Monday, August 03, 2009

Back at the altar in Fiji

This is such a lovely story, but it reminds us that we should keep striving for a Church where men like Fr. Johns won't need to wait until their wife's death to serve as priests again.

Unbroken vows
By Jone Luvenitoga
Fiji Times
Sunday, August 02, 2009

Father Daniel Robert Johns left the priesthood in 1977 and married the love of his life. She was a nun just as he was in the order of ordained Catholic leaders relinquishing all known physical needs for spiritual enhancement. He took the vow of celibacy and then left the mission again.

On Wednesday, July 28, 2009 after 32 years, he returned to his priestly duties after losing her to a long and agonising battle against diabetes. She was the comforter in his struggle against an incident in the past he held against himself, which caused the death of a very close friend. It was the very reason that drove him out of the church.

It was only after her death that he returned to the church with his spirit revived, continuing the work of assisting those in need of spiritual guidance. And before a congregation of family members, friends and church attendants, he stood at the altar and presided over his first Mass after receiving his letter from the Vatican giving him back the authority that awaited his return.

Those who knew the priest questioned his departure but it was the months of seeing the pain he caused a family that drained his strength like an ebbing tide leaving him tearful and aghast throughout his remaining time with the priesthood. Beyond all sanctity of his priestly duties, he stood powerless against the pain that devoured him day after day.

The year was 1977. A time he will never forget for the events that broke his spirit and had led to his retirement from the church. And getting married was a way to share his pain.

For the next 28 years of their lives they lived and enjoyed themselves with the fondest of memories that seem to decorate his room now. The story of their life captured in the images of time where love once blossomed captivated by the hugs and kisses.

"That was the reason I left the church," Father Johns said.

He was returning from a church mass in the province of Ra where he met a group of friends who were marketing company products to what sounded like a festival in full swing. Having the heart of a good Samaritan he offered them a lift back to their homes and hotels where they were staying.

It was along the highway where fate claimed the life of one of his passengers. They had hurriedly taken her to the hospital where doctors gave them the reassuring news of the minor state of her injuries. Without checking for internal injuries both the doctors and friends including him were so relieved leaving in a state of peace and joy.

"It was just minutes later when doctors called and said she had died while we were still on the highway back home. And being the wife of one of my best friends, every tear that followed seemed to point a finger at me," he said.

He said for months he went from priest to priest trying to find the solace he needed but to no avail.

"Under the power of ordination, there are prayers for everything in the world. A prayer for confession and penance which I seek both, but inside I was dying for comfort and it got worse whenever I met my friends."

He said the belief is such for the Catholic priests who are given the power to forgive sins through confession that lead to the prayer, 'whose sins you forgive will be forgiven. Whose sins you retain will be retained'.

"My sorrows led to the feeling that mine were not forgiven seeing the damage I did to a family so in love," he said.

Leaving the church he said at times he was forced to defend his choices, stating his departure was not against the church nor was it done for another human since he married just months after his departure from the church.

"But marriage took its place in my life as another comfort zone I was desperately seeking."

Withdrawing from the priesthood, they married. For the church wouldn't recognise their marriage provided he was released from the priesthood first. And in the comfort of marriage his life built back the wall once shattered.

She remained in the church as a school teacher but worked from numerous Catholic schools around the islands packing their bags and moving wherever her posting took them.

Together they reaped the luxuries of life with him working in a managerial position always. First at Hookers Fiji where he was the sales manager before joining Flick Pest Control which he assisted in a managerial position and then to Red-All. He was still in the pest control business before the coups of 1987 when he moved to Parliament House as the General Voters Party secretary until 2005. It was the year his soul mate left him forever.

In the final days of her life just minutes away from death, he was sitting beside her holding her hands. She opened her eyes and took one last look at him before closing them forever. He said the colour seemed to drain from her face as death made its claim again.

"It was at that time as I was taking my last long look at her when a miracle took place right before my eyes. And I saw the hands of God at work once more as a reminder of my work that is left here on Earth."

He said her face seemed to glow and she looked full of radiance. Never once had she looked so beautiful as she did back then. It was only for a while but it was enough for him to understand the reward that awaits a beautiful person is given straight after death.

And on July 28, he returned to his first mass at the Sacred Heart cathedral. A week held holy in the hearts of every Catholic worldwide known in the as 'the feast of Saint Martha, the sister of Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead.

"Her name was Martha also. Lazarus came back to life. The same thing my wife did for me."

Photo: Father Daniel Robert Johns (right) performing his first mass after 32 years. Assisting him is Father Iosefo Tuvere at the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Suva.

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