Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New Year, New Life

Published in The Fiji Times, 30th December, 2009

The week between the Christmas and New Year's holidays often seem like a holiday in itself, even if you have not taken leave during this period. There are only three working days between December 25, 2009 and January 1, 2010.

For some these days are lost in a haze of continuing (or bridging) celebrations, recovery periods (including "sick-leave") and work where many of us just go through the motions between 8am and 4.30pm (or 9 to 5), passing the time between extended morning and afternoon teas, lunches and "knock-off time," which marks the start of the next evening's frivolities, fara, talanoa and sigi drigi sessions.

Given the above scenarios, it could be assumed that the majority of readers may miss the significance of this transitional period.
We stand at the threshold of the last year of the first decade of the twenty-first century. As the vast majority of humanity peers into the glass darkly to behold their visions or dreams of the future we are given many awesome images of what may lie ahead in the second decade of the third millennium of western (or northern) civilisation.

Doom-dealers tout cataclysmic events for 2012 in terms of the planet, while, given that western/ northern civilisation itself is in great decline, it looks more likely that the disasters and upheavals of the very near future are going to be economic, social and political on a global scale.
Established power structures that have been oppressing humanity for millennia through economic, social and ideological control and have refused to heed the winds of change may very well find themselves outsiders of the very "global village" that they created.

But to these oppressive structures are also tied prejudice, violence, greed, intolerance, suspicion and exploitation which are rooted in fear, which itself is the absence (or lack) of love. These fear-based social behaviours (for they are not a natural instinct of humanity) will also face upheaval, as the "mountains are made plain and the low places raised up."(Isaiah 40:4).

So it is important that as we prepare to enter into the "unknown" we should all take a moment from being very busy doing nothing and as a collective consciousness, a people, a nation, release the negativity that we have encountered and focus on positive intentions for the year we are about to begin. This means that our focus must be centred, our intentions unified and we must realised that a house divided cannot stand. To understand this we do not have to turn to philosophy or politics but simply look at the natural law evident in creation, of which we are a part. There is no such thing as independence in nature - all living things exist in a symbiotic relationship.

This means that if we wish to look out for ourselves, we must also look out for others. Our New Year's resolutions must not merely focus on the self but on the other.
It is not enough to commit to stewardship of our personal and family finances, we must also commit to the effective stewardship of the natural resources around us, which we depend on. Our plans for the future must take into account that we exist and identify ourselves in relation to everything around us.

This means we are called to not only take care of our individual needs, but also to examine our "wants" in terms of the needs of the whole community, the country and the planet.
To do this we have to dispel the fear that envelopes us and causes us to be greedy, intolerant, oppressive, violent and suspicious and instead embrace the unconditional love which unites us.
We begin to do this when we realise that each one of us, regardless of our social or economic status, our religion or ethnicity, is born naked and in need of warmth, food and shelter. Each one of us has the capacity to receive and transmit love.

Reverend Dr Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality."

The other day, I heard a song by Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye which had the following lyrics: "You are everything and everything is you."

We may be of different religions and ideologies, different ethnicities and different cultures, but we have one heart.

Whoever we are, our hearts beat with the same rhythm.

As we enter 2010 let us remember that each one of us lives with the same rhythm.

In 2010 let us each listen to that rhythm and follow it. In doing so, we will all be moving to one rhythm; we will be one people; one country, one planet.

Only then can we release the negativity that is holding us back and share in the positivity that propels us forward.

May 2010 be blessed with simplicity, serenity and spontaneity.

* This article is the opinion of Reverend James Bhagwan and does not necessarily represent the views of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma, any other organisation or institution Padre Bhagwan is affiliated with or this newspaper.
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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Spiritual Significance of Christmas

The Significance of Christmas is known to humanity all over the world. Though it is true that Christmas is celebrated as the day of the Birth of Christ into this world, yet it also symbolizes a very deeply significant truth of the spiritual life. Jesus Christ is the very personification of Divinity. He was born at a time when ignorance, superstition, greed, hatred and hypocrisy prevailed upon the land. Purity was forgotten and morality was neglected.

In the midst of these conditions, Christ was born and He worked a transformation in the lives of people. He gave a new and a spiritual turn to the lives of man. There came a change upon the land. People started upon a new way of life. Thus a new era dawned for the world.

In that period the seeker has no thought of God or higher spiritual life. He lives a life of lust, anger, greed, deluded attachment, pride and jealousy. If the seeker must enter into a new life of spiritual aspiration, purity and devotion, then the Christ-spirit must take its birth within his heart. That is the real Christmas when the Divine element begins to express itself in the heart of humanity. From then onward, light begins to shine where darkness was before.

A very small, but very beautiful, point of deep significance is attached to Christmas. It is the time and the manner of the birth of the Lord upon the holy Christmas day. Jesus Christ was not born in a grand palace. He was not born to very wealthy or learned parents. Jesus Christ was born in a simple lowly place, a corner of a stable. He was born to humble and poor parents, who had nothing to boast about, except their own spotless character and holiness.

The above point of deep significance tells that the spiritual awakening comes to the seeker, who is perfectly humble and "meek" and "poor in spirit." The quality of true humility is one of the indispensable fundamentals. Then we find simplicity, holiness and the renunciation of all desire for worldly wealth and pride of learning. Thirdly, even as Christ was born unknown to the world and in the obscurity of darkness, even so, the advent of the Christ-spirit takes place in the inwardness of humanity when there is total self-effacement self-abnegation.

The Gift of Love

Published in The Fiji Times - Wednesday 23rd December, 2009

Many of us are approaching the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ in different ways. With the school holidays underway and a four-day weekend ahead, even those who are not of the Christian faith find Christmas as a time for families to come together.

Among those who consider themselves Christians, yet are not regular Church-goers, Christmas is one day when an effort is made to attend a church service.

Earlier this week I ventured into town to face the hordes of Christmas shoppers, looking for gifts and bargains. Yet this Christmas, in the light of Cyclone Mick last week, many are struggling just to get by, with the focus not on luxuries or toys but on food and essentials, in the back of everyone's minds lies the new year and the necessary school fees, books and uniforms for children.

Away from the specials and the glitz, the material face of Christmas, there is a message of the greatest gift of all, the gift of love. For Christians, we celebrate the gift of God's love for humankind with the incarnation of the Word of God, Jesus the Christ.

Perhaps as we find ourselves struggling to celebrate in a manner we are used to, we can find strength that the Son of God, entered this world as a fragile baby, born into poverty and within days of His birth became a persecuted refugee.

As we meet our friends, relatives, workmates and acquaintances we wish them a "Merry Christmas". In fact we are doing much more than just wishing them season's greetings. We are bestowing on them a blessing of joy and peace. This blessing is described by the great Satchmo, Louis Armstrong in the song "What a Wonderful World": I see friends walking by, saying "How do you do?" They're really saying, "I love you."

In all that this country has been through in the past 39 years of independence, the one thing that has held it together, when the forces that divide have tried their best to conquer, has been that love has overcome fear.

One evening this week as I caught up with some old and dear friends, the talanoa (discussion) for some time focussed on the two major forces in this world, love and fear. Anger, hate, jealousy, suspicion all stem from fear and can only be dispelled by love. The Greek term agape used by many Christians refers to an unconditional love.

When we share our love with each other, we dispel all the fear that gets in the way of us living together in harmony. When we love each other as human beings and brothers and sisters, fellow children of this land, we bind ourselves together with an unbreakable bond.

On Monday evening members of the Dudley Methodist Church visited Mahaffy Girls Home in Suva to spread some Christmas cheer by singing carols. The home is just off Domain Rd yet not as well known as Dilkusha or St. Christopher's homes. It was truly wonderful to see the faces of the young women, who are given shelter there, light up as we sang messages of hope and love.

On Tuesday morning, I joined some of the team of Operation Christmas Child - Samaritan's Purse to deliver Christmas presents to the children living in the Nanuku squatter settlement in Vatuwaqa.

This year just over 270 gifts, in shoeboxes packed by children of New Zealand - which included something to play with, something to wear, books, toiletries and stationery, brought smiles to the faces of the children who would otherwise not have received anything for Christmas.

In this poverty stricken area, where most of the things we take for granted are precious commodities, the acts of love by children far away, for children they may quite possibly never meet, was overwhelming. 10 year old Prashneel, jumped for joy when he opened his "shoebox" to find among the items, a hat, which was his Christmas prayer come true.

This Christmas, there is one gift that costs nothing to give. It is a gift that increases each time you transfer it to someone else.

It is something that we all yearn for and yet we all have in abundance. It is a gift of positivity. It is the most powerful gift you can ever give. It is love.

This Christmas my gift to you and for you to share is for you to know that you are loved. Christmas is celebrating the gift of God, in whose image we are all equally made and who loved us so much that he sent his Son to die for our sins and give us hope, not just in eternal life, but hope in each other. Each small act of kindness and friendliness brings us as nation and as humanity closer together and to the planet we inhabit.

If you are looking for somewhere to celebrate the birth of the Christ, you are welcome to join us at Dudley Church (corner of Amy St, and Toorak Rd) on Christmas Day at 9am.

May your Christmas be blessed with love, light, peace and joy.

* This article is the opinion of Reverend James Bhagwan and does not necessarily represent the views of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma, any other organisation or institution Rev. Bhagwan is affiliated with or this newspaper. Visit the Blog- or email

Friday, December 18, 2009

Change for the environment

Published in The Fiji Times - Friday, December 18, 2009

In a talanoa session at the Pacific Conference of Churches, a few weeks ago, the point was made that perhaps we need to look beyond the issue of climate change and start focusing our attention on ecological or environmental change.

Climate change is focused on the impact of carbon emissions: global warming, rising sea levels and temperatures, El Nino and La Nina. Ecological or environmental change shifts the focus to the effects of climate change: the destruction of whole eco-systems that are part of the web of life for all who live on this planet. This puts into perspective the important task of our representatives currently in Copenhagen who are lobbying for binding and lasting commitments to address climate change as well as the effect on Pacific Islanders. It also helps us understand why we should start facing the reality that life on this planet is changing beyond just the political, economic and social worlds.

As the temperature of the water changes by just a degree, whole species of marine life are wiped out, beginning a chain reaction that leads all the way up the food chain to the larger marine life as well as humans. The qoliqoli is affected. It becomes more difficult for the fisherman to catch his fish, leading him to perhaps having to go further out, fish for longer, or even look to other ways of feeding his family. As the sea-level rises, the land disappears. We will not only have displaced people from low-lying islands such as Kiribati and Tuvalu, but also those who live on the low-lying islands and those living along the coasts of the islands of our own country will also be displaced and forced to migrate further inland. Those living by rivers and delta areas, who are already susceptible to flash flooding from torrential rain, will find this a regular part of their lives.
Reflecting on the flooding earlier this year, the devastation of the tsunami in Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga, in the wake of Cyclone Mick this week and with the expectation of even more cyclones to come, one cannot help but feel that mother Earth is crying out to us, warning us that if we continue to treat her in such a manner, then we will reap what we sow, a very bitter fruit indeed.

In her article in Wednesday's Fiji Times (16/12), Matelita Ragogo described both the Pacific delegations hoped for outcomes as well as the areas in which the negotiations are struggling. In the article there is also a sense that we, of oceania but more so, of Fiji must not rely on the decisions and agreements, if any, from the Copenhagen climate change talks to be the only way in which climate change can be addressed.

What steps are we taking in Fiji to ensure the protection of our ecosystems, the delicate web of life to which we belong, and for the most, take for granted?

How can we call for the developed and industrialised nations to cut carbon emissions when our buses and taxis continue to belch out black smoke from their exhausts?

Will we be able to maintain the balance of our CO? emissions if we keep cutting down our forests or the trees and shrubs in our compound without replanting?

Many of us tend to think that having too many trees and plants in our yards are untidy, neglecting the important work that the process of life for trees, photosynthesis, does for us by converting carbon dioxide into oxygen. I am not suggesting that we all go "bush" and let everything go wild, but let us try at least to put the future of the planet ahead of our beautification and development projects.

Perhaps every urban community, suburb and town or city needs to establish a small natural reserve where plants are free to grow. It is not too late for more communities to actively engage in the "Triple Rs" of reducing, re-using and recycling its waste. It is not too late for all of us to cut down our use of plastic bags while finding ways of recycling or responsibly disposing of them.

As we are about a week away from the day where Christians celebrate the "Greatest Gift of All," the birth of Jesus the Christ, God incarnated in humanity, let us think about the gifts we are giving.

At a time when many in our country are struggling to shelter, feed, clothe and educate their families without the complications of natural disasters; what can we who have in sufficiency or abundance give to those who lack?

And what can we, including those of us living in poverty, give to our planet that, despite the abusive way we treat it, continues to nurture us?

May the rest of your week be blessed with love, light, peace and the strength to overcome the challenges you face.
* This article is the opinion of Reverend James Bhagwan and does not necessarily represent the views of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma, any other organisation or institution Rev. is affiliated with or this newspaper.
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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Peace for the Girl Child

Published in The Fiji Times on Thursday December 10, 2009.

Last week I had the pleasure of being a judge at the Responsible Fatherhood Photography Competition which is part of Fathers and Daughters – Together in Development project of the Foundation of Peoples of the South Pacific International (FSPI). Displayed at the Fiji Centre for the Arts (the home of the Fiji Arts Council) on Waimanu Road, an awesome place, the exhibition consisted of professional and amateur photographs of fathers and daughters interacting. Photographs focused on Committed and responsible fatherhood and care-giving towards daughters, portraying active fatherhood by being positive mentors and inspiring daughters to greater life achievements with the view to demand greater accountability from other fathers to carry out their roles responsibly and ethically.

In the lead up to today’s 61st Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the culmination of the 16 Days of Activism Against Violence Against Women and with crimes against the girl-child recently coming to the fore in the media, this competition and exhibition addressed the role of fathers in the nurturing and development of their daughters.
As parents to both a boy and a girl, my wife Maelin and I often share with each other our hopes and fears regarding bringing up little children. To be honest, I struggled to contain my outrage when I heard of little Sadikuini Yalewavukivuki being murdered by her father in a ritualistic sacrifice to "save his district spiritually", the murder four-year-old Mereseini Burelevu in Beqa and the sexual abuse and murder of toddler Unise Tareguci. Then there are the cases of forced marriages of under-aged girls.
I recently came across a 2006 report for UNICEF on the Elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against the girl child. The report, compiled Ms. Shamima Ali of the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre, focused on Violence against the girl child in the Pacific Islands region. The report highlighted that as a consequence of vulnerabilities of the girl child to violence, there were high numbers of girl children engaged in child labour, higher health-risks for the girl child, low self-esteem and psychological damage among girls, higher risk of sexual abuse among girls, and higher rates of commercial sexual exploitation of girls. The vulnerabilities include gender inequality in socialization; discriminatory application of “custom”; early and forced marriage; and social change and poverty.

At nearly four years old, my little Antonia is a princess in her own world. She loves to dress up and do all the “girly” things. Her favourite colour is pink. But she will inherit a legacy from her grandmother, mother and aunts of strong women who advocate gender equality as an essential expression of human dignity. She wants to be a ballerina but insisted that daddy make her a Wonder Woman costume for the Library Week character parade this year. It is a constant struggle to maintain a balance between nurturing this fiercely independent soul; encouraging to enjoy her femininity while at the same time trying to ensure that I do not enforce stereotypical attitudes of women; that I am not an overbearing father who cages his daughter while at the same time wanting to protect her from the violence in this world.

According to UNICEF, “Emotional abuse is an extremely prevalent form of child maltreatment.”
Violence permeates all levels of society and is not limited to physical violence. Mahatma Gandhi said, “Mental violence has no potency and injures only the person whose thoughts are violent. It is otherwise with mental non-violence. It has potency which the world does not yet know.”
Next year, 2010, will be the final year of the Decade to Overcome Violence, the World Council of Churches initiative to call all the world’s people to engage in violence prevention, the pursuit of justice and peacemaking. The Ecumenical Declaration on Just Peace will be one of the culminating points of the Decade to Overcome Violence (DOV) by the end of 2010.It will be International Ecumenical Peace Convocation in Kingston, Jamaica in 2011.

In 2008 the DOV initiative focused on the Pacific region. According to World Health Organisation statistics, injuries and violence cause an estimated 1.2 million deaths annually, or nearly 3300 deaths every day, with suicides, traffic accidents and drowning accounting for the majority of cases. The top five causes of injury deaths in the Region in 2000 were self-inflicted injury or suicide (approximately 318 000 deaths per year), road traffic accidents (292 000), drowning (137 000), falls (109 000) and poisoning (73 000). Over 93% of injuries in the Western Pacific Region occur in low-and middle-income countries, involving the 5-44 year age group in particular. Violence against women is often committed by husbands or intimate male partners. Physical violence in intimate relationships is often accompanied by psychological abuse. One third to over one half of cases of physical violence are accompanied by sexual abuse. Drink-driving and domestic violence related to alcohol consumption is a growing problem. Suicide is believed to be a hidden problem (undocumented).

The following prayer, titled Atua of Peace was written by M. Aunoa of American Samoa as a contribution to Decade of Violence focus on the Pacific:
Atua of peace, allow us to drink from the tanoa of Your peace, Right the course of our canoes to overcome the currents of violence, hatred, war, abuse, Give us peace of being at rest, so that peace prevails over any wind that gusts through our islands,Tattoo in our hearts Your righteousness and purity,Through all cultures and walks of life, we pray as instruments of Peace and as the people of Pasifika.

“The violence done us by others is often less painful than that which we do to ourselves,” wroteFrançois de la Rochefoucauld.

May the rest of your week be blessed with the love, light and peace of the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ.

Rev. Bhagwan is a probationary minister of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma, serving as Librarian/Assistant Lecturer (Theology & Ethics) at Davuilevu Theological College and as an Associate Minister at Dudley Methodist Church in Toorak, Suva.
All opinions expressed in this article are personal and do not necessarily reflect the opinion and policies of the Methodist Church in Fiji or any organization that Rev. Bhagwan is affiliated with.

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Friday, December 4, 2009

One Step at a Time

Published in The Fiji Times, Friday 4th December, 2009 (p12, 15)

In preparation for my sermon for this Sunday (7.30am Dudley Church, all welcome or listen to the broadcast at 10am on Radio Fiji One), I happened to come across some “Off the Wall” articles from the previous year. In an article written for New Year’s Eve 2008, I noted that the United Nations had declared 2009 to be the International Year of Reconciliation, calling on societies that have been divided by conflict to adopt reconciliation processes in order to establish firm and lasting peace.

Last New Year’s Eve, I invited the people of Fiji commit ourselves to playing our part in creating a firm and lasting peace in Fiji. It was a cry for us to renew our trust in ourselves and in others; to forgive and respect others. It was a call for a commitment that required no international monitors; a commitment in which you set the time line. It was a call to a commitment to which only you and God know that you are being faithful. Nevertheless it was a call to a commitment which everyone could make.

Less than a week away from the conclusion of the 16 days of activism for the elimination of violence against women and the commemoration of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, one of the saddest realisations remains that the majority of people in Fiji, who consider themselves Christians find themselves struggling to accept their responsibility as agents of reconciliation and peace. Even though biblically, all Christians are called to commit to the message of reconciliation: “All this is from God, who reconciled himself to us through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation,” (2 Corinthians 5:18).

On Wednesday afternoon I was walking through downtown Suva, when I noticed a commotion ahead of me. As is our habit in Fiji, I decided to “avorosa” and find out what the fuss was all about. Upon enquiry by those who had witnessed the whole event, I learned that a destitute woman, unkept and unwashed, had been refused entry onto a bus even though she had the required bus fare. Those to whom she turned, for a sympathetic hearing and in the expectation of support did not, in spite of their uniform, enforce her right to travel on the bus. By the time I reached the spot the bus had departed and the crowd was dispersing.

It occurred to me that perhaps we have missed a significant step in our attempts at reconciliation. We have thus far only looked at reconciliation between two major communities in Fiji. We have neglected to reconcile the various factions and divisions within those communities. Divisions based on religion, social status, economic situation, culture and perspective. How can we expect reconciliation between neighbours when there is conflict within the home? How do we successfully inculcate a culture of gender, racial and social equality when we continue to hold on to prejudice that has been ingrained over generations and that we are indirectly passing on to the next generation.

Perhaps we have been conditioned by the use of the word, “Division”. Our country is split into four geographical divisions for government administation. The Methodist Church has 51 divisions, including a Rotuman, a Rabi and an Indian Division. We are constantly divided by ethnicity, gender, age and sexual orientation. We are a people who have well and truly been divided and conquered. What is worse, we continue to divide ourselves.

I have come across a number of interpretations of “Reconciliation.” From the traditional, culturally-based rituals, to special events where groups perform items from a different culture, too often we rush through the motions. Observing protocols and rituals that only hold significance on the surface, with no lasting change made. This underlines the failure of superficial acts of public forgiveness in Fiji in the recent past which had no effect in terms of national reconciliation because the on most occasions groups petitioning for and granting forgiveness did not include wrongdoers, who were unrepentant or victims who were not willing to forgive. The symbolism in cases such as these proved to be empty.

The dilemma of forgiveness and justice is also an important issue. In his book, Forgiveness and Christian Ethics, Anthony Bash makes the point that forgiveness is a moral response to wrongdoing and that it is an interpersonal phenomenon, not possible on a corporate level. From a Christian perspective, understanding forgiveness as a moral ideal rather than a moral duty helps Christians in their struggle to forgive even the unrepentant and to find consolation when after striving to forgive, they find that they are unable to do so.

Forgiveness is an ideal; a moral response to wrongdoing. As a Christian, forgiveness for me is a response to God's grace and in participation of the ministry of reconciliation. Yet I recognise that forgiveness is also a struggle by victims who yearn for justice. After all it is very difficult for the oppressed, dressed in rags and with an empty stomach to forgive the well-dressed, well-fed oppressor. Ultimately, though, forgiveness is a core element of the greater good.

In our context the issue of forgiveness and reconciliation has been compounded by the fact that due to our pluralistic society, often the wrongdoer and the victim have different religious and cultural understandings of forgiveness, repentance, atonement and justice. This raises the question of how interpersonal or even any attempt at corporate forgiveness can take place between people who hold to different theologies and cultural practices.

Reconciliation is about restoration of relationship, not return to the status quo. Reconciliation requires repentance and forgiveness, which in turn requires an acknowledgement of responsibility and generosity of heart.

On Monday and Tuesday this week I was fortunate to attend a Retreat for Ministers, Pastors and Deaconesses working in the Indian Division of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma. Held at Nasikawa Vision College, the Retreat included sessions with Rev. Baek, a Methodist Minister from South Korea and an inspiring speaker. Late on Monday evening, I climbed up the steep hill that leads to the Vision College’s chapel. As looked out to the ocean and watched the waves crashing on the reef in the light of the setting sun, I reflected on the huffing and puffing that it took me to climb the many steps to reach the summit and the resulting view.

The goal of a reconciled and compassionate society of free and equal citizens may seem to many of us like the peak of Mount Everest, far away and seemingly out of reach. But with each step we get a little closer. Our personal commitment to taking a step forward at a time, no matter how difficult the terrain or how steep the climb, is necessary to achieving this goal. It is a goal that must be achieved collectively or not at all. There is no such thing as half of a reconciled and compassionate society of free and equal citizens.

May you continue to be blessed with light, love, peace and joy this Advent season.

Rev. Bhagwan is a probationary minister of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma, serving as Librarian/Assistant Lecturer (Theology & Ethics) at Davuilevu Theological College and as an Associate Minister at Dudley Methodist Church in Toorak, Suva.
All opinions expressed in this article are personal and do not necessarily reflect the opinion and policies of the Methodist Church in Fiji or any organization that Rev. Bhagwan is affiliated with. Visit the Blog- or email

Friday, November 27, 2009

Break On Through

Published in The Fiji Times - Wednesday, November 25, 2009

About a decade ago, someone referred to me in a conversation as a "Spiritual Wanderer." However, as every creature on Earth has an accent, it also sounded like, "Spiritual Wonderer".
At that time both descriptions were correct in their pronouncement. After all, "all our life is a journey. All life travels that journey." These were my thoughts on Saturday morning as dawn broke Fiji-style at Suva Point, and I stood on the shore to survey the flotilla of canoes in the Laucala Bay; one awaiting a sunrise blessing, adorned with a frangipani salusalu. Next to that canoe, dwarfing it in size was the 21st century drua. The double-hulled canoe named Uto ni Yalo - The Heart of the Spirit is made out of synthetic material but complete with traditional-designed manual giant rudder/oar. It too awaited blessing.

Uto ni Yalo is one of seven ocean-going double-hulled canoes which have been built for the Pacific Voyagers' network, voyaging groups in American Samoa, the Cook Islands, Fiji, New Zealand, Tahiti, Tonga and Western Samoa. The development of the canoes was made possible by the Okeanos foundation, an international philanthropic organisation based in Germany, formed with the objective of protecting the ocean environment and marine life.
Fiji's involvement in this project is due largely to Letila Mitchell, Manoa Rasigatale and Colin Philp, who recently formed the Fiji Islands Voyaging Society and lead the awakening to rekindle Fiji and Rotuma's proud maritime heritage. The trio hope to revive traditional Fijian canoe building, sailing and navigational knowledge, skills and customs and voyaging, in order to re-establish cultural links and traditional sailing routes.

My role on Saturday was to seek God's blessings on the event and for the drua, its crew and passengers, the first of which were the contestants of the Miss South Pacific Pageant. It was somehow fitting these young women of the Pacific, who will raise awareness of the issue of climate change among the many people of the Pacific following the pageant were the first passengers on a canoe that would be used to promote the issue of ocean noise.

As I watched the Uto ni Yalo make its maiden voyage, complete with fair maidens onboard, my thoughts shifted to another fair maiden who was being farewelled that morning. You see on Saturday, I also attended the funeral of a woman who despite her own adversities inspired others to overcome their own. Her name was Belinda Mani. A good friend of my wife during their university days, Belinda was, at the time of her death, a lawyer, describing herself as a "people's advocate". She was also a paraplegic.

The eulogies at her funeral paid tribute to a woman who did not let her disability conquer her life. Her determination to live life to the fullest and be all that she could be inspired others who were able-bodied to do so as well. While her body could not keep up with her indomitable spirit, her legacy will live on. Rest in peace Belinda.

The new day of Tuesday, November 24 dawns as I write, and I am reminded of another group of women who like Belinda are part of the breakthrough of the barriers.

This afternoon, six women will complete ministerial formation at Davuilevu Theological College, the largest number of women to graduate from the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma's training institute for clergy. For a church that is perceived to be a bastion of a traditionally male-dominated society, this is an important day.

These six women and two others were the largest number of women to be accepted into the ministry within the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma at the Nausori Methodist Church during the 2006 Bose Ko Viti. It was also the same year that I and most of their male classmates also entered the ministry.

The next time we were to meet would be at Davuilevu Theological College, where they were first-year students and I a first-year member of faculty.

Of worthy note is that a female minister, Reverend Mereia Votomosi is the Head of the Bibical Studies Department at Davuilevu. This year in its mini-conference, the church appointed its first female Divisional Superintendent, Reverend Kelera Wesele.

The Methodist Church in Fiji has one of the highest numbers of women ministers in the South Pacific.

Today is also a special day for a woman who has created a legacy of breaking through the barriers, again doing so in her own way, as are the contestants of the Miss South Pacific Pageant, as did Belinda Mani and as will the six female ministers who will soon be leading their flocks through the paths of righteousness.

This woman embodies what it means to live in a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-faith environment. Today my mother, the unconventional, the feminine feminist, Rachel Bhagwan turns 71. Happy Birthday Mother!

In my family we have always seen November 25 as the beginning of a special two-month period.
Mother's birthday marks the arrival of the Advent season (it is Advent Sunday on November 29).

A month later, Christians mark the birth of Jesus. Another month after that, by my late father's birthday of January 25, it is time to knuckle down and get into the New Year.

The Advent season is, for Christians, a time of preparation for the incarnation of God among humans in Christ Jesus. The focus of the entire season is the celebration of the birth of Jesus the Christ in his First Advent, and the anticipation of the return of Christ the King in his Second Advent. Consequently, Advent is far more than simply marking a 2000 year old event in history.

It is celebrating a truth about God, the revelation of God in Christ whereby all of creation might be reconciled to God. During this time we pray for the grace to accept the Christ who comes in God's name, the Christ who broke barriers of social, cultural and religious status and evoked a consciousness of peace on Earth and goodwill toward all. This Advent let us ask God for the courage to be Christ for others.

May the rest of your week be blessed with light, love, peace and joy!

* Reverend Bhagwan is a probationary minister of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma, serving as Librarian/ Assistant Lecturer (Theology & Ethics) at Davuilevu Theological College and as an Associate Minister at Dudley Methodist Church in Toorak, Suva.
* All opinions expressed in this article are personal and do not necessarily reflect the opinion and policies of the Methodist Church in Fiji or any organisation that Mr Bhagwan is affiliated with.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Shepherding the Flock through the Valley of Globalisation – By Padre James Bhagwan

Doomsday Thinking

Published in The Fiji Times - Friday, November 20, 2009

I was introduced to the "Prophecies of Nostradamus," in the mid-1980s when my father brought home a documentary movie featuring the actor/director Orson Welles. Welles is known as much for his poignant films such as Citizen Kane as his live radio play of War of the Worlds which threw America into a panic when many people mistakenly thought it was real news coverage of an alien invasion.

For a young child, this film was life-altering as I heard of Michel de Notre Dame's many prophecies which had come true hundreds of years after his death and more importantly, the prophecies of events yet to happen. Still I remember the nightmare I had the night after watching the dramatic portrayal of the nuclear holocaust, which the according to the film, Nostradamus had predicted starting in the Middle East. Many years later, I was to reflect on the character playing the man who would begin the nuclear holocaust looking a lot like Saddam Hussain.

The prophecies of Nostradamus have been tied to every major disaster and crisis in the last century and those unfolding in this new century, including the terror attacks of September 11 2001 and the ensuing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Recently I came across a television special by HBO which makes claims to a newly discovered "secret" book of Nostradamus which is supposed to add weight to the idea that the world as we know it will end in 2012.

This claim of the world coming to an end on December 21, 2012 gains credence from the the fact that there are "end of days" prophecies in almost every major religion, from the Christian Apocalypse to the Norse Ragnarok. References are to cataclysmic events, wars, famines and natural disasters, anarchy, one world government etc. Add to this doomsday mania the calendar of the ancient Mayans of central America which ends with a particular alignments of planets on 12/12/12 (December 12, 2012) and you have the formula for the best end-of-the-world scenario. Or the plot for a block buster film. I recently watched the movie 2012 which joins these and other dots to tell the tale of the shifting of the earth's crust and the end of the world as we know it. In an age where climate change is a major issue and where earthquakes and tsunamis are becoming all too frequent, it is the ultimate disaster movie for this generation.

But doomsayers have been proclaiming "the end is nigh" for a long time, albeit with changing signs of the times. In the mid to late twentieth century it was fear of the MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) of nuclear war, a key movie being "The Day After". The aliens have been and gone (taking Elvis with them, according to one story). We survived Y2K with no planes falling out of the sky or computers crashing. Then came Armageddon in the form of Bruce Willis saving the world from asteroids and comets, in the film of the same name. The dawn of the next ice age, an extra hot burst from the sun and climate change have now made it to the big screen as the next threats to life on earth and civilisation as we know it. That's not including terrorists, biological warfare, famine, HIV and AIDS, the H1N1 pandemic and the global economic meltdown.

As I watched the super-tsunami wash over India, Tibet and turn the Himalayas into an island group in the comfort and safety of Cinema 1 at Village Six, it hit me that no amount of training at the National Aquatic Centre is going to prepare me to swim through a wave taller than any building on the planet. Not that I will stop my early morning floats among the serious swimmers.

Given that the price for a ticket onboard one of the "Super-Arks", which held all the precious art work of human civilisation as well as Noah's required stock of animals, was a billion euros per person, perhaps surfing big waves is a good hobby to take up now. We of Oceania who live in the so-called "Ring-Of-Fire" disappeared without even a mention of Fiji Water in the script.

What this movie really got me thinking about was the futility of planning our lives so far forward that we miss living in the now. It also reminded me that as human beings we really think far too much of ourselves. This year's floods, the recent tsunamis and realities of years of cyclone disasters serve as harsh reminders that nature is a force more powerful than human will.

But these disaster stories and realities also give us an opportunity to correct our perspective on who and what is important. We are reminded of the frailty of humankind and of our failings as stewards of creation. When in the midst of disaster, where it often is every man, woman and child for themselves, selfless acts of courage and compassion display the true value of our humanity, the true mark of what we call civilisation.

Personally, I don't know what to think of the claims made in the film 2012. I am still waiting to see if we actually do "make contact" in 2010 as per the Stanley Kubrick film /Arthur C. Clarke book. What I do know is that we have two choices. We can either panic and become fatalistic, holding a "what's the point, none of this will matter" attitude. Or, whatever the future holds and until that day comes, we can embrace the life that we have our families, the vanua, our communities to which we belong and commit to working to make this world the best possible place for all God's creatures to live and give our children a planet worth living on.

* Reverend Bhagwan is a probationary minister of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma, serving as a librarian at the Davuilevu Theological College and an associate minister of the Dudley Methodist Church in Suva. All opinions expressed in this article are personal and do not necessarily reflect the opinion and policies of the Methodist Church in Fiji or any organisation that Mr Bhagwan is affiliated with.

* Email:

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Starved of the food of love

As published in The Fiji Times - Wednesday, November 04, 2009Padre James Bhagwan

I read with interest the statement by local musician Knox that he releases his music exclusively on one particular radio station because the other broadcasters do not give airplay to local music on their English-language stations.

If that is correct, it is a damning indictment of the failure of local radio stations to promote the only local music that actually has a chance of commercial success internationally.

By this I do not mean that locally produced songs in the vernacular languages of Fijian, Hindi and Rotuman have no opportunity for international commercial success.

Indeed, they do, but only within the genre of world music -- a category that puts them with other traditional/fusion music recorded in languages that are not commonly spoken in the global village.

World music appeals to only those within the potential global audience who either speak the language or have an affinity with that particular culture or region from where the music comes from.

That, or to those who have an eclectic taste in music.

Not withstanding any foray into the Hindi-language music scene, it is songs in the English language which have a bigger chance of commercial success internationally for local musicians.

The two major commercial radio networks relegate homegrown music for the most to play on Fijian-language stations.

At the same time, it must be acknowledged that while Paulini Curuenavuli and George 'Fiji' Veikoso fill the airwaves, they are not local musicians any more.

Their songs are recorded overseas in million-dollar studios with overseas back-up singers and session musicians.

Their albums are released on foreign labels. They are international artists.

That is not to say that English-language radio stations have not supported local artists.

I grew up listening to the latest local English songs on Radio Fiji Three. But much of the airplay was due to the individual producer/presenters (before the days of radio personalities) support of the local musicians, with the broadcasting and local music industry enjoying a symbiotic relationship.

Whether it was Bernadette Rounds-Ganilau's breakfast show or Sharon Bhagwan-Rolls' PM Show on Thursday nights, you could be sure of hearing the homegrown music of Jimmy Nathu, Sakiusa Bulicokocoko and the Dragon Swingers, Rootstrata or Danniel Rae Costello.

Producers made the effort to record live performances of local bands churning out quality renditions of popular covers and ground-breaking originals.

Even television followed suit, with FM Vision, Ready To Roll and Power Jammer generously giving precious time to local artists, with producers going out of their way to produce video clips, from the simple to the innovative.

So, it seems that there is a change in attitude toward local music in the English language. On one hand, the radio stations are using international standards and overseas charts to judge music worthy of airtime, while on the other hand the majority of televised local music consists of vocalists singing to backing tracks on reruns of M.I.C. or promos of M.I.C.

How much airplay did the aspiring musicians participating in the Young Mussos Acclaim get on television or radio for that matter?

Considering both major radio networks have one station dedicated to youth and one to classic hits, both in the English-language, the silence in terms of classic local songs and new upcoming artists, is deafening.

It would seem that the adoption of a Top 40 music strategy with a clock hour formula of programming, has vastly limited access for local musicians to local audiences.

While some local artists turn to the internet or cheaply produced singles or video for direct release, many are not able to do so. More importantly, what many radio and TV music directors and producers fail to understand is that local music can be considered as narratives of the popular culture.

Popular music genres in Fiji such as Reggae, Hip-Hop and R&B have emerged as a form of narrative from African-American and Jamaican cultures.

Local Reggae and Hip-Hop music follows in the tradition of the genre, focusing on issues such as poverty, political oppression, youth, unemployment, etc.

These musical genres continue the oral narrative because they are a form of story-telling.

For example, Unem Lament by local reggae group Rootstrata tells the story of a young man lamenting the ethnic tension of the 1987 military coup.

Lately, young local Hip Hop groups have emerged.

The similarities of Rap/Hip-Hop to traditional chanting and local songs offering a narrative of life in Fiji highlight the possibilities of music to reconnect the audience to communal experience.

The framing of songs in a certain context or background information about the song and the performer during their introduction by presenters also expand the narrative, making the listening experience more meaningful. It connects the presenter into that meaning in a process known as dynamic equivalence -- a model of translation in which listeners "feel as well as understand".

This, in turn, forges a better bond between the station and the listener.

So, whose responsibility is it to help the musical artists of today reach the widest possible audience? Certainly there is a responsibility that the radio and television broadcasters of Fiji must embrace.

Danny Costello hit the proverbial nail on the head when he said in an interview for Living in Fiji (now Living Pacific) magazine, that the Fiji Audio-Visual Commission needs to remember that the word audio also refers to the music industry.

But beyond that, it is us, the listeners, for whose ears and eyes radio and television station vie.

Our constant requests for local music on English-language stations can perhaps lead to great things for local musicians on the international scene, or at least give them a shot.

After all, all it takes these days is one hit.

* Reverend Bhagwan is a probationary minister of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma, working as a librarian at the Davuilevu Theological College and is an associate minister of the Dudley Methodist Church in Suva. All opinions expressed in this article are personal and do not necessarily reflect the opinion and policies of the Methodist Church in Fiji or any organisation that Rev. Bhagwan is affiliated with.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Water, water, water

As published in The Fiji Times - Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Recently the Fiji meteorological office announced that the latter part of this year would see another El Nino event similar to 1998. The result of the last El Nino event was a severe drought around the country. Producing a documentary on the 1998 drought in Fiji, I witnessed firsthand the effects the suffering of people whose wells and springs had dried up, the impact on the farming communities and livestock. If this year's El Nino event is anything like 1998, water conservation and an efficient supply of water to all will be a national priority.

The establishment of a Water Authority of Fiji as part of the Government's reform program has been welcomed by many as a sign of improved water services.

Anyone who has had to wait by the side of the road for the water truck to bring water for drinking, cooking and washing will appreciate the sentiment behind the idea. However, as we sail down the river of reforming the Water Department into the Water Authority of Fiji for more efficient services, it is important that we do so cautiously.

In our national experience, government departments that become statutory organisations often become corporations that are then privatised. It is not far-fetched to say that a worldwide crisis over water is brewing.

According to the United Nations, 31 countries are now facing water scarcity and 1 billion people lack access to clean drinking water. Water consumption is doubling every 20 years and yet at the same time, water sources are rapidly being polluted, depleted, diverted and exploited by corporate interests ranging from industrial, agriculture and manufacturing to electricity production and mining.

The World Bank predicts that by 2025, two-thirds of the world's population will suffer from a lack of clean and safe drinking water. Fortune magazine has predicted that "water is the oil of the 21 century".

As a basic need for sustaining life, access to water is a fundamental human right enshrined in the right to life and dignity. In 2002 the United Nations adopted water as a human right. However, if Fiji takes the plunge in corporatising and then privatising the water service, this common resource, a public good, will become a commodity. This is already the case in squatter settlements and some rural areas around Fiji where people do not have access to public water supply and are forced to pay those who are fortunate to have a tap, borehole or well to receive water.

Those who cannot afford to pay end up either walking long distances to find access to water or get their water from unsafe sources such as polluted rivers and streams, or even drains.

On a national level it may be argued that switching from publicly owned and operated utilities to private sector firms will lead to greater economic efficiency, stabilised rates, reduced public debt and improved budgetary management.

Daily, the right to water is violated - according to the World Health Organisation an estimated 1.7 billion people still lack access to clean water and 2.3billion people suffer from water-borne diseases each year. Water-borne diseases occur due to the inability to provide clean water, but increasingly due to pricing of water. Pre-paid water meters are installed in poor areas in order to ensure profitable supply and services are cut-off if citizens fall behind on their payments.

For example in Cochabamba, Bolivia, in 1999, the privatisation of water services saw rates rise from 30 to 300 per cent. It will leave poor persons basically bereft of water. That deal involving the Bechtel corporation reputedly even banned area residents from collecting rainwater. The Cochabamba deal was eventually scrapped in 2000 owing to mass protests and strikes.

In their recent statement on Water for Life, the World Council of Churches, for example, comprising over 340 Christian denominations in over 100 countries, notes that, biblically speaking, water is the symbol of life and is to be "shared for the benefit of all creatures".

It is of foundational spiritual significance, the source of health and wellbeing, and is thus used liturgically in baptism, the Eucharist, healing ceremonies and devotional rituals. As both source and symbol of life, the statement claims, water is a wellspring of God's creation.

Access to water is both an issue of social justice and a call for human compassion. The prophet Amos called for justice to roll like waters and righteousness like an everflowing stream. (Amos 5:24).

I appeal to our nation's leaders not to dive into water reforms without checking to see what lies under the surface. All cultures and religions in Fiji hold water as sacred. As El Nino approach, bringing with it at the possibility of severe drought, as rising sea levels threaten the water tables of the islands we call home, each one of us is called to allow others to drink from our cup.

* Reverend Bhagwan is a member of the Faculty of the Methodist Davuilevu Theological College and an Associate Minister of the Dudley Methodist Church in Suva. All opinions expressed in this article are personal and do not necessarily reflect the opinion and policies of the Methodist Church in Fiji or any organisation that Mr Bhagwan is affiliated with. Email:

Friday, August 14, 2009

Fiji Water: Spin the Bottle

Fiji Water: Spin the Bottle
Obama sips it. Paris Hilton loves it. Mary J. Blige won't sing without it. How did a plastic water bottle, imported from a military dictatorship thousands of miles away, become the epitome of cool?
By Anna Lenzer
September/October 2009 Issue

THE INTERNET CAFÉ in the Fijian capital, Suva, was usually open all night long. Dimly lit, with rows of sleek, modern terminals, the place was packed at all hours with teenage boys playing boisterous rounds of video games. But one day soon after I arrived, the staff told me they now had to shut down by 5 p.m. Police orders, they shrugged: The country's military junta had declared martial law a few days before, and things were a bit tense.

I sat down and sent out a few emails—filling friends in on my visit to the Fiji Water bottling plant, forwarding a story about foreign journalists being kicked off the island. Then my connection died. "It will just be a few minutes," one of the clerks said.

Moments later, a pair of police officers walked in. They headed for a woman at another terminal; I turned to my screen to compose a note about how cops were even showing up in the Internet cafés. Then I saw them coming toward me. "We're going to take you in for questioning about the emails you've been writing," they said.

What followed, in a windowless room at the main police station, felt like a bad cop movie. "Who are you really?" the bespectacled inspector wearing a khaki uniform and a smug grin asked me over and over, as if my passport, press credentials, and stacks of notes about Fiji Water weren't sufficient clues to my identity. (My iPod, he surmised tensely, was "good for transmitting information.") I asked him to call my editors, even a UN official who could vouch for me. "Shut up!" he snapped. He rifled through my bags, read my notebooks and emails. "I'd hate to see a young lady like you go into a jail full of men," he averred, smiling grimly. "You know what happened to women during the 2000 coup, don't you?"

Eventually, it dawned on me that his concern wasn't just with my potentially seditious emails; he was worried that my reporting would taint the Fiji Water brand. "Who do you work for, another water company? It would be good to come here and try to take away Fiji Water's business, wouldn't it?" Then he switched tacks and offered to protect me—from other Fijian officials, who he said would soon be after me—by letting me go so I could leave the country. I walked out into the muggy morning, hid in a stairwell, and called a Fijian friend. Within minutes, a US Embassy van was speeding toward me on the seawall.

Until that day, I hadn't fully appreciated the paranoia of Fiji's military regime. The junta had been declared unconstitutional the previous week by the country's second highest court; in response it had abolished the judiciary, banned unauthorized public gatherings, delayed elections until 2014, and clamped down on the media. (Only the "journalism of hope" is now permitted.) The prime minister, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, promised to root out corruption and bring democracy to a country that has seen four coups in the past 25 years; the government said it will start working on a new constitution in 2012.

The slogan on Fiji Water's website—"And remember this—we saved you a trip to Fiji"—suddenly felt like a dark joke. Every day, more soldiers showed up on the streets. When I called the courthouse, not a single official would give me his name. Even tour guides were running scared—one told me that one of his colleagues had been picked up and beaten for talking politics with tourists. When I later asked Fiji Water spokesman Rob Six what the company thought of all this, he said the policy was not to comment on the government "unless something really affects us."

If you drink bottled water, you've probably drunk Fiji. Or wanted to. Even though it's shipped from the opposite end of the globe, even though it retails for nearly three times as much as your basic supermarket water, Fiji is now America's leading imported water, beating out Evian. It has spent millions pushing not only the seemingly life-changing properties of the product itself, but also the company's green cred and its charity work. Put all that together in an iconic bottle emblazoned with a cheerful hibiscus, and everybody, from the Obamas to Paris and Nicole to Diddy and Kimora, is seen sipping Fiji.

That's by design. Ever since a Canadian mining and real estate mogul named David Gilmour launched Fiji Water in 1995, the company has positioned itself squarely at the nexus of pop-culture glamour and progressive politics. Fiji Water's chief marketing whiz and co-owner (with her husband, Stewart) is Lynda Resnick, a well-known liberal donor who casually name-drops her friends Arianna Huffington and Laurie David. ("Of course I know everyone in the world," Resnick told the UK's Observer in 2005, "every mogul, every movie star.") Manhattan's trendy Carlyle hotel pours only Fiji Water in its dog bowls, and this year's SXSW music festival featured a Fiji Water Detox Spa. "Each piece of lobster sashimi," celebrity chef Nobu Matsuhisa declared in 2007, "should be dipped into Fiji Water seven to ten times."

And even as bottled water has come under attack as the embodiment of waste, Fiji seems immune. Fiji Water took out a full-page ad in Vanity Fair's 2007 green issue, nestled among stories about the death of the world's water. Two bottles sat on a table between Al Gore and Mos Def during a 2006 MySpace "Artist on Artist" discussion on climate change. Fiji was what panelists sipped at the "Life After Capitalism" conference held in New York City during the 2004 RNC protests; Fiji reps were even credentialed at last year's Democratic convention, where they handed out tens of thousands of bottles.

Nowhere in Fiji Water's glossy marketing materials will you find reference to the typhoid outbreaks that plague Fijians because of the island's faulty water supplies; the corporate entities that Fiji Water has—despite the owners' talk of financial transparency—set up in tax havens like the Cayman Islands and Luxembourg; or the fact that its signature bottle is made from Chinese plastic in a diesel-fueled plant and hauled thousands of miles to its ecoconscious consumers. And, of course, you won't find mention of the military junta for which Fiji Water is a major source of global recognition and legitimacy. (Gilmour has described the square bottles as "little ambassadors" for the poverty-stricken nation.)

"We are Fiji," declare Fiji Water posters across the island, and the slogan is almost eerily accurate: The reality of Fiji, the country, has been eclipsed by the glistening brand of Fiji, the water.

ON THE MAP, Fiji looks as if someone dropped a fistful of confetti on the ocean. The country is made up of more than 300 islands (100 inhabited) that have provided the setting for everything from The Blue Lagoon to Survivor to Cast Away. Suva is a bustling multicultural hub with a mix of shopping centers, colonial buildings, and curry houses; some 40 percent of the population is of Indian ancestry, descendants of indentured sugarcane workers brought in by the British in the mid-19th century. (The Indian-descended and native communities have been wrangling for power ever since.) The primary industries are tourism and sugar. Fiji Water says its operations make up about 20 percent of exports and 3 percent of GDP, which stands at $3,900 per capita.

Getting to the Fiji Water factory requires a bone-jarring four-hour trek into the volcanic foothills of the Yaqara Valley. My bus' speakers blasted an earsplitting soundtrack of Fijian reggae, Bob Marley, Tupac, and Big Daddy Kane as we swerved up unpaved mountain roads linked by rickety wooden bridges. Cow pastures ringed by palm trees gave way to villages of corrugated-metal shacks and wooden homes painted in Technicolor hues. Chickens scurried past stands selling cell phone minutes. Sugarcane stalks burning in the fields sent a sweet smoke curling into the air.

Our last rest stop, half an hour from the bottling plant, was Rakiraki, a small town with a square of dusty shops and a marketplace advertising "Coffin Box for Sale—Cheapest in Town." My Lonely Planet guide warned that Rakiraki water "has been deemed unfit for human consumption," and groceries were stocked with Fiji Water going for 90 cents a pint—almost as much as it costs in the US.

Rakiraki has experienced the full range of Fiji's water problems—crumbling pipes, a lack of adequate wells, dysfunctional or flooded water treatment plants, and droughts that are expected to get worse with climate change. Half the country has at times relied on emergency water supplies, with rations as low as four gallons a week per family; dirty water has led to outbreaks of typhoid and parasitic infections. Patients have reportedly had to cart their own water to hospitals, and schoolchildren complain about their pipes spewing shells, leaves, and frogs. Some Fijians have taken to smashing open fire hydrants and bribing water truck drivers for a regular supply.

The bus dropped me off at a deserted intersection, where a weather-beaten sign warning off would-be trespassers in English, Fijian, and Hindi rattled in the tropical wind. Once I reached the plant, the bucolic quiet gave way to the hum of machinery spitting out some 50,000 square bottles (made on the spot with plastic imported from China) per hour. The production process spreads across two factory floors, blowing, filling, capping, labeling, and shrink-wrapping 24 hours a day, five days a week. The company won't disclose its total sales; Fiji Water's vice president of corporate communications told me the estimate of 180 million bottles sold in 2006, given in a legal declaration by his boss, was wrong, but declined to provide a more solid number.

From here, the bottles are shipped to the four corners of the globe; the company—which, unlike most of its competitors, offers detailed carbon-footprint estimates on its website—insists that they travel on ships that would be making the trip anyway, and that the Fiji payload only causes them to use 2 percent more fuel. In 2007, Fiji Water announced that it planned to go carbon negative by offsetting 120 percent of emissions via conservation and energy projects starting in 2008. It has also promised to reduce its pre-offset carbon footprint by 25 percent next year and to use 50 percent renewable energy, in part by installing a windmill at the plant.

The offsetting effort has been the centerpiece of Fiji Water's $5 million "Fiji Green" marketing blitz, which brazenly urges consumers to drink imported water to fight climate change. The Fiji Green website claims that because of the 120-percent carbon offset, buying a big bottle of Fiji Water creates the same carbon reduction as walking five blocks instead of driving. Former Senior VP of Sustainable Growth Thomas Mooney noted in a 2007 Huffington Post blog post that "we'd be happy if anyone chose to drink nothing but Fiji Water as a means to keep the sea levels down." (Metaphorically speaking, anyway: As the online trade journal ClimateBiz has reported, Fiji is using a "forward crediting" model under which it takes credit now for carbon reductions that will actually happen over a few decades.)

Fiji Water has also vowed to use at least 20 percent less packaging by 2010—which shouldn't be too difficult, given its bottle's above-average heft. (See "Territorial Waters.") The company says the square shape makes Fiji Water more efficient in transport, and, hey, it looks great: Back in 2000, a top official told a trade magazine that "What Fiji Water's done is go out there with a package that clearly looks like it's worth more money, and we've gotten people to pay more for us."

Selling long-distance water to green consumers may be a contradiction in terms. But that hasn't stopped Fiji from positioning its product not just as an indulgence, but as an outright necessity for an elite that can appreciate its purity. As former Fiji Water CEO Doug Carlson once put it, "If you like Velveeta cheese, processed water is okay for you." ("All waters are not created equal" is another long-standing Fiji Water slogan.) The company has gone aggressively after its main competitor—tap water—by calling it "not a real or viable alternative" that can contain "4,000 contaminants," unlike Fiji's "living water." "You can no longer trust public or private water supplies," co-owner Lynda Resnick wrote in her book, Rubies in the Orchard.

A few years back, Fiji Water canned its waterfall logo and replaced it with a picture of palm fronds and hibiscus: "Surface water!" Resnick wrote in Rubies. "Why would you want to suggest that Fiji came from surface water? The waterfall absolutely had to go." One company newsletter featured the findings of a salt-crystal purveyor who claimed that Fiji Water rivals the "known and significant abilities of 'Holy Healing Waters' in Lourdes, France or Fatima, Portugal." Switching effortlessly from Catholic mysticism to sci-fi, he added that the water's "electromagnetic field frequency enables Fiji Water to stimulate our human self-regulation system."

In keeping with this rarefied vibe, Fiji Water's marketing has focused on product placement more than standard advertising; from appearances on The Sopranos, 24, The View, and Desperate Housewives to sponsorship of events like the Emmy Awards, the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer, and Justin Timberlake's "Summer Love" tour, it's now "hard to find an event where our target market is present and Fiji isn't," according to Resnick. As far back as 2001, Movieline anointed it one of the "Top 10 Things Young Hollywood Can't Get Through the Day Without." At the Academy Awards, E! has handed out Fiji bottles to the stars; as it happens, the complex where the Oscars is held was owned until 2004 by Fiji Water founder David Gilmour's real estate empire, Trizec (which before its acquisition by Brookfield Properties in 2006 was one of the largest real estate companies in North America, with projects including everything from the Sears Tower to Enron HQ).

In a 2003 interview, Gilmour told the London Times that "the world's water is being trashed day by day." He would know: Before launching Fiji Water, he cofounded Barrick Gold, now the largest gold mining enterprise in the world, with operations in hot spots from Tanzania to Pakistan. Its mines, often in parched places like Nevada and Western Australia, use billions of gallons of water to produce gold via a toxic cyanide leaching process. Barrick's practices are so damaging that after an environmental review of the company, the Norwegian government announced last year that it would divest itself of some $200 million in Barrick stock.

Gilmour was a powerful presence in Fiji long before he got into the water business. Back in 1969, he launched what would become—with help from a couple of Saudi princes—the region's biggest hotel chain, the Southern Pacific Hotel Corporation, which built a massive resort complex in Fiji. His investors and advisers have included everyone from notorious arms trader Adnan Khashoggi to George H.W. Bush; in 2004, Colin Powell presented him with the Secretary of State's Award for Corporate Excellence for his work in Fiji. Gilmour's Fijian holdings include the exclusive Wakaya resort, which boasts six staffers to each guest and has hosted Bill Gates, Nicole Kidman, and Keith Richards (who famously fell off a tree there); he also owns Zinio, an electronic publishing company that produces the digital version of Mother Jones magazine. He declined to be interviewed for this story.

In the early 1990s, Gilmour got wind of a study done by the Fijian government and aid organizations that indicated an enormous aquifer, estimated at more than 17 miles long, near the main island's north coast. He obtained a 99-year lease on land atop the aquifer, brought a former Fijian environment minister on board, and launched an international marketing blitz inviting consumers to sample water preserved since "before the Industrial Revolution." To this day, Fiji Water has nearly exclusive access to the aquifer; the notoriously corrupt and chronically broke government has not been able to come up with the money or infrastructure to tap the water for its people.

BY THE TIME Gilmour put Fiji Water up for sale in 2004, it was the fourth most popular imported bottled water in the United States. He found eager buyers in the Resnicks, who made their fortune with the flower delivery service Teleflora and the collectibles company Franklin Mint. The Beverly Hills-based couple are also agribusiness billionaires whose holdings include enough almond, pistachio, and pomegranate acreage to make them the biggest growers of those crops in the entire Western Hemisphere; a 2004 report by the Environmental Working Group calculated that in 2002 alone, their agricultural water subsidies totaled more than $1.5 million. They own a pesticide company, Suterra, and Lynda Resnick almost single-handedly created the pomegranate fad via their Pom Wonderful brand.

Fiji Water wasn't the Resnicks' first foray into the water industry: Years ago, they gained control of one of the largest underground water reservoirs in the nation, the Kern Water Bank on the edge of California's Central Valley. This vast holding system—built with public funds in 1999 to help buffer the effects of droughts—stores water from California's aqueducts and the Kern River; it's estimated to be worth more than $180 million on the open market and has allowed the Resnicks to double their acreage of fruits and nuts since 1994, according to the Los Angeles Times.

With the profits from their enterprises, the Resnicks have been major players on the political scene, giving more than $300,000 each over the past decade. They have supported mostly marquee Democrats—Obama, John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, Al Franken—though both also donated to the McCain campaign. They give millions to museums, environmental organizations, and other charities: Lynda is a trustee of the Aspen Institute, and Stewart is on the board of Conservation International. One of Britney Spears' recent meltdowns led to her stay at the Stewart and Lynda Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital at UCLA. In June, the California Institute of Technology announced the creation of the Resnick Sustainability Institute after receiving a $20 million donation from the couple. Fiji Water also gives to a range of conservation groups, including the Waterkeeper Alliance, Oceana, the Nature Conservancy, and Heal the Bay.

The charitable works Fiji Water brags about most often, however, are its efforts in Fiji itself—from preserving rainforests to helping fund water and sanitation projects to underwriting kindergartens. This January, after catastrophic floods swept the main island of Viti Levu, the company also donated $500,000 to the military regime for flood relief, and gave another $450,000 to various projects last summer. True, some of Fiji Water's good works are more hope than reality: Though Lynda Resnick insists that "we only use biofuels," the Fiji plant runs on diesel generators, and a project to protect 50,000 acres of rainforest—plugged on the actual bottle label—has yet to obtain a lease. Still, Resnick told New York's WNYC last year, "We do so much for these sort of forgotten people. They live in paradise, but they have a very, very hard life."

Fiji Water may be well advised to spread a bit of its wealth around locally. During the 2000 coup, a small posse of villagers wielding spearguns and dynamite seized on the chaos to take over the bottling plant and threaten to burn it down. "The land is sacred and central to our continued existence and identity," a village spokesman told the Fiji Times, adding that "no Fijian should live off the breadcrumbs of past colonial injustices." Two years later, the company created the Vatukaloko Trust Fund, a charity targeting several villages surrounding its plant. It won't say how much it has given to the trust, but court proceedings indicate that it has agreed to donate .15 percent of its Fijian operation's net revenues; a company official testified that the total was about $100,000 in 2007. (For perspective, the trade journal Brandweek put Fiji Water's marketing budget at $10 million in 2008; it recently dropped $250,000 to become a founding partner of the new Salt Lake City soccer stadium.)

Perhaps mindful of the unpleasantness of 2000, today Fiji Water executives refer constantly to the company's role in Fiji's economic life. "Our export revenue is paying for the expansion of water access at a pace that Fiji's government has never achieved," the company told the BBC in 2008. "If we did...cease to exist," sustainability VP Mooney told U.S. News & World Report the same year, "a big chunk of the economy would be gone, the schools that we built would go away, and the water access projects would go away."

What Mooney didn't say is that though Fiji Water may fill a void in the impoverished nation, it also reaps a priceless benefit: tax-free status, granted when the company was founded in 1995. The rationale at the time, according to the company: Bottled water was a risky business with uncertain chances of success. In 2003, David Gilmour said that his ambition for Fiji Water was "to become the biggest taxpayer in the country." Yet the tax break, originally scheduled to expire in 2008, remains in effect, and neither the company nor the government will say whether or when it might end. And when Fiji has tried to wring a bit of extra revenue from the company, the response has been less than cooperative. Last year, when the government attempted to impose a new tax on water bottlers, Fiji Water called it "draconian" (a term it's never used for the regime's human rights violations) and temporarily shut down its plant in protest.

While Lynda Resnick has called for "very public conduct" by private companies, she seems to appreciate that, as she wrote in her book, "transparency is a lot easier to talk about than it is to realize." The closely held company won't disclose basic data about its business (such as total charity expenditures), and it's gone to some length to shelter assets in secretive tax havens: The Fijian operation, according to court documents filed last year, is owned by an entity in Luxembourg, while its American trademarks are registered to an address in the Cayman Islands.

At the moment, Fiji's government certainly seems in no mood to confront Fiji Water—quite the contrary. "Learning from the lessons of products, we must brand ourselves," Fiji's ambassador in Washington told a news site for diplomats in 2006, adding that he was working with the Resnicks to try to increase Fiji Water's US sales. A Fiji Water bottle sits at the top of the embassy's home page, and the government has even created a Fiji Water postage-stamp series—the $3 stamp features children clutching the trademark bottles.

Fiji Water, for its part, has trademarked the word "FIJI" (in capital letters) in numerous countries. (Some rejected the application, but not the United States.) It has also gone after rival Fijian bottlers daring to use their country's name for marketing. "It would have cost too much money for us to fight in court," says Mohammed Altaaf, the owner of Aqua Pacific water, which ended up taking the word "Fiji" out of its name. "It's just like branding a water America Water and denying anyone else the right to use the name 'America.'"

When such practices are criticized, Fiji Water's response is simple: "They don't have a ton of options for economic development," Mooney told U.S. News & World Report, "but bottled water is one of them. When someone buys a bottle of Fiji, they're buying prosperity for the country." Without Fiji Water, he said, "Fiji is kind of screwed."

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Homo proponit, sed Deus disponit

I remember back in the 1980s, a movie called "The Kid With the Broken Halo" which starred Gary Coleman as Andy LeBeau is a fallen angel of sorts. He keeps messing up and causing trouble in angel training. The archangel, Michael, decides to give him one more shot. His mission: Help out the problems of three cases. First, the Desautel family, who are on the edge of breaking up. Then, the McNulty family, who are workaholics. Finally, Dorothea Powell who is a secluded, grumpy old woman. Andy's guide on earth is Blake, who is none too thrilled to work with Andy. The lesson Andy has to learn is that "Man Proposes but God Disposes".

"Man Proposes but God Disposes," may come down to us as a direct translation from a work of devotion written in Latin by Thomas a Kempis.This work, his celebrated Of the Imitation of Christ, is the second most widely read christian text after the Bible itself. It contains many sensitively and wisely expressed insights into spirituality and morals.In Chapter 19 of Book 1 we find :-"For the resolutions of the just depend rather on the grace of God than on their own wisdom; and in Him they always put their trust, whatever they take in hand.For man proposes, but God disposes; neither is the way of man in his own hands".

I have been reflecting on this as my church continues to struggle with a percieved threat to its survival from without and within. It has been forced to critically examine the dynamic roles of dealing pastorally with the current regime and speaking prophetically and discerning God's will over self interest.

In the Book of Proverbs, attributed to Solomon the Wise, we read:
"A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps." Proverbs 16:9 and again in Proverbs 19:21:-"There are many devices in a man's heart; nevertheless the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand."
With these verses we may also compare Jeremiah 10:23:
"O Lord, I know, that the way of a man is not in himself; it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps."

St. Paul writes:
"It is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love him. But God has revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. ...the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. " (1Cor 2)

Cyrus, Darius and Nebuchadnezzar were used as instruments of God's justice and vengence towards the Israelites when they broke God's covenant. What does this speak to us as Christians, as Methodists when we find ourselves faced by an attack from without?

I offer this only as a point for reflection and prayer. Let us pray and ask God to help us discern God's will in our situation, remembering God's faithfulness to God's people in the past, the promises of God and what that means for us in our time and in our country.

May you be blessed with the peace, love, light and hope of God.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A little perspective on suffering....

At the age of 33, Jesus was condemned to a death penalty.

That was then the "worst" death. Only the worst criminals could die likeJesus. And with Jesus things were worst, because not all the criminals condemned to death could receive nails in their wrists and feet.

Of course, nails... Big nails! Each was 15 a 20 cm long, with a point of6 cm. Another point was the sharpness.

The nails were carved into the pulses, and not into the palms, as we areused to hear. In the pulse, there's a tendon which extends to theshoulder, and when the nails were being hammered, that tendon broke, obliging Jesus to reinforce all the muscles of His back, so that he could breath as He was losing all the air from His lungs.

In this way, He was forced to support Himself onto the nail craved inhis feet, which was bigger than those craved into his pulses, for bothfeet were craved together. And, as His feet could not endure for longtime without tearing, Jesus was forced to alternate that "cycle" so thatHe could breath.
Jesus endured that reality for over 3 hours.

Yes, over 3 hours! Long time, isn't it? Few minutes before He died,Jesus was not bleeding anymore.

He was simply pouring water from his cuts and holes.

When we imagine Him injured, we only picture Him with injuries, but itis not enough; His wounds were true holes, made in His body.

He had no more blood to bleed, He only poured water. Human body iscomposed of nearly 3.5 litres of blood (for adult).

Jesus poured all 3.5 litres of His blood; He had three nails hammeredinto His members; a crown of thorns on His head and, beyond that, a Roman soldier who nailed a spear into His chest.

All these without mentioning the humiliation He passed after carryingHis own cross for almost 2 kilometres, while the crowd spat in His face and threw stones (the cross was almost 30 kg of weight, only for itshigher part, where His wrists were nailed).

Jesus had to endure all this, so that we can have free access to God.
So that our sins could be "washed" away. All of them, with no exception!Don't ignore this situation.

HE DIED FOR YOU! For you, who now read this. Do not believe that He only died for others (those who go to the church or for pastors, bishops, etc).

He died for you! It is easy to pass jokes or foolish photos by e-mail,but when it comes to God, sometimes you feel ashamed to forward toothers because you are worried of what they may think about your morals.

Accept the reality, the truth that JESUS IS THE ONLY SALVATION FOR THEWORLD.
God has plans for you, show all your friends what He experienced to save you. Now think about this! May God bless your life!

Think a moment and appreciate the power of God in your life, for doingwhat pleases Him.
Yes, I love God. He is my source of life and my saviour. He keeps mealive day and night.
Without Him, I am nothing, but with Him "I can do all things throughChrist which strengthens me". Philippians 4:13.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The "Hand of God"

April 6, 2009--A new x-ray image has revealed an unusual hand-shaped nebula that brings a whole new meaning to the expression "reach for the stars."

NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory recently snapped this shot of energetic particles streaming from a pulsar—the rapidly rotating core left behind after a very massive star exploded as a supernova.

Known as B1509, the pulsar is thought to be about 1,700 years old and lies roughly 17,000 light-years from Earth.

The tiny pulsar is just 12 miles (19.3 kilometers) wide. But it is spinning so fast—it makes seven complete rotations every second—that the particles it spews have created a nebula spanning 150 light-years.

The pulsar's rapid rotation likely helped create the nebula's odd shape. Its finger-like pillars appear to be transferring energy to a nearby gas cloud, which glows orange and red in x-rays.

—Victoria Jaggard

Saturday, May 23, 2009

A matter of perspective

Published in the Fiji Times - Thursday, May 21, 2009

Sometimes we get so caught up in our own lives and thoughts that we could easily fall into the trap of assuming that the world revolves around us. Galileo Galilei was hounded by critics when he proposed that contrary to popular belief the Earth actually revolved around the Sun.
Sometimes it is important that we put our problems into perspective by paying attention to the difficulties faced by others and the complexities of living on this planet.

I recently watched the movie "The Knowing", which starred one of my favourite actors, Nicholas Cage. Full of Biblical-inspired imagery, based on the Prophet Ezekiel's vision of God, the film centres around an imminent solar flare, just a little bigger than usual for the sun but, big enough to destroy all life on our planet.

As I walked out of the cinema that evening, I remarked to my wife that when you look at life from a global and perhaps even a galactic perspective, ones own issues do not seem as insurmountable.

If we focus too much on our own problems we fail to see opportunities where we may be able to help someone with theirs. At the same time those of us who are Christians must also be aware of focusing too much on this country, on this world while losing sight of the bigger picture, the Kingdom of God.

Last month a meeting of the Methodist Consultative Council of the Pacific took place in Suva which was attended by leaders of the Methodist Churches in Fiji, New Zealand, Samoa, the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga, the United Churches of Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea and the Uniting Church in Australia. An observer of the proceedings, his first time at a regional ecumenical meeting, shared with me that he was surprised by the manner in which the discussions took place - discussion was frank, but speakers were humble, delegates represented their own countries and churches but were sincere in their solidarity for each other. The observer said to me that he had never seen a round table discussion like that before.
I said to him, "We are from different countries, but we are all citizens of the same Kingdom."

This is the very kingdom that Jesus inaugurated almost two millennia ago. The kingdom that all Christians pray will come when they say the "Lord's Prayer". But it is both an anticipated future as well as a present reality that all who follow Christ are called to manifest when they obey God's will. It is easy to pray for the future with out living out the present. It is easy to look to the future when we fail to live up to the requirements of our citizenship to the Kingdom of God.

As I was working on my sermon for last Sunday (7.30am and 10am Dudley Methodist Church, corner of Amy Street and Toorak Road - All Welcome) which is from the Gospel of Matthew 11:27-30, I came across this reflection by Bob Gass:

"You'll notice that unlike us, Jesus didn't suffer from the fear of failure. That's because He never entertained the thought that He couldn't do something His Father had already assured Him He could. And He didn't suffer from a fear of lack either. Even though He lived a simple life He was responsible for supporting Himself and a team of others.

How did He do it? He prayed a lot, and stayed in sync with His Heavenly Father. Consequently He knew how to catch fish when they weren't biting, or find tax money in a fish's mouth when He needed it.
(Yes, Jesus paid His taxes too!) Now God may not provide for you in exactly the same way, but He has promised to take care of you (See 1 Pet 5:7). Today Jesus is saying to you, "Come to Me... learn from Me... and you will find rest for your souls " (Matt 11:29 NIV)."

When we lose perspective, we lose the awareness that God is in control, no matter how bumpy the ride. Stress is brought on by our need to know everything ahead of time - to be in control.

Even after we pray and supposedly turn the situation over to God, we develop a 'backup plan' in case He doesn't handle things the way we think He should. We need to have at least that much confidence in God whose track record speaks for itself, whose faithfulness never fails, and who has earned the right to ask you, "Is anything too hard for ?"
(Gen 18:14 NIV). In other words - learn how to live like Jesus.

May the rest of your week be blessed with light, love, peace and the assurance of God's strength in your hour of need.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A little hope

Published in The Fiji Times on Saturday, May 09, 2009

Today there is so much negativity in our world and in our own Fiji. Some people seem to highlight all the things that upset and distress us. Also the economic news we hear from around the world is nothing but gloom and doom. We seem to get a daily destructive diet of "it is going to get worse" calculated to instill fear into us and to take away any sense of hope and peace we may have deep within us.

The Gospels tell us that Jesus had a deep trust and confidence in the goodness and compassion of Abba, his Father, who is always close and who cares for what is happening to His creation especially to those He created to His image and likeness. From that confidence issued a sense of peace and hope. It gave Him a sense of assurance that all would be well even when everything looked dark and hopeless. This sense of confidence and hope in a loving God was with him even on the Cross. As he faced death he could say: "Father I place my life in your hands."

The Risen crucified Christ offered his followers his special greeting of Peace Shalom. Whenever he appeared to them after his resurrection his greeting was always "Peace". In our Christian liturgy, during the Eucharistic Sacrifice, we continue to repeat this message of peace to one another. Peace is so important because it drives out fear and gives us confidence that God is with us in the ups and downs of our lives.

Fearfulness has no place in the life of disciples.
What I am discussing and encouraging is not a false sense of hope based on wishful thinking but a confidence grounded in our firm belief in a God who loves us and cares for us. The surface of the water may be full of waves lashed by the winds, but deep down in the water below there is peace.
If we were to ask what Jesus' mission statement was we might say that it is somehow captured in the term "the kingdom of God". This was the focus of his life and activity. With his life and activity Jesus inaugurated a new way of being, a new way of doing things and a new way of relating to others that would be inclusive, non-discriminatory and non-violent. We are children of a common Father who is Creator God.

Today there is great cause for hope because, all over the world, there are people - Christian, Muslim, Hindus, Buddist and others who want to give birth to new social, political and economic paradigms that are rooted in economic and social justice, respect for human rights, protecting the environment, redistributing wealth and non-violent conflict resolution.
It is to be hoped that the economic collapse that we are experiencing around the world will give rise to a serious re-thinking of economic theories and policies that will be the beginning of a global economic restructuring and rebalancing in favour of greater accountability and social justice.

We must make sure that the economic crisis is not made an excuse to preserve the wealth of the elites and to further add to the problems of the poor and ordinary people in our society.

Today we need more than ever to help one another by sharing our limited resources. Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his message for World Peace Day in January 2009: "The conditions in which a great number of people are living are an insult to their innate dignity and as a result are a threat to the authentic and harmonious progress of the world community. We are called to form one family in which all individuals, peoples and nations model their behaviours according to the principles of fraternity and responsibility."

The evidence of so many conflicts in the world shows that hostility and hatred are no basis for building a better future. The key to a new and better future for us all lies in transcending hatred, animosity, racism and hostility. To build a Fiji where people of different cultural and religious backgrounds can live together in harmony and trust, compassion and sharing we must have love, respect, humility and other centered. Dialogue is an essential step in bringing this about. That means encouraging people to communicate across boundaries and seek reconciliation.

We need to see ourselves as brothers and sisters in the one family of God and live together in harmony sharing the benefits of a world which God entrusted to us for the common good so that no-one lives in poverty and insecurity.

We are to live as decent human beings.
Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara once declared: "Fiji is home to us all." Our challenge is to make this a reality today. For such a dream to be possible we need greater understanding of one another, a deeper sense of forgiveness, and a willingness to search for social justice. We need to listen to one another and build a sense of trust. In a word we need a willingness to change change of heart and a change of attitudes - and openness to new possibilities. We must take seriously the common humanity we share and work for the common good not just the special interests of particular groups. We must create a nation built on love. To do this means that we must face the hard facts of traditional divisions, religious divisions, extreme nationalism, injustice and conflict. In dialogue with others we must seek solutions that will bring reconciliation and change.

It is not easy to build cultural understanding, to share our resources and to change attitudes. But this is the challenge that confronts us today if we are to live in harmony and build a better Fiji together. It requires of us continual struggle in the face of recurring obstacles and disappointments. Above all it requires changes within selves. Only changed people can change the world around them.

A new and better Fiji will begin and grow through the changed attitudes and actions of ordinary people like you and me.

The changed attitudes and actions of chiefs, religious leaders, politicians and business leaders.
We can.

God bless.