Friday, January 10, 2014

Polynesia: Francis’ texts are being translated into Tongan

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.   

This 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”. 

But its 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. 

One local 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 population.

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