Sacred name played important part in life of first cardinal from Tonga

In his first public speech in Tonga, Cardinal Mafi told thousands of listeners that he believed he had become the Catholic church’s youngest cardinal because he was named after John the Baptist.

He told the crowd which welcomed him at Maʻofanga that his mother always addressed him by the name while he was studying to be a priest in the seminary in Fiji.

Cardinal Mafi was responding to a question asked by many Tongans when news about his elevation broke in the kingdom: How did the tiny Pacific Tongan diocese in the Pacific come to be recognised like this by the Vatican?

Tonga is an archipelago of 176 islands spread over 270,000 square miles in the South Pacific. It has a population of more than 102,000, most of whom are Christians.

About 16,000 of them are Catholics.

The cardinal said while he was trying to come to terms with the news of his elevation he remembered how his mother ‘Onevao wrote to him while he was in the seminary in Fiji. He said she always addressed him by his christened name, with the salutation, “Siʻi Sōane Patita.”

Siʻi, a Tongan definitive article, carries a sense of emotion in Tongan when added to the name. Sōane Patita is the Catholic name for John the Baptist in Tongan.

Cardinal Mafi  said John the Baptist was a very humble prophet who told Jesus he was unworthy to tie the straps of his sandals.

He said it was his maxim after his elevation and his message to the people of Tonga to be humble and let Jesus lead.

Cardinal Mafi said he was impressed by the Vatican’s music and environment and when  people asked him where Tonga was he invited them to visit the kingdom.

He said the Tongan flag has been raised in the Vatican by hundreds of Tongans who were there to join him in his elevation and that was historical.

Cardinal Mafi’s speech was made during the ceremony of hāʻunga, a Tongan presentation of pigs and kava as well and mats and ngatu to show appreciation for what has been achieved.

Hāʻunga

When the hāʻunga is presented two heralds address each other. One represents those who present the hāʻunga and the other represents the person who the presentation was made to and receives the hāʻunga.

The presenting herald speaks first, shouting an explanation of how they feel about the achievement and the excitements they had.

Ula, the herald who spoke on behalf of the presenters, mentioned people who were there to welcome Cardinal Mafi. He told, Kula, the Cardinal’s herald, about his appreciation and thankfulness because of what has been achieved

Ula mentioned the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga’s (FWCT) President Rev. ʻAhio who led the sermon of the day and said he was happy the elevation of Cardinal Mafi had united the FWCT with Catholics.

President Ahio was accompanied by students from Sia’atoutai, the FWCT Theological College in Tonga in the welcoming ceremony, Ula said.

Ula told Kula they were brothers and sisters, referring to the union of the FWCT members and the Catholics and other Protestants church members who attended the welcoming event.

Kula responded to Ula’s speech and thanked him for the hāʻunga. He said he felt nervous when they arrived in the Vatican.

He said the novelty of the atmosphere hugely impressed him and made him ask how on earth this had happened. He said the other cardinals who were elevated with Mafi were from well-known countries of the world.

He said his anxiety was propelled by the fact the MC of the day at the Vatican asked in front of the audience where Tonga was.

Then, using poetical languages, he said  he came to realise that this was a religious event which was not based on worldly ideas and physicality but on Christian morals and ethics where everyone was the same in the eyes of God.

The main points

  • In his first public speech in Tonga, Cardinal Mafi told thousands of listeners that he believed he had become the Catholic church’s youngest cardinal because he was named after John the Baptist.
  • He told the crowd which welcomed him at Ma’ofanga that his mother always addressed him by the name while he was studying to be a priest in the seminary in Fiji.
  • Cardinal Mafiʻs speech was made during the ceremony of haʻunga, a Tongan presentation of pigs and kava, mats and ngatu to show appreciation for what has been achieved.
  • About 16,000 Tongans are Catholics.

For more information

Cardinal Mafi celebrates his first mass since becoming Cardinal in San Mateo, California

Consistory for the creation of new Cardinals, by Pope Francis 14 February 2015 (Vatican TV)

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