19 May 2010

A 'Pilgrim for Christ' in Fiji, England and Pakistan

Fr Patrick McCaffrey (3rd from right) 18 March 1944 - 18 May 2010

Yesterday afternoon the Columban superior in Manila, Fr Patrick O’Donoghue, very thoughtfully phoned me to tell me of the sudden death of a classmate in Pakistan, Fr Patrick McCaffrey, before he sent the news by email to all of us. Fr McCaffrey, who was from County Fermanagh in Northern Ireland, was only 66.

We Columbans have as our patron a man driven by the Latin motto 'Peregrinari pro Christo', 'To be a pilgrim for Christ', St Columban (also known as 'Columbanus'). Father Pat McCaffrey pilgrimage took him from the lakes of County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, to Fiji, Pakistan, England, back to Fiji and, finally, to Pakistan.

River Erne, County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland

Father Pat’s first assignment was to Fiji and he spent all of his ten years there in Labasa, which has many Indian-Fijians. In 1978 he was assigned to Pakistan as one of our pioneering group there. From 1998 till 2005 he worked in Britain, based in Bradford which has a very large population of people with their origins in Pakistan. He was involved in inter-faith work and also celebrated Mass regularly with Pakistani Catholics in the area. Between 2000 and 2002 I sometimes celebrated Mass in the parish where he lived with the Filipinos in the Bradford.

In 2008 Father Pat returned to Fiji but was moved once again back to Pakistan early last year. He had just been visiting two newly-arrived Fijian Columban lay missionaries when he had what seems to have been a heart attack. He always felt close to those who were poor and the first person to go to his aid was a streetsweeper.

Catholic church, Hyderabad, Pakistan

Here is something he wrote in 2006 after his return to Fiji telling the extraordinary story of the baptism of five siblings at the request of their parents, both of them Hindus. One of those children is based now in General Santos City, Mindanao, Sr Sr Pushpa Wati Arjun SMSM.

Return to Fiji after 26 Years

Fr Pat McCaffrey ('67). Fiji

When I left Fiji in 1978 to go to Pakistan I did not think that I would ever be reassigned back to Fiji. I had the unique record of having had only one assignment during my 10 years in Fiji, viz. Holy Family Parish, Labasa. That was my first and only love in Fiji. It is where I cut my teeth in the pastoral field. While in Pakistan and later in Britain I used to look back in nostalgia to the good old days in the seventies in Labasa.

Flooded street, Labasa, Fiji

I vividly recall the day in 1971 when Aijun said to me in Naleba, ‘I want you to baptise all my children.’ ‘And what about you and your wife’ I asked him. They were both Hindus. ‘No’ he said, ‘we will not be baptised. We were born Hindus and we will die Hindus. But I want my children to become Christian and I am asking you now to baptise them and teach them how to be good people’.
I was reluctant to baptise the children when the parents were not willing to be baptised. However, the children, Victor William (12), Lingam (10), Sog Lingam (8), Pushpa (6) and Sakuntula (5) were coming to church every week and were the brightest in our CCD class. I finally baptised all five of them in 1972 and hoped for the best for them.

Fifteen years later I was delighted to hear that both Pushpa and Sakuntula had joined the SMSM Sisters. Pushpa has now completed ten years as a missionary in the Phillipines. Sakuntula is now a missionary in Bangladesh. At present Pushpa is back in Fiji. Next month she will go to C.T.U. for studies.
Rural scene in Vanua Levu, the island where Labasa is situated

After twenty eight years I am back in Fiji. My present assignment is working among the Hindi-speaking community in the eight parishes in Suva. This assignment has two aspects; pastoral work among the 150 Catholic Indian families scattered over these eight parishes and interfaith work among the large Hindu and Muslim population.

Names of first Indian Catholic families in the area where the parish of Labasa was formed in 1965

Both these aspects are of course intertwined. Both also demand that I keep in close contact with the parish communities in all of these parishes to ensure that work among the Hindi-speaking community be not seen as being in any way separate from the work of each parish community. Over the past three months Sister Pushpa and I have been working together as she awaits her visa to travel to the USA.

The main programme that we use for instructing people who want to become Christians is the RCIA course. This course was pioneered in the eighties by Fr Frank Hoare and Sr Frances Hardiman SMSM. Later Miss Rosema Dass and Miss Elizabeth Krishna built on these solid foundations. It is an excellent course. During the eighties and nineties over 300 people participated in these courses and were baptised. Those taking part were mostly Indians from a Hindu background who wished to become disciples of Jesus.

The courses were conducted for the most part in Hindi. The ongoing challenge was how to involve the indigenous Fijian community in this work and how to ensure that the parish communities were involved in this work.

This year Mika, Lusi, Sisi and James have undertaken to conduct the course in the parish of Nadera. Sister Pushpa and I have been assisting them. Mika, Lusi and Sisi are ethnic Fijians. They do not speak or understand Hindi. James is Indian. He does. not understand or speak Fijian. We all speak and understand English. We are now conducting the course in English, Fijian and Hindi, trying to cross boundaries of language, culture and faith. It is a challenging task.

We meet every Friday evening to prepare the class for the following Sunday. We were a little late in getting the course started this year and we wondered if the candidates would be ready for baptism next Easter. When we asked them last Sunday whether they wished to be baptised at Easter 2006 or Easter 2007, there was a unanimous request for Easter 2006. We acceded to their request and hopefully they will be baptised next Easter.

A similar RCIA programme is underway in the parish of Raiwaqa where Columban, Frs Gerry McNicholas, and Kieran Moloney and Lay Missionary Rowena Cuanico (from the Philippines) are working. At present Rowena is working with her parish team of two Fijians in conducting the course for six Indian catechumens. They too will be baptised next Easter.

That is a snapshot of missionary life in Fiji. The missionary task continues. It is good to be back here in Fiji to see the progress of the past thirty years. It is inspiring to see people like Sister Pushpa who have answered the missionary call to leave Fiji. It is inspiring to see people like Lusi, Mika and Sisi now taking up the challenge of sharing their faith with people of a different language and culture here in Fiji. It is inspiring to see Rowena, a Filipina lay missionary at work here in Fiji - all crossing boundaries of language, culture and faith.

We journey in faith, knowing that it is one who sows, another waters, but it is God who gives the increase.

The Fermanagh Herald carried a story on 20 January 2009 about Father Pat, A Missionary with a fresh appeal.


Niall said...

Fr Pat you were loved by some many and you will be missed throughout the world. You were an inspiration to me and everyone you meet. You loved your priesthood and were a great priest. I'm sure your reward will be plentful in heaven.

your nephew niall

Fr Seán Coyle said...

Thank you, Niall. Your description of your uncle is absolutely true. I hope to post more material about him here and on www.misyononline.com/misyonforum

Please extend my personal sympathies to all your family.

Dolores said...

Fr Pat was a dynamic missionary and I'm glad to have known him.I worked with him when he returned to Fiji and was based in Suva in 2005. I compiled articles on events he had initiated among the Hindi speaking catholic parishes in the greater Suva area. He will definitely be missed among the Catholic fraternity across the world and I'm sure wherever he went he made lasting memories, his personality was such.
My deepest condolence to his family and the Columbans on having lost a great disciple. RIP Fr Pat

Niall said...

Fr Sean,

keep me posted on any material you post on Fr Pat. I'm in the process of assembling a collection of material on his life and work. Any material you have would be greatly appreciated


Dolores said...

Fr Sean
Actually I am also in the process of compiling an article on his works that he did in Fiji which I would like to publish and I was wondering if I could use excerpts from your article. I have been liaising with Fr Frank Hoare and he has given me some information and I will run the article past him for verification before publication.

Niall I have posted some pictures on my facebook profile that I have of him taken in Fiji in 2005.

I would appreciate any info on him like a bio data and if you could email it to me on doljoseph@gmail.com. Many thanks

Fr Seán Coyle said...

Niall and Dolores, I've posted some more items on this blog and also on www.misyononline.com/misyonforum and on www.misyononline.com/blog. Please feel free to use any material.

Misyononline.com, of which I am editor,is published by the Columbans in the Philippines.

You can email me at editor@misyononline.com or at scoylumban@yahoo.co.uk

elizabeth said...

Sad to hear about the death of a beloved friend Fr. Pat. I came to know his death yesterday from Bibeth Libo-on who is now in Cambodia. I was just thinking of him for the last 2 weeks and plan to email him but I got no access of internet during those days. Now I am back to the office and had the access to internet but I was shocked of the news of his death.
At the corner of Nepal, there is somebody greiving for you Fr. Pat. I wanted to tell you something but you are gone. I will tell you when we meet in Heaven. You are missed.

Niall said...


Thanks for your kind words and message of sympathy regarding Fr Pat. Its amazing to realise how Fr Pat touched the lives of people all over the world.

Julie said...

I am Julie, one of the lay missionaries from Chile, I had the joy for been in Fiji and meet Fr. Pat. He was my spiritual Director and a very good friend. I have very nice memories from this great experience in my life. I am also so grateful for all his support to us, since we were arriving to Fiji until our last week, even he was in England waiting for his visa to Pakistan. He wrote to us a email sending all his blessing for the new chapter in our lives.
Thank you dear Patito, (we were calling him in the Chilean way), for been a very good support for all the lay missionaries you meet . We were doing a very good mission because you were there, supporting us, and encoring us to be at time, to be with the people. Thank you for your patient, for been so humble and listen all the opinion .
Thank you for make this partnership document even wasn’t writing in Fiji, in practice all the time, you were working with us, the lay missionaries like equals, working us a very nice team in Ba, You never were upon us, you were all the time with us, and with the all people around you. You will be missed for all of us. For all the lay missionaries around the world . I will keep you in special place in my heart and I will try to keep all your advice from Fiji. Rest in peace dear friend,

Julie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rowena said...

I feel so privileged and blessed to had the opportunity to journey and be on mission with Fr Pat. Maybe if I write our shared experiences on mission, these can take up a whole book! These memories are kept in my heart, deeply treasured.I shall always thank God each time I think of Pat.