Kiribati President hosts state banquet for Columban Fr. Donal McIlraith

Fr. Donal McIlraith is from County Cork, Ireland. He celebrated his 50th Anniversary of Priesthood in April 2021 and is a Lecturer in Biblical Studies, Latin, Hebrew and Greek at the Pacific Regional Seminary in Suva, Fiji.

On Monday 16th January, the president of Kiribati, the Hon Taniti Mamau, hosted a banquet in honour of Columban Fr. Donal McIlraith, of Macroom. Fr McIlraith is a Columban who has taught scripture at the Suva Seminary for the past 34 years. In that time, he has taught nearly all the present priests of Kiribati.

Fr. McIlraith was invited to give their annual retreat in January and this presidential invitation arrived unexpectedly after the retreat while he was still in Tarawa, the capital of Kiribati which is an island country in Oceania in the central Pacific Ocean.

Kiribati is a series of about 40 Atolls strung along the equator just north of Fiji. The present population is about 130,000. None of the country is more than 50 feet above sea level and so the entire existence of Kiribati is threatened by the rising sea and the current climate crisis.

The banquet opened with traditional Kiribati dancing and music. The president then welcomed Fr. McIlraith and thanked him for coming from Fiji to assist the priests of Kiribati. He also thanked the priests and the Catholic Church for all they do for Kiribati and for their help during the recent Covid crisis. The priests were led by their Apostolic Administrator, Fr. Iona Tatau. They have recently lost both their bishops, MSC bishop Paul Mea and their new Bishop Elect, Dr. Koru Tito who had died before being consecrated.

Government ministers and permanent secretaries and their wives also attended the banquet. One of the ministers, Martin Morris, had once been a student of Fr. Donal’s, and they had a happy reunion.

In his words of thanksgiving, Fr. Donal thanked the President and the First Lady, Madame Teiraeng Mamau, for this honour. He then paid tribute to the Irish sisters who had worked and those who, like Sr. Mella McCaughey of Monaghan, who, after 60 years of work there, was buried in Tarawa. He noted that Kiribati and Ireland are united in that both come from a Christian tradition and both were colonies of England with all that that entailed. He expressed his delight at the invitation to revisit Kiribati and to pray with his students and friends and hoped they were as happy with his visit as he was. At the end of the banquet, he was asked to give a blessing which he did in the Kiribati language.

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