Jubilee reminds faithful of struggles to establish Catholicism in Tonga

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HRH Princess Angelika Tuku'aho, Guest of Honour, unveil the memorial stone which commemorates the establishment of Catholic church in Tonga. Photo/Melemanu Fiu Bloomfield

Roman Catholics in Tonga have celebrated the 175th jubilee of their church’s founding in the kingdom in 1842.

A mass was celebrated by Cardinal Paini Mafi in Pangaimotu island, which is about 13 kilometres north of Tongatapu  on July 2, 2017 to commemorate the historical event.

However, the main cultural and celebratory activities were postponed until last week in Pea to allow visitors from overseas to join while they were in the country for their Christmas holidays.

A mass celebrated by Cardinal Mafi on 27 December 2017, was followed by a wreath laying at Ha’atoka and Māhola cemeteries as well as the Catholic church known as Ma’ananga.

Some of the first priests who brought Catholicism to Tonga were buried in Ha’atoka.

Lavaka, the noble of Pea and Moeakihi’atu and Lady Lata-‘I-Holeva, chiefs who welcomed the Catholic church, were buried at Māhola.

The memorial celebrations were attended by Her Royal Highness Princess Angelika Tuku’aho. She was the guest of honour.

Missionaries

In 1842 French missionaries, including  Fr Sevelo, Bishop Soane Patita (Jean Baptiste) Pompallier and Brother Atalo as well as some Tongans, travelled from Wallis to Tonga on the Santa Maria, according to a report by the Catholic church newspaper Taumu’a Lelei.

They held their first mass in Tonga in the island of Pangaimotu on July 2 on the same year.

The paper quoted Cardinal Mafi as saying the high chiefs of Pea at the time, especially Lavaka, Moeakihi’atu and Lady Lata-‘i-Holeva also known as ‘Aloisia Fie’ota’anga welcomed the church to be established in Pea.

The contacts made between the Catholic missionaries and the Pea chiefs were led by Petelō Tonga and Siale Pā’utu.

“We are lucky today to be here because it was accepted,” the Cardinal said in Tongan.

Conversion

Lavaka and Moeakihi’atu as well as ‘Aloisia Fie’ota’anga converted to Catholicism.

Moeakihi’atu was described as a victor who was respected by the people because he loved them and always tried to make sure people lived in harmony and that the nation was at peace.

It said when King Tupou I, who was described as the Maker of the Modern Tonga, became king in 1845, the Catholic church had already been established in the towns of Pea, Houma, Holonga and Kotongo.

The Catholic church in Hahake was opened in 1845.

The chiefs in Hahake who belonged to Protestant churches protested against the establishment of the church and there were fears among Catholics there. However, the construction of the church was completed and it was launched by Fr. Sevelo.

Fr. Sevelo also built a church in Holonga which was on fire on October 17, 1847. He and church members suspected the members of the Protestant churches were responsible.

The highlight of Fr. Sevelo’s conversion campaign was the conversion of Laufilitonga, the last king of the Tu’i Tonga line ,who lived in Mu’a.

Laufilitonga was baptised a Catholic by Bishop ‘Enosi on October 31, 1851.

War and famine 

The Taumu’a Lelei newspaper quoted a person by the name Sotele Leha who lived when the Pea war began in 1852.

The war was proclaimed by Nukumovaha’i, a Pea chief who succeeded Lavaka Palenapa when he died. Nukumovaha’i was described by Leha as violent and cruel.

When the Peans declared war, quarrels erupted among the Catholics and the Protestant church members in Pea, with each other arguing the war was declared to suppress an attempted revolution by the Catholics while the Catholics accused the Protestants of starting the war to persecute the Catholics.

However, the war was in fact a battle between the Pea chiefs and the newly appointed King George Tupou I, of the Kanokupolu line, the paper said.

The king fought the Pea chiefs in 1840 but was defeated.

The Pea chiefs were eventually defeated by King Tupou after his warriors captured the exterior of the fort and took control of the Peans’ plantation.

Leha was quoted by the paper as saying the approach by King Tupou’s warriors was successful as the Pea chiefs and warriors as well as their people were dying of hunger inside the fort.

They finally surrendered to the king.

King Tupou had about 6000 warriors, including from all over Tonga, the Niuas, Vava’u, Ha’apai, ‘Eua, Hahake and Hihifo, the paper said.

The only town that helped the Peans was Houma.

The main points

  • Roman Catholics in Tonga have celebrated the 175th jubilee of their church’s founding in the kingdom in 1842.
  • A mass was celebrated by Cardinal Paini Mafi in Pangaimotu island on July 2, 2017 to commemorate the historical event.
  • But the main cultural and celebratory activities were postponed until last week in Pea to allow visitors from overseas to join while they were in the country for their Christmas holidays.
  • A Mass celebrated by Cardinal Mafi on December 2017, was followed by a wreath laying at Ha’atoka and Mahola cemeteries as well as the Catholic church known as Ma’ananga.

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