VOCATIONAL WEEKEND 9th-11th OCTOBER 2020
AT THE ISLAND OF LIFOU
Thème: “Parle, Seigneur, ton serviteur écoute.” By Sr Rafaele Amelie
"We have sown the seed, we leave the rest to the Master of the harvest"
The delegation from the Diocesan Vocational Service left Noumea, Friday 9th at 6.10am for the island of Lifou, the biggest of “les îles loyauté”. We were supposed to be 8 in total but 2 Sisters (SMSM and L’Eau Vive) were unable to come due to unforeseen “imprevus de Dieu!” The delegation consisted of one Priest (Fidei Donum), one Marist Brother, two Little Sisters, one Sister Petite Fille de Marie, and a married lady.
Arriving at Wanaham,Lifou aerodrome after 35 minutes flight we had a warm welcome by the elders and some parishioners of Drueulu and while waiting for the transport to arrive we enjoyed a cup of coffee in a typical tribal type of caféteria. On the way to our destination we were treated to a well detailed tour of the northern district of Wetr, Lifou is divided into 3 districts: Wetr, Gaica and Lossi) then down central to the district of Gaica where we had the vocational weekend with young people. We visited a chapel consecrated to our lady of Lourdes built on a cliff by the first Marist missionaries and the Elders of Lifou overlooking the Bay of Sandalwood, one of the treasured trees of Lifou, the sandalwood tree. Climbing the cliff to the chapel was tedious but we told ourselves if the first missionaries did it we could do it too.
We finally made it to our final destination, Drueulu, by the seaside with white sand and crystal clear water! The parishioners of all ages were waiting for us. The customary welcome with speeches and exchange of gifts preceded our first traditional meal of the day. The food is cooked in big metal pots (marmite) in open air. These marmites are safely seated on two beams of metal placed on rocks at both ends of the beams. The food is cooked on slow fire which makes it soft, tasty and has a smoky flavour to it! Everyone ate together, no formalities or fuss, follow the queue, self-service then on the floor or wooden benches for the older ones! The simplicity, sincerity and warm hospitality of the people made it easier for us to mix with them. The Joy of the Gospel was very tangible in all our encounters. Praised be Jesus Christ. Christus Vivit! Christ fully alive in His people!
After lunch the delegation members were accompanied to their respective “maison d’accueil” The two of us were welcomed to a Tribal Casse (hut). We had to discover our new residence first and left our luggage there before returning to the mission for Mass at 5pm. We had to follow the rhythm of life and time of the people. After Mass there were more speeches and customary gift exchange before the last meal of the day. A “veillée de prière” was supposed to follow but due to the late hour we spent it in getting to know each other. We mingled with them with the sound of music, laughter and dances. This made us one with them, children, young people, and elderly of all ages. Parents, grandparents, catechists, organizers, animators were all there to support their young people, to do the work so that the youth were free to be with us.
It was time for grand silence as we returned to our hut. Our first lesson in humility as we had to really lower our heads, bend our knees in order to enter into our humble abode! Traditionally each casse has 3 entries: the main door with nice designs then two side ones I suppose for air and fire escape! These casses (huts) are solidly constructed with wood treated with smoke and then covered with thatches from palm tree or coconut leaves. We were ecstatic to be able to experience sleeping on the floor (2 mattresses were at our disposition) in pitch black darkness with sounds from the sea and the splendour of God’s constellation above our heads. We got into our sleeping bags praising God for the gift of our vocation and His love manifested through these wonderful people.
Saturday 10th: Our first morning in Lifou with the natural beauty of creation around us. After a breakfast of boiled bread, papaya and coconut fruit with the chef of our host family we joined our team at the mission for Morning Prayer with the young people followed by group discussion. The team had named 3 Saints for each group: Ste Thérèse de L’Enfant Jésus, St Francois d’Asisse, Ste Teresa d’Avila. There were 20 young people plus a young couple who were the organizers and leader for the youth in Drueulu. Dominic and Geraldine are both very dynamic and engaging leaders for the youth of Drueulu. Questionnaires were given to the young people for reflection and discussion. The team had decided to leave it open and follow the Holy Spirit’s lead and inspiration instead of our systematic pre-prepared programs. As the young people were so enthusiastic, vibrant and hungry for the Word of God we let them speak and we listened. Our group discussions were open to all subjects on Vocation, their Catholic faith, the challenges and their fears of facing a very negative world. Among the questions given were: what will you do with your life? What are your projects for the future? Have you thought of engaging your existence for Christ? Would you have the courage to say “yes”, do you feel alone, do you think it is possible to give yourself totally in following Jesus for the rest of your life? Among them are two young men considering the Priesthood and some girls too for a religious vocation but that is in God’s time! The group of young people really asked us very thought provoking questions and we were blessed to have Fr. Francois Grossin SM with us during the time of sharing our vocation stories and feedback to answer some of the questions concerning Church teaching on divorce and others. Many of them do not have telephones or internets. When I spoke to them about Laudato Si and Christus Vivit they had never heard of them!
It was time for Mass and the youth love making music and sing with gusto the glories of God in their own way and style in the church, under the trees, on the grass, they were always with a guitar or a ukulele. One member of our team was full time preparing the liturgy on power point, organizing singing practice all depending when they turned up! They were simply timeless et “leur joie de vivre au rhythm de Dieu” and we all had to follow suit! “Dieu soit béni en tout temps et en tout lieu.” It was time for lunch and we all followed the same procedure. The food is laid out for self service, a typical Melanesian meal of manioc, sweet potato, (bami) vermicelli with vegies and meat, fish, fruits, etc... Some were still eating while others started to dance. At the end everyone was on the floor dancing and the music was always tempting. All aches and pains were forgotten while children, mammies, (grandmothers) papies (grandfathers) young people, the vocational team too excelled themselves in this good exercise after meal! We were really in proximity with the people spiritually, physically in other words celebrating our humanity as the people of God.
Time was given to rest and be refreshed before coming back in the evening for the “veillée récréative” at 7.30pm. Our team had no time to rest as the young people were always around us and we felt that they wanted to talk to us individually. Father Syriac was available for confession and Sr Clement and I were kept busy as we both felt drawn to the Elderly people who were there cooking, watching the young people, cleaning, preparing the next meal or just enjoying being together. Several parents expressed their gratitude for this mission as it was a very long time since they had such a gathering for their young people. Our prayer vigil was on the story of 4 candles: Peace, Faith, Love and Hope. The importance of keeping the flame of hope alive and burning in our hearts and in our lives. Before exposing the Blessed Sacrament Fr. Syriac talked about the vocation of Samuel and the importance of silence and listening in our lives in order to hear the voice of God. First we need to learn to know God like the young Samuel before we could answer “speak, Lord, your servant is listening. Eucharistic Adoration united us in silence and profound personal prayer. We all returned to our respective abodes in complete silence. Everyone tried to respect the silence of the night. Our environment and surroundings were very conducive to the silence and we could hear the gushing of waves and the gentle sea breeze. Sr. Clement and I left the casse and went to sleep with another family in the forest! This family has about fifty beehives on the property!
We woke up to the songs of the birds. The density of the forest around us was impressive. After a breakfast of bread and honey, coffee in lemongrass tea, with our host family, we were nourished for the day! We left the forest for the mission by the seaside. The Morning Prayer with our young people scheduled at 8.30am was cancelled as they just arrived 15 minutes before Mass at 10.00 and so we had a singing practice and other preparation for the liturgy of the Eucharist. After communion the young people performed a liturgical dance to a hymn relevant to the theme of the weekend. After Mass it was lunch time but as usual was preceded by the customary speeches and exchange of gifts as there were more young people and parishioners from the other tribes who heard about the youth gathering through the grapevine! One of the young men among the group celebrated his 22nd birthday and so the small “entrée” prepared in his honour was quickly zapped up by the children and young people while the Elders looked on, happy to see their young ones enjoying the special treat, food rare to their daily diet. Before, during and after lunch there was a lot of sharing going on among us and the young people and the not so young too. The musicians young and old entertained the crowd during lunch, then more music and dancing after lunch. It was electrifying to feel the atmosphere of love and an exuberant “joie de vivre” of the youth rubbed off on the rest of us! The joy and the Spirit of the Lord inhabited His people in fraternal encounters and sharing their faith as Catholics. There were some Protestant young people among the group. The majority of Christians on the island are Protestants, harmony and peace reign therein.
When all the fun was over we went for a guided tour of the southern part of the island. Every village we passed had a casse. We were told that the casse becomes a place of refuge during the cyclones as the wind circles round the hut without destroying it. We came back to the mission and it was time for the farewell “coutumier” (farewell speeches etc ) before the last meal together, then it was time for “la veillée festive” by the young people. They put on a sketch about prayer, going to church, trying to avoid bad influence in life, discerning a religious vocation. It was the turn of the “mammies” for a dance and a song called ‘la femme pour tous les temps’ more dances by the youth then it was the finale for everyone. This time the men joined in and we danced to our hearts’ content to the beat and rhythm of the latest craze of MASTER KG: Jerusalema! It was a blessing for us to experience the joyful generosity and authentic hospitality of this wonderful people. It was time to say “au revoir” to all and with grateful hearts we say: Blessed be God. Thank you, my God.
Monday 12th: We left Drueulu mission at 5.00am for the aerodrome. The flight left Lifou for Noumea at 7.10am. We continue to pray and carry these young people in our hearts and daily prayer so that they remain faithful to their faith. With God’s help and grace there will be abundance of fruit in His time. We had sown the seed, now we leave the rest to Him the Master of the harvest.