Members of Sydney’s Tongan Catholic community have united in prayer as they anxiously await news on the welfare of friends and relatives after a tsunami hit the small Pacific island nation last Saturday.
Telecommunications are expected to be cut for weeks and Tongans have been left without access to clean water after the massive eruption of an underwater volcano triggered the tsunami.
While shops are normally closed on Sundays in Tonga, an exception was made last week, to allow members of the community to gather bottled water and food supplies.
Belmore-based Tongan Catholic community chaplain, Fr Ita Koloamatangi led the community in a Mass last Sunday, the day after the disaster, which was livestreamed to over 1000 people.
“They found shelter at the home of Cardinal Soane Patita Paini Mofi, who is my brother-in law, but I have not been able to speak to them since last Saturday.”
“What holds us together at this time is our faith and while it can be challenging for us all to feel comfortable coming together in person at this time because of COVID, we are making use of online platforms such as Zoom to unite around the Rosary and pray through livestreamed Masses”, he explained.
Fr Ita can relate to the anxiety faced by the community as his younger brother Feleti lives in Tonga.
“With no means of communication, we can remain very much in touch with our family members through our prayers”, he added.
The Secretary of the Tongan Catholic Community Chaplaincy, Mrs Ofa Tupola is also anxious about friends and relatives back home, including her 90 year old mother.
“My brother and sister-in-law fled their home, directly opposite a beach, just before the tsunami hit and they were unable to reach any of the inland villages because of heavy traffic”, she said.
“They found shelter at the home of Cardinal Soane Patita Paini Mofi, who is my brother-in law, but I have not been able to speak to them since last Saturday. We now have the anxious wait of not knowing if their house is still standing and where they will go from here”.
As Australian and New Zealand surveillance flights assess the extent of the damage, members of the local Tongan community fear the worst.
“It’s been comforting to join in a Zoom Rosary with other members of the community as we seek Our Lady’s help for all our friends and relatives back home.”
Hafoka Pahulu has two sisters in different parts of the island. His sister Ivoni lives at Matahau, an area which is believed to have been amongst the hardest hit, on the western side of Tonga’s main island, Tonga Tapu.
His other sister, Vinolia, lives at Ha’alalo in central Tonga which is believed not to have suffered the same extent of damage. Hafoka said he has found great comfort through praying the Rosary in these difficult times.
“I attend Mass each week at Mary Immaculate Campbelltown with other members of the Tongan community, but I’ve found myself in COVID isolation this week and it’s been comforting to join in a Zoom Rosary with other members of the community as we seek Our Lady’s help for all our friends and relatives back home”, he said.
Caritas Australia has launched an emergency appeal for Tonga. Donations can be made via: https://www.caritas.org.au/donate/emergency-appeals/pacific/ or call 1800 024 413 toll free.
The Order of Malta Australia also has an emergency relief fund for Tonga and donations can be made online here