Traditional Tribal Welcome Awaits Pope In Fiji With AM-Pope-Australia
SUVA, Fiji (AP) _ Pope John Paul II on Friday travels to Fiji where he will be welcomed by tribal dancers and dignitaries bearing exotic gifts, such as whales’ teeth and roasted pigs.
During his two-day visit, the pope also is due to meet with Roman Catholic leaders and leading bishops of the Episcopal Conference of the Pacific.
The Fiji visit is part of a two-week Asian tour that begins Tuesday and ends Dec. 1. Other stops are Bangladesh, Singapore, New Zealand, Australia and the Seychelles.
Fiji is a chain of 320 islands, about 2,000 miles northeast of Australia. The islands cover 7,350 square miles and contain 715,000 people, about 60,000 of them Catholics.
The population is almost equally divided between native Melanesians and Indians. Chinese, Europeans and Polynesians make up about 3 percent.
Other gifts the pope will receive upon arriving in Suva, the capital, include handmade mats and giant roots of the yaqona plant, the key ingredient of the traditional narcotic kava drink.
The pope will be expected to drink a coconut filled with kava in a single quaff to signify acceptance of the gifts.
Unless drunk in large quantities, kava has little soporific effect. The brew is found in all offices on Fiji and is a must during ceremonial occasions.
After the welcoming ceremony, the pope will meet privately for 50 minutes with Episcopal Conference bishops.
Among those attending will be Archbishop Michael Coppenrath of Tahiti and bishops from Marquesa Islands, New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna, the Cook Islands and Niue, Vanuatu, the Marshall and Caroline Islands, Kiribati, Guam and American Samoa.
During a courtesy call on Fiji’s governor-general, Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau, the pope is to meet leaders of Christian denominations and representatives of other religions.
Fiji gained independence from Britain in 1970, but remains a member of the Commonwealth.