Fijian Church leaders are calling for greater psycho spiritual/psycho social support for Fijians following the COVID 19 pandemic and a recent spate of Cyclones.
Many voiced their concerns about the emotional and psychological wellbeing of Fijians at a Psycho-Social Forum organised in Suva recently by the Institute of Mission and Research of the Pacific Theological College.
Archbishop of the Catholic Diocese in Suva Dr. Peter Loy Chong said both COVID19 and times of disasters is one of major change and upheaval in a person’s life.
‘In crisis situations, there is universal need for meaning where your sense of meaning breaks down,’ said Archbishop Loy Chong.
‘And when that breaks down, that is a major crisis and that’s when people think life is useless and people can think of suicides at that time.
‘People can go without food, you don’t hang yourself when there is no food or money but wen sense of meaning breaks loose and is there is nothing else to hope for this is a major crisis.’
Representing the largest Christian denomination in Fiji, the Methodist Church Apisalome Tudreu related the growing feeling of listlessness being observed in the population.
Mr Tudreu said there has also been an observed increase in domestic violence, greater hardships experienced with massive job losses with women and children especially vulnerable.
‘Many of the discussions on unemployment and domestic violence tend to drift to the difficulties in handling the anxieties and the pressures, the coping mechanisms, so the church is aware that this is a development part of our life which may in fact be unnoticed or outside the way people operate,’ he said.
‘But there is a real danger as we have seen. And there is definitely, we might be nurturing a boil waiting to burst.’
Psycho-social or the spiritual language has been identified as an essential dimension of the healing process for Fijians during COVID19 with the church playing a crucial role in sharing it.
‘The spiritual language which uses the symbolic language for meaning and for God has a very important part in the human structure of life and when that structure falls apart it’s this language that needs to come in,’ said Archbishop Loy-Chong.
‘Because science can tell you why things are like this and what we will need to do or to undo. But to move people to do things, when they don’t have the capacity it needs another language that touches the heart of people, evokes a response and energises.
‘So that’s why psycho spiritual should be considered an essential human need during COVID19 for the full restoration of human person.’
Head of the Salvation Army Church in Fiji Captain …..said psycho spiritual healing focuses on reconciling people with God.
‘It brings people closer into community relationships so instead of individuals stuck isolated in a place, we are healed by being part of the wider communities.
Peter Shultz from Operation Foundation of Fiji said psycho spiritual healing focuses on people’s complete wellbeing.
‘All of us have a desire for wellbeing, of ourselves and others and the state can bring frameworks and policies within which it can help that economically but deep realities of wellbeing come out from the relationship we have with each other,’ said Mr Schultz.
‘And the health of those relationships, the way they are fostered, formed and nurtured and it really comes back to the space of the church.
If we look at the big picture of history, we see God reaching into humanity to do exactly the same thing for our wellbeing through Christ. That we become redeemed.
We as representative of that have the same charge, the same calling to see the wellbeing of the communities in which we exist and live.’
Members of the Forum
However, a challenge for the Church is dealing with the state’s lack of recognition psycho-social or spiritual support.
One of the challenges, unfortunately, is that political leaders don’t recognise the language of the church.
‘When we speak, they say we should remain in the church,’ said Archbishop Loy-Chong.
‘Unfortunately, in Fiji, Fijian leaders and society, have not come to appreciate and recognise the contribution of religious spiritual language and symbols so for example when I speak in the media political leaders say the church should remain in church because we are a secular state.’
‘Compared to this, in the United States, when I go to the hospital in my Roman collar, they help you to do your ministry, help you to get to the sick people you need to get to.
‘Over here they do not even recognise that as part of the human process. They don’t recognise there is a space for God in the healing process,’ added Archbishop Loy Chong.
Mr Tudreu believes the Methodist Church with its extensive network can have a big impact in restoration and healing but is not engaged.
‘You know the church deals with the side of development in Fiji that cannot be handled by the judiciary or police.
‘Unfortunately, the churches are not always in the radar when Government wants to deal with things. They have the resources, sometimes they don’t engage the church in this area where actually knows there can be a part to play.’
‘Our challenge in the future is how to engage the system or government so that it takes all the institutions together,’ said Mr Tudreu.
Harnessing the power of network especially of churches becomes crucial in rolling out psycho-social and psycho spiritual healing.
Archbishop Loy Chong remarked on the need to bring together not just churches but all religions.
‘This type of forum is one way of getting together, not only Christians but other religions as well,’ he said.
‘We need to bring together all the religions and churches so that we are on the same page in terms of sharing one language or understanding this as an important language we need to bring to the wider society and that we should speak to the government and other agencies that we are partners with.
They make contribution, we also make a contribution rather than working disjointedly.’
An example of such a networking is one the Methodist Church is involved with the Church Agencies Network Disaster Operations Fiji.
‘We are working with them to try and mobilise psycho social support by the participation of different churches and other organisation,’ said Mr Tudreu.
‘Because the church is present in many places, we want to work with these agencies when they turn up.
‘With a plan in place, they will just come and play their part and hopefully the church will still attend to the spiritual part in some of this because some of them are more secular than the way we want to deal with this as a church.’
The Forum was organised by the Institute for Mission and Research through its Peacebuilding project.
Project Officer Vosita Lenisaurua said the forum was organised to ensure conversations around psycho-spiritual support is scaled up for the sake of Fijians suffering the traumatic experiences of natural disasters like devastating tropical cyclones and COVID19.
‘This allows space for networking for various church organisations and also perhaps the building of psycho-social networks here in Fiji and across the region.’