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Archbishop Mataca's legacy

Article Supplied By The Roman Catholic Archdiocese Of Suva
Thursday, July 10, 2014

Archbishop Petero Mataca

April 28, 1933 - June 30, 2014

BORN in Cawaci, Ovalau, on April 28, 1933, Petero Mataca was ordained a Roman Catholic Priest on December 20, 1959.

He became the first iTaukei bishop when he was ordained Bishop of the Diocese of Suva on December 3, 1974, and later became the first iTaukei archbishop on April 10, 1976. Archbishop Emeritus Mataca passed away in Suva on June 30, 2014, after a long battle with cancer.

Mataca, as a priest and bishop of the Second Vatican Council era, committed himself to implementing the Council's vision of Church.

In his 1975 Pastoral Plan, he envisioned a local church that was self-ministering, self-supporting, and self-propagating.

The church would be self-ministering, he had said, when the local people provided for all the essential services needed for the life of the church.

Mataca stressed that the immediate challenge for the church in Fiji at the time, was to increase the number of local priests, religious brothers and sisters, and foster the active participation of the laity.

The church would be self-propagating when the local people were actively involved in its mission, rather than being dependent on foreign missionaries.

Finally, the church would be self-supporting when she could sustain herself in terms of finances and human resources.

Calling on the laity to actively participate in the church's mission, Mataca proposed that to establish the local Church, Fijian Catholics must be made aware that they are the local church.

Mataca continued the renewal of the church in various ways such as by conducting a survey on "Catholic Family Life in Fiji and Rotuma (April and October 1987). In 1988-1989, the Church held regional assemblies in the West, North, and Central-Eastern divisions to begin preliminary preparations for its first synod in 1990.

Social Context

Mataca also ministered during a time of political instability in Fiji where political crises posed new challenges to the Catholic Church's mission.

A strong advocate for social justice and peoples' development, he recognised the social, cultural and political contexts were the loci of the church's mission.

The Columban Fathers were instrumental in the Catholic Church's theological reflection and responses to socio-political issues. As a result, a body of writing began to emerge in the 1970-1980s that reflected on the Church's mission in its social, cultural, and political contexts.

The two 1987 military coups also provided a new context and challenge for the Fijian Catholic Church. Mataca responded to the 1987 coups through his pastoral letters, media statements, and submission to the Constitution Review Committee. Mataca condemned the coup as illegal and an attack on constitutional democracy.

In the Catholic Church's submission to the Constitutional Review Committee on July 24, 1987, Mataca pointed out that "the political system has tended to emphasise and highlight racial differences and perhaps create unproductive racial division civil and third, to see, judge, and act in light of the church's scripture and teachings". "See, Judge, Act" method has been a consistent approach used by Catholic Social Teaching for responding to social issues.

After the 2006 coup, the interim Government invited Mataca to be co-chair of the National Council for Building a Better Fiji (NCBBF). Having long been critical of politics in Fiji, Mataca saw the NCBBF and the Peoples' Charter as vehicles for improving Fijian democracy along the lines that he had previously written about. Although he was clear about his motives, some of the public interpreted his move as supporting an illegal government.

Mataca retired on December 19, 2012. He intended to go home to Yasawa and enjoy fishing.

He also wanted to write a book on his ministry. Unfortunately, he was infected with cancer.

"Archbishop (Emeritus) Mataca did not show signs of pain during his illness.

"I believe one of his unseen pains was his inability to communicate as his cheek and mouth were infected with cancer," said Archbishop Peter Loy Chong.

Time to Say Goodbye

Recalling the days before Mataca's passing, Archbishop Peter Loy Chong said: "Archbishop Mataca had the church embedded in his heart and soul. This was reflected in how he envisioned his funeral. He had initially requested to be buried next to his parents in Yasawa.

"A week later, on June 20, he had changed his mind. He had reflected on being buried in the bishop's tomb at Cawaci, Ovalau, and then thought of being buried with diocesan priests in the Vatuwaqa cemetery.

"Finally, he decided to be buried next to Fr. John Clerkin at the old Suva Cemetery. He said that Fr. Clerkin was his mentor who groomed him. Archbishop Mataca's plans for his funeral reflect his desire to be close to his brother priests and the church. Despite all his funeral wishes, he also said: "Au tu ga ena vakarorogo. (I will listen)."

Following Mataca's passing, Archbishop Peter met diocesan priests of the greater Suva parishes to make funeral plans and it was unanimously decided that Mataca would be entombed in the Sacred Heart Cathedral.

The priests wanted to honour him by burying him in the Cathedral and thereby continuing a Catholic tradition that dates back to early Christianity. Mataca loved the church up to his death. He told Archbishop Peter Chong that he always prayed for him, the priests and the church.

"For a person who dedicated all of his life for the church, it is only fitting that he be buried in the Cathedral," he said.

"Archbishop Mataca has prepared well for his homecoming. He did not have the opportunity to fulfil his retirement plans to retire in Yawasa and fish. Archbishop Mataca has, however, retired to his eternal home where he joins the great fishermen in heaven who are celebrating the catch of their lives.

"Archbishop Mataca wanted to write a book about his ministry. Even though he was not able to work on the book, he has left us a living legacy that will remain in the church and in society forever.

"May God greet Archbishop Mataca with the biblical words: 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!' (Matthew 25:23)."

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