The death of a lay missionary

“Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations” Mt 28:19.

Fr Donal McIlraith at the funeral of Lusio Naveliniko. Photo: Fr Donal McIlraith SSC

Funeral of Lusio Naveliniko. Photo: Fr Donal McIlraith SSC

Lusio Naveliniko grew up on the banks of the Rewa River not far from Suva in Fiji. The Rewa River is the Mississippi of Fiji and has an extensive delta. After his graduation from secondary school and a few years working locally, Lusio followed the example of his sister, Visenia, and joined the Columban Lay Missionary Programme in 2006. 

When he and his four companions completed their training programme, they were sent to Manila in the Philippines. There they studied Tagalog, the national language, for six months. Lusio was then sent to Olongapo, 126 kilometres north of Manila, and worked with the indigenous people of that area and also in the prison ministry of the Immaculate Conception Parish with Columban Frs Fintan Murtagh and Donal O’Dea. I remember Fr Donal O’Dea, many years later, speaking of Lusio’s valuable missionary work at that time.

After a few years, Lusio returned to Fiji to work and studied at night classes to improve his qualifications. He was very active in his Rewa parish of Naililili. But when he had been home for about a year, he began to feel unwell and eventually a brain tumor was detected. His family raised money to send him to India for treatment, accompanied by his nephew, Dan. They arrived in Delhi and Lusio was admitted to the hospital there. Tests were carried out and surgery was planned.

But the day before the surgery was due to take place Lusio died of a heart attack. His devastated nephew then accompanied his body back to Fiji. Then, following his arrival with his uncle’s body, Dan was required to quarantine for two weeks due to COVID-19. Upon Dan’s release from quarantine, Lusio’s funeral took place on March 17 on the banks of the Rewa River. The parish priest, Fr Pio Malutolu, celebrated the Mass and conducted the burial. As is common in Fiji, Lusio was buried in a grave not far from his home.

I had the opportunity to pay my respects and I reminded the gathered people that it was St Patrick’s Day and that Patrick was taken as a slave to Ireland. He escaped but eventually returned to Ireland as a Bishop and brought the whole country to faith in Christ. St Columban was a spiritual son of Patrick and so was Lusio. The torch has passed from Ireland to the Pacific and now Fiji and the other islands of the South Pacific take their place among the missionary sending countries of the world.

Present at the funeral was Lusio’s sister, Visenia, who had served as a lay missionary in Chile. After she returned to Fiji she served in the ministry of justice and peace and integrity of creation for many years. We were very conscious of her sadness as her younger brother was buried. 

Columban lay missionaries Naanise Mo'unga (left) and Vosita Lenisaurua with Columban office staff member, Soela Matai (right) at the funeral. Photo: Fr Donal McIlraith SSC

Columban lay missionaries Naanise Mo'unga (left) and Vosita Lenisaurua with Columban office staff member, Soela Matai (right) at the funeral. Photo: Fr Donal McIlraith SSC

Also present at the funeral was Tongan Naanise Mo’unga who had joined the Lay Missionary Programme with Lusio in 2009. She also was sent to Manila, studied Tagalog with Lusio and also served in Olongapo. Naanise is currently directing the Lay Missionary Programme in Fiji. Vitalina Vukinagauna, currently the Mission Office Coordinator for the Columbans in Suva and Vosita Lenisaurua were other Fijian Lay Missionaries present to bid farewell to Lusio. 

We give thanks to God for all these people of Fiji and Tonga who along with Lusio Navaliniko have responded so generously to the call to participate with us in Columban mission. May the Lord welcome Lusio to his banqueting table.

Columban Fr Donal McIlraith, Mission Awareness and Education, Fiji.

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