Legend has it that the little islands of the Tonga archipelago (Tonga means “south” in the local language) were fished out of the deep depths of the Pacific Ocean by Maui. Although anthropologists estimate the first human settlements popped up around 3000 BC, radiocarbon dating shows the oldest finds (terracotta objects, bones and carved shells) date back to 1500 BC.
One thing that is certain
is that they were in fact also nicknamed the Friendly Islands, after
Captain James Cook referred to them as such in the 18th century because of the hospitality of the inhabitants.
is when the first missionaries set foot on the islands and started
converting the local population to Christianity. Historians claim this
is how the first form of constitutional government emerged under the
reign of George Tupou I.
Getting to each single island was no easy task for
the missionaries. There are around 30, 000 of them and they have been
subdivided into Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia. The UN has
dedicated 2014 to these little developing islands, with a convention due
to be held in Samoa next September.
The international date line passes
right through Polynesia, meaning that every year, while some islands
like Tonga are among the first to celebrate the start of the New Year,
others just a few miles away are among the last.
Hundreds of people,
particularly the younger generations, immigrate every year, mostly to
the West Coast of the United States, but also to Australia and New
Zealand. Many do return after completing their studies, but life in
Polynesia is tough, despite the revenue from tourism.
Because of the Greenwich anti-meridian, the
Kingdom of Tonga is known today as “the land where time begins”.
inhabitants also think about the concept of eternity and participation
in Christian life is simple but intense.
The Year of Faith that has just
passed saw high levels of participation from faithful.
priest, Lines Folamoelao – who speaks a number of local dialects, as
well as English, German and Hindi and has studied Classical languages
too – has decided to help his compatriots enter even deeper into the
spirit of the Universal Church by translating Francis’ most recent
documents, such as the “Compendium of the Catechsim of the Catholic
Church” and the “Lumen Fidei” encyclical into Tongan.
He is currently working on the Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium”.
Fr. Folamoelao serves the Tongan migrant
communities in Aukland, New Zealand and holds a degree or Licence from
the Pontifical Biblical Institute. Having texts available in your own
language is essential for every faithful, he says, even for those who
live on islands the world has forgotten about.
“It has been my hobby to translate Papal
encyclicals and works of the social teaching of the Church into the
Tongan language so that our people can read and follow the teachings of
the Church,” he told CNA news agency.
The Tonga archipelago is situated near Fiji
islands and Samoa and has a population of 103, 000 inhabitants, the
majority of whom are Christian.
The Diocese of Tonga serves the entire
country, which is home to 13, 000 Catholics, equating to 13% of the