

“We give them a medal of Our Lady for them to wear for the year,” Fr Alatini said, with obvious joy in the beauty of his community’s Catholic culture. The miraculous medal has a special connection to Tonga, because the national Marian devotion is to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception.

Tongan Catholics do not eat meat on Fridays, as a way to fulfil the laws of abstinence and are especially fond of mullet, which is also cheaper in Australia than in Tonga.

A highlight of the Tongan community day, is a Tongan dance ritual known as katoanga’ofa, where a youth dances while wearing oil and members of the community stick currency notes to the dancer’s oiled body.

There is a Tongan community day every three months at Holy Family Parish, Emerton, including a Mass accompanied by Tongan choir, a large Tongan lunch and katoanga’ofa.

On the second week of March of each year, the Tongan Catholic Community gathers across the nation at a conference centre in Sydney.

Fr Alatini says there are plenty of activities for students at the national retreat, including the opportunity for students to create a song or play about each year’s theme.

“This year is the creed ‘I believe’,” Fr Alatini said.

 

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