(Vatican Radio) Among the 20 new Church leaders that Pope Francis made members of the College of Cardinals on Saturday was Bishop Soane Patita Mafi from the Polynesian archipelago of Tonga in the Pacific Ocean. At just 53 years of age, he becomes the youngest member of the College of Cardinals, as well as the first man in the history of this young Church to receive this honour.
Just before the solemn celebration in St Peter’s Basilica, Cardinal Mafi sat down with Philippa Hitchen to talk about the strong Christian faith in his country and about why the King and Queen of Tonga were also present to celebrate with him at Saturday’s Consistory…..
The new cardinals says Tonga is considered one of the young Churches in Oceania as it has only existed for almost 200 years. It has small scattered dioceses in a population of about 100.000 people with Catholics making up just 15% but they are very active in the faith. Almost the whole nation is Christian, he says, with Methodists as the majority denomination. Ecumenical relations, he adds are very good with Church leaders working very actively together through the Tonga National Council of Churches (of which he is currently the chair) and the Tong National Forum of Church leaders…
Cardinal Mafi says globalisation is having a negative and positive impact on the country, with a lot more economic opportunities for people but also a lot of distractions. He says that many small groups or sects are arriving in Tonga and are influencing people – that’s why he chose as his bishops motto “Deepen the Faith”…..
Asked what the Church in Tonga can offer to the universal Church, the cardinal talks about the simplicity of life style and the sense of God in peoples’ lives. Also he says families ties are still strong and there is a respect for the elders in society….
Finally Cardinal Mafi tells the story of how he met the King and Queen of Tonga for a regular New Year greeting on January 1st and learnt that they were planning a trip to Rome in February. When he heard the news that he had been appointed a member of the College of Cardinals, he realised that the consistory would take place during the same time as their visit, thus they were able to share in the joy and celebration for all the people of the Kingdom of Tonga….